‘We felt like sitting ducks’: Courthouse workers recall morning of shooting

Brian Christensen noticed nothing unusual as he entered the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse shortly after 8 a.m. Monday.

Christensen, a law clerk for Chief U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt, passed through the security checkpoint and took one or two more steps before hearing a loud blast.

“I thought maybe it was a bomb,” he said today.

The blast was followed by two more sounds, which he then recognized as gunshots.

“I just instinctively ran toward the cafe,” Christensen said. “I knew it was really bad, whatever it was.”

While running, the 31-year-old law clerk felt pain in his hand and noticed it was bleeding. He later found wounds on the crown of his head and his back. He believes pellets from the gunman’s shotgun grazed him as he fled the scene.

Nick Driscoll, owner of the Order in the Court Cafe, and his manager, Robin Gulli, had entered the building as it opened at 7 a.m.

They cooked bacon and brewed coffee. They were soon joined by cafe employee Cindi Click.

The restaurant, on the first floor of the courthouse, opened at 7:30 a.m. but had seen no customers before workers heard two shots ring out.

Everyone froze momentarily, and Driscoll quickly recognized the sounds as gunshots. After a brief pause, the shooting continued.

As they began to take cover, others stumbled into the cafe. One of them was Christensen. Another was Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Bliss, who recently prosecuted members of the violent Aryan Warriors prison gang.

Several people locked themselves in the cafe’s employee bathroom.

“We felt like sitting ducks,” Driscoll said.

When the shooting ended, Driscoll stepped out into the lobby and saw court security officer Stan Cooper, 72, lying on the floor. Driscoll went to him, hoping to perform CPR.

“You could see that he had been shot in the chest and neck area,” the cafe owner said.

Driscoll said Cooper’s eyes were half open, and he had lost a large amount of blood.

“I could see that there was no reviving him,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll then noticed Denise Saavedra, a court recorder, and another woman sitting on the floor nearby and ushered them to his cafe. After talking to Saavedra about the incident, Driscoll credits court security officer Jack Eklund with saving the young woman’s life.

“He pushed her down,” the cafe owner said. “He got her out of the way.”

Christensen said Saavedra passed through the security checkpoint moments before he did.

Three deputy marshals and four security officers fired 81 shots at the gunman, Johnny Lee Wicks, who fired five shots. The gunbattle ended across the street outside the Historic Fifth Street School after Wicks, 66, was shot in the head.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard “Joe” Gardner, 48, was shot in the arm. He has been employed by the U.S. Marshals Service for 24 years and has worked in Las Vegas for 16 years. Gardner has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home.

Driscoll said he considers all those involved in the shootout “heroes.” He believes they stopped Wicks from proceeding through the lobby to his cafe.

“We were the next ones, for sure,” Driscoll said.

He said the attack brought back memories of his father’s death in 1975. He was 8 on the morning his father was gunned down in front of their home in Boston.

“You never get over it,” he said.

Driscoll, 42, said the courthouse shooting has brought everyone in the building closer together.

“I don’t want people to forget this, because a really good person did lose his life,” he added.

Driscoll said Cooper, who had a passion for horses, is responsible for the blue horseshoe hanging over his office door. Gulli is a Colts fans, and Driscoll was supporting the Patriots when the two football teams squared off recently. Cooper contributed the horseshoe, a Colts symbol, which Gulli and Eklund hung above the office door as a pre-game prank.

“I’m glad we’ve got it up there now, because I’ll never take it down ever,” Driscoll said.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.

 

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