Wheeling shooting ends in death

WHEELING – Former police officer Thomas Piccard used an assault rifle and a handgun to pepper Wheeling’s Federal Building with more than 20 rounds Wednesday before being shot and killed by police.

Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger identified Piccard as the man who opened fire on the Federal Building at 2:43 p.m. Wednesday, striking and shattering multiple windows. A motive for the shooting remains unclear.

Three Federal Building security guards sustained minor injuries from breaking glass. They were treated at a local hospital and released.

Piccard’s body remained at Wheeling Hospital late Wednesday. Schwertfeger said it would be sent to the state Medical Examiner’s office in Charleston for autopsy.

Schwertfeger said during a press conference the 55-year-old Piccard resigned from the police department in July 2000. Schwertfeger said he has not yet reviewed Piccard’s personnel file, and did not know the circumstances of his resignation.

“As to motive, clearly that’s what remains the key investigative component tonight that we continue to work on,” Schwertfeger said. “Part of that includes the decedent’s vehicle, which remains at the crime scene on Chapline Street, as well as the decedent’s residence.”

The Allegheny County, Pa. bomb squad secured Piccard’s trailer in Bridgeport on Wednesday night “as a precautionary measure,” said FBI Special Agent Bob Johnson of the Pittsburgh office. An FBI evidence response team also will search that residence, he said.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting remained unclear Wednesday evening, with Johnson noting agents would be reviewing video surveillance from around the Federal Building. Witnesses at the scene report Piccard stood among vehicles in a parking lot on Chapline Street across from the Federal Building when he fired shots from an assault rifle, changing magazines at least once. He then drew a pistol and continued firing at the building.

“The windows themselves, the bullets did penetrate some of them, and there are shards of glass inside the Federal Building,” said U.S. Marshal Gary Gaskins when asked if the glass at the Federal Building was bullet or shatter-proof.

While no motive is known, a number of rounds fired by Piccard struck at least three windows of U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld’s office on the Federal Building’s second floor.

About 40 percent of Ihlenfeld’s staff has been furloughed due to the federal government shutdown and were not in the building during the shooting.

Ihlenfeld recalled that he heard “what sounded like gunshots and then panic within the office. Members of my staff were crawling on the floor or running office to office telling people to get away from the windows.”

A responding Wheeling police officer and a Federal Building security guard shot and killed Piccard, Schwertfeger said. The Wheeling officer was placed on administrative leave pending a review of the shooting.

Wheeling officers, State Police troopers, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals and Wheeling Fire Department personnel surrounded Piccard’s body in the parking lot before he was transported by ambulance to Wheeling Hospital.

Piccard’s weapons were turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for analysis. Several Wheeling police detectives marked the areas where spent shell casings lay on the ground Wednesday. In addition to Piccard’s vehicle, a sedan, several cars will remain unmoved in the lot as investigators process the scene.