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Gunman's motive remains unclear

ST. PETERSBURG — Glen Powell was an Eagle Scout and a champion wrestler who helped keep Brandon High School's decades-long winning streak alive.

But on Wednesday afternoon, the Air Force veteran walked into the county courthouse in downtown St. Petersburg, pulled a gun out of his backpack and opened fire on two bailiffs.

When the shooting ended, one bailiff was injured, Powell was dead and the courthouse disintegrated into pandemonium and terror.

"My heart is hurting. It was terrible, terrifying," said Adriajana Bakrac, who saw Powell lying on the ground after the shooting.

Powell's mother, Virginia Powell, 66, blamed the shooting on the antigovernment Web sites her son was reading.

"I just think he believed a bunch of lies," she said. "I can't imagine that he would have actually tried to kill anybody. I think he was trying to make some kind of statement."

Echoes of gunshots

Cassandra Grady, 40, and her daughter, Uniquekwa Burrowes, 15, a Gibbs High sophomore, were on their way into the courthouse in the 500 block of First Avenue N for a hearing when Powell approached them just after 1 p.m.

"Do you know where I can go to file a petition?" he asked Grady.

Grady spotted a gun handle in his backpack. She told her daughter to run and said she tried to warn courthouse officials.

It was too late. When Powell approached the security checkpoint, bailiffs asked him to take off his backpack, put it through the X-ray scanner and go through the metal detector.

Instead, Powell, 30, pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and opened fire, the Sheriff's Office said.

A bullet hit a microphone on the left shoulder of Deputy B.J. Lyons, then grazed him. Lyons, 58, and Deputy Marvin Glover, 57, returned fire, killing Powell, the Sheriff's Office said. Sheriff's officials said they could not remember another time in recent memory when a bailiff fired a weapon in the line of duty.

As gunshots echoed through the courthouse, deputy clerks ducked for cover. Lawyers hurried into nearby rooms. And dozens of people evacuated the courthouse in tears.

A bullet flew over deputy clerk Tawana Cooks' head.

"The guy shot first, then the bailiff fired," said Cooks, who was in the lobby. "I couldn't believe it."

Veteran deputies

The four-story St. Petersburg circuit courthouse handles civil, family and probate matters in southern Pinellas County. Nine judges work there along with dozens of clerks, judicial assistants and bailiffs, who are Pinellas County sheriff's deputies.

People enter through a ground-floor lobby on the building's west side. Within in a few paces they must pass through X-ray machines, usually operated by two or three bailiffs. The ground floor is occupied by file rooms and clerk's offices. Courtrooms and judicial chambers are on the floors above.

The courthouse was closed after the shooting but is expected to reopen this morning.

The two bailiffs who fired at Powell are on paid leave, which is standard procedure after a shooting.

A Sheriff's Office bomb dog team was called to the courthouse to check Powell's backpack, as well as his white 1998 Dodge pickup. No explosives were found, but the Sheriff's Office says he carried at least one additional magazine of ammunition for his handgun. The Sheriff's Office continues to investigate.

Lyons, a 25-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, was treated at Bayfront Medical Center and released by Wednesday evening. Glover has been with the Sheriff's Office for seven years and with St. Petersburg police for 27 years.

Sheriff's officials declined to speculate on the cause of the shooting.

Sheriff Jim Coats praised the bailiffs, saying: "They were doing their job and doing what they were trained to do. They didn't let their guards down."

'Task-oriented guy'

In high school, Glen Powell was a part of Brandon High's legendary wrestling streak. He played French horn and made Eagle Scout. He also served a two-year mission in Colombia, ministering in Spanish.

Steve Frissell, a wrestling teammate who graduated with Powell in 1996, said he remembered him as a quiet, devout Mormon who would joke with teammates after getting to know them.

"He was a guy you could laugh with," Frissell said. "But otherwise, he was a very task-oriented guy, (who would) go about the business."

Powell, who has no criminal record in Florida, went to the courthouse Wednesday to file a response to divorce papers recently filed by his wife, Vivian, who initiated proceedings in March. His family knew he was going but didn't know he owned a gun, according to Bishop David Scott, a lay clergyman with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Brandon.

Late Wednesday, his family gathered with relatives, friends and church members trying to make sense of the shooting.

Powell was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2006, according to his mother. He was in California and served stateside. He did not go to Iraq, Bishop Scott said.

Virginia Powell said her son had moved into her Brandon home in September. He had been doing odd jobs including installing fish ponds and remained active in the Mormon church, visiting church members.

Virginia Powell said the divorce was tough, but she added her son accepted it and didn't seem very angry. They were married in Windermere near Orlando in 2002 and had no children.

"I don't think it was the divorce or anything," she said.

Instead, she blamed the Web pages her son had been visiting such as freedomforceinternational.org.

"Somebody got a hold of him and got him all confused," she said.

On its Web page, the group says: "Your freedom is under attack. Even your freedom to read these words may soon be denied — all in the name of fighting terrorism, or crime, or drugs, or pollution of the environment."

Virginia Powell says that when her son told her the police and Army were unconstitutional, she replied: "It's our enemies that want us to think those things."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writers Casey Cora, Joey Knight, Chris Tisch, Aaron Sharockman, Thomas Tobin, Donna Winchester, Stephen Nohlgren and Stephanie Garry contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Gunman's motive remains unclear 05/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 1:10pm]
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