Johnny Lee Wicks believed the system was against him.
When his disability benefits were cut upon his move to Las Vegas, he blamed it on racism, sued the federal government and lost. He appealed. He lost again.
On Monday morning, four months after his case was officially dismissed, the 66-year-old stepped into the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas holding a grudge and a shotgun.
"He walked into the courthouse and started shooting," U.S. Sen. John Ensign told reporters after being briefed by authorities.
As the gunman entered the front door of the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse about 8 a.m., he revealed the shotgun hidden under his black coat and opened fire, FBI Special Agent Joseph Dickey said.
Seven marshals and court security officers returned fire during the ensuing gunbattle, which spilled out of the courthouse and onto Las Vegas Boulevard.
When the gunbattle ended, Wicks lay dead beside the Historic Fifth Street School across the street.
Inside the lobby of the federal courthouse, court security officer Stan Cooper, a 72-year-old retired Las Vegas police officer, lay mortally wounded. He was rushed to University Medical Center with a chest wound, but doctors couldn't save him.
He "never had a chance," a physician with knowledge of the case said.
A 48-year-old deputy U.S. marshal, whose name was not released, was taken to UMC with a gunshot wound to the arm. He was in "good shape," Dickey said.
Investigators believed the gunman acted alone but had not determined a motive for the shooting. Dickey said, "This was not a terrorist event."
Outside the Courthouse Bar & Grill about two blocks away, Jon McGovern was setting up his hot dog stand when he heard two or three "pops" in quick succession, followed by other shots that "went in cycles." He said at least 30 to 40 rounds were fired.
Soon after the gunfire a few dozen people ran toward down Lewis Avenue shouting, "Get down. Get shelter," he said.
Defense lawyer Mario Fenu was on the sidewalk heading toward the federal courthouse when he heard the first pop. Five seconds later he heard five more pops in succession, he said.
When he turned the corner he saw a man who didn't appear to be a police officer in an "attack stance" aiming "a long gun" at the entrance of the building, he said.
The shooter was hiding behind a column.
Fenu said he saw another man behind a column on the far end of the patio, but he didn't know whether the second man was an accomplice, a law enforcement officer or an innocent bystander.
As Fenu ran away, the barrage intensified, he said.
"I go to gun ranges and don't hear that much ammo," Fenu said.
While police cordoned off the area for several blocks, authorities evacuated the courthouse and corralled dozens of potential witnesses in the auditorium of Las Vegas Academy, the fine arts magnet high school two blocks southeast of the federal courthouse.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Newman said she was working at her desk on the fifth floor when a call came over the intercom instructing employees to remain in their offices because of "an incident."
About five minutes later, an e-mail was sent out telling people to evacuate the building.
"I got the e-mail late and walked into a SWAT team," Newman said.
Several downtown streets were shut down throughout the day and into the evening, and the Regional Justice Center was closed for the day after the shooting. Both federal and state courts were expected to resume business today.
Meanwhile, federal investigators and Las Vegas police worked to piece together the events of the morning and why it happened.
Authorities did not officially release the name of the gunman, but Wicks was identified by a law enforcement source.
He moved to Las Vegas from Fresno, Calif., in 2007 and rented an apartment at Sunrise Senior Village Apartments, 517 N. 30th St., near Bonanza and Mojave roads.
Shortly after his move, the U.S. Social Security Administration cut his monthly Social Security stipend by about $400 because Nevada does not provide the same state supplement as California, according to the civil rights complaint he filed in federal court.
In his handwritten court documents, Wicks expressed frustration and claimed he was treated poorly because of his race. Wicks complained about a California representative who "doesn't try to hide the way he feels about black people," the complaint states.
Wicks appeared to become more desperate, believing that Social Security officials were unwilling to assist him with his claim.
"This action by this office will make it very hard for me to pay my rent and energy bill," Wicks wrote. "It's hard to believe that a state social worker would treat another human being like this. None of this is legal. Most of what they say is not true."
After Wicks' case was dismissed in March, he appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. The U.S. District Court dismissed the case for good in September.
Before moving to Las Vegas, Wicks had a criminal history including assault with a deadly weapon, domestic battery and robbery in Sacramento, Calif.
In a 1995 case, Wicks pleaded no contest to domestic battery and the assault with a deadly weapon charge was dismissed. He was sentenced to a 60-day sheriff's work program and three years' probation. Two years later, he violated the probation and was given 31 days in jail, according to Sacramento County court records.
In 1996 Wicks was charged with robbery, but that case was dismissed a month later, court records show.
Wicks had no apparent criminal history in Las Vegas.
Three hours before the shooting, Las Vegas firefighters responded to a closet fire at Wicks' unit at the Sunrise Senior Village Apartments.
The interior of the apartment suffered heavy damage from smoke and flames, but there was no structural damage, property manager Brian Steger said. Several other apartments were evacuated because of smoke, but none was damaged by fire.
Wicks was a quiet resident who lived alone and rarely spoke to anyone, he said.
"Nobody really knew him," he said. "A lot of people were suspicious of him from the beginning because he didn't associate much."
Steger said Wicks didn't spend much time at the apartment.
After the fire, Steger noticed that several of Wicks' possessions -- including a bed and a couch, which had been present at the last inspection -- were missing.
Neighbors Allen and Vivian Smith, both 88, were shocked upon hearing Wicks was the suspect in the downtown shooting.
"My gosh, so he was the one who did the shooting?" she said. "I can't believe it. Right next door to us."
Neither of them knew Wicks' name, but described him as a black man in his early 60s with an affinity for leather jackets and gold chains.
Allen Smith said the timing of the fire was suspicious. Another resident had spotted Wicks leaving the complex shortly before the fire began, Allen Smith said.
Wicks could have intentionally started the fire to create a diversion from what he planned to do at the courthouse, he said, or to destroy his personal belongings in case of his death.
Either way, he said, "I think he wanted to go out with a bang."
About an hour after the shooting, federal agents visited the apartment complex and spoke to residents and employees.
"We told them all we knew," Allen Smith said. "But that wasn't much."
Ensign compared the incident to the recent shootings at Fort Hood in Texas, which took 13 lives, and in Washington, where four police officers were ambushed and killed at a coffee shop.
"Unfortunately, we live in a real crazy world these days," he said. "You never know what goes off in someone's brain to set them off like that."
Review-Journal reporters Henry Brean, Paul Harasim, Kristi Jourdan, Francis McCabe, Adrienne Packer and Keith Rogers, and Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetrealt contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Haynes at email@example.com or 702-383-0281.