Government animosity triggered shooting

WHEELING – Former police officer Thomas Piccard’s animosity toward the federal government motivated him to unload a hailstorm of gunfire at the Federal Building on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said Thursday.

Piccard, who resigned from the police department in July 2000, used an assault rifle and a handgun to fire more than 20 rounds at the building. The 55-year-old was shot and killed by a responding Wheeling police officer.

Standing next to local, state and federal law enforcement officers Thursday during a press conference inside City Council chambers, Ihlenfeld said Piccard, a trained shooter, was targeting the building itself and not any particular individuals or office inside.

“The investigation, a lot of which we can’t reveal today because we’re still processing everything, indicates that (Piccard) had an anti-government bias,” Ihlenfeld said. “He was upset with the federal government.”

FBI Special Agent John Hambrick said he is confident the community is now safe, and the shooting was not an act of a wider plot.

“At this point, we’re analyzing evidence, conducting witness interviews and reviewing digital evidence related to the assault,” Hambrick said.

An evidence response team searched Piccard’s vehicle, which was towed from the scene at about 10 p.m. Wednesday, as well as his mobile home at Presidential Estates in Bridgeport.

A large exterior panel of Piccard’s trailer – on which a variation of the phrase “Abandon hope all ye who enter this place” was written in Latin – was removed by investigators and the hole was covered by a black tarp.

“It’s an ongoing investigation and we’re not prepared to discuss the evidence,” Hambrick said when asked about the missing panel.

Robert Orgovan, who lived across the street from Piccard, said Piccard told him Tuesday he was suffering from stomach cancer. Orgovan also said Piccard told him his nephew was picking him up the next day – the day of the shooting – to take him to Florida.

Hambrick did not comment on Piccard’s physical or mental condition, or Orgovan’s statement about Piccard’s nephew. Piccard’s police personnel file has been made part of the evidence, he noted.

An autopsy on Piccard’s body has yet to be performed at the state Medical Examiner’s office.

Witnesses at the scene reported 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, not changing the trajectory of his shots even as officers approached and opened fire.

Piccard’s gunfire struck and damaged multiple windows, including at least three windows of Ihlenfeld’s office. About 40 percent of his staff has been furloughed due to the federal government shutdown and were not in the building Wednesday during the shooting. Ihlenfeld said there were even fewer employees working Thursday.

“It’s one of those things where you stayed up late, you got up early and came in and shook your head and said to yourself ‘Did this really happen?’ Everyone, I think, is still shaken by it,” he said.

Some bullets pierced the windows, sending shards of glass to the floor.

Three Federal Building security guards sustained minor injuries from the glass. They were treated at a local hospital and released. No other injuries were reported.

The security guards’ names are not being released.

The Wheeling officer who fatally shot Piccard was placed on administrative leave pending a shooting review. Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said all responding officers, including state troopers, sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Marshals, will be invited to attend an upcoming stress debriefing session.

That section of Chapline Street remains closed to traffic as FBI agents process the scene inside the lobby of the Federal Building and the sidewalk outside. The southern end of the Federal Building, which houses a post office, remained open to the public Thursday.

Hambrick said it likely would be several more days before that section of Chapline Street reopened.