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Shooter dead, 4 injured at Fayette County district judge's office

Jacob Tierney
| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, 2:48 p.m.
State Police work at the scene of a shooting that occurred at the Masontown Borough's municipal building Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 in Fayette County.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
State Police work at the scene of a shooting that occurred at the Masontown Borough's municipal building Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 in Fayette County.
State Police and Fayette County Sheriff Department work at the scene of a shooting that occurred at the Masontown Borough's municipal building Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 in Fayette County.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
State Police and Fayette County Sheriff Department work at the scene of a shooting that occurred at the Masontown Borough's municipal building Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 in Fayette County.
State Police work at the scene of a shooting that occurred at the Masontown Borough's municipal building Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 in Fayette County.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
State Police work at the scene of a shooting that occurred at the Masontown Borough's municipal building Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 in Fayette County.

Ashley Martelli and her fiancé waited Wednesday afternoon for a court hearing before a Fayette County district judge. A man armed with a gun barged into the crowded room, shoving Martelli to the ground.

“I saw him shooting, then he reloaded the gun and started shooting again,” Martelli recounted.

Her mind raced to her 8-year-old daughter, who had gone to the restroom.

Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, a man several people have identified as Patrick Shawn Dowdell, 62, of Masontown entered the office of District Judge Daniel Shimshock with a loaded handgun. He allegedly opened fire and wounded four people, including a police officer, before police killed him.

Those injured were Sgt. R. Scott Miller of the Mason­town Police Department and three civilians — two men and a woman. All were taken to hospitals.

None was believed to have life-threatening injuries, state police said.

A German Township police officer shot and killed the gunman. That officer was not identified.

Police also have not confirmed the gunman’s identity, other than to say he was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on strangulation charges.

Police arrested Dowdell on Aug. 28 on charges of strangulation, terroristic threats, harassment and simple and aggravated assault, according to court records. He was released the same day after posting $10,000 bond, records show.

The Uniontown Herald- Standard reported that Dowdell allegedly tried to choke his wife with a belt after she told him she wanted a divorce.

Dowdell’s preliminary hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday before Shimshock. The East Church Avenue building that houses his office also is home to Masontown’s municipal offices. Masontown is about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh.

The gunman’s motives are under investigation. Police said he was not targeting the judge or court employees.

Miller, already in the lobby, tried to stop the shooter. He was forced to take cover after being shot in the hand, according to Fayette County District Attorney Richard Bower, who is supervising the investigation.

Shimshock was scheduled to hear more than 30 cases Wednesday afternoon, Bower said.

When the shooting started, Michelle Morris was in the women’s restroom. Her husband, Clint, was in the court waiting room.

“The first thing I thought was, ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die,’ ” she said.

Two men rushed into the restroom and held the door shut to keep the shooter out. They told the women inside to be as quiet as possible.

Morris said she didn’t leave the restroom until police gave the all clear.

She came out to see blood covering the floor and someone’s legs sticking out of the door to the men’s restroom.

She remembered seeing a little girl — Martelli’s daughter — in the bathroom. Another woman rushed the girl outside to safety. Martelli followed.

“I went out screaming, ‘Where is my daughter, where is my daughter?’ ” Martelli said.

Uniontown attorney David Kaiser was at the district judge’s office when the shooting began.

He said he heard an argument outside the office before the shooting. When shots were fired, he fled the office and ran to his car.

“I really can’t talk about it right now. I’m just too shaken to talk at this point,” Kaiser said by phone.

Gina Howard was standing in the court office when she heard a loud pop. Others in the office went to the windows to see what was going on, then started rushing toward the back of the building, screaming about a gunman.

“I just ran for safety,” she said.

Howard and about 15 other people hid in a back room. She said they didn’t know what was happening, whether the gunman was still in the building.

She never saw the shooter.

“It was the scariest thing ever,” she said.

David Howard (no relation to Gina) was in his convenience store, Howard’s Market, across the street from the court building. A Masontown police officer was buying lunch when a woman ran in and said there was a shooter. The policeman rushed out the door.

“He jumped over that wall and right into the fire,” he said, referring to the low wall outside the court building.

The officer was one of at least three who rushed into the building, including the one who killed the shooter in the lobby.

“The German Township police officer ran toward the danger, instead of away,” Bower said.

He praised the efforts of the Masontown and German Township police departments.

“They were all a shining light to our community, and it goes without saying we must thank them for their heroic efforts in protecting all the people in that room,” he said.

German Township police Chief Dave Hromada was one of the first officers in the building.

“I’m proud of my officer, and I think everybody did what they were trained to do,” he said.

Albert Gallatin Area School District officials said Masontown Elementary School was briefly on lockdown. Some students of South Middle were bused to the Masontown fire station, according to a message posted on the district’s Facebook page.

Bower said the shooting highlights concerns about the safety of court offices. District judge’s offices don’t usually have metal detectors, and although there were police there Wednesday, that’s not usually the case, he said.

“We have concerns that there are not enough protections, in any place,” he said.

Staff writers Natasha Lindstrom, Paul Peirce and Renatta Signorini contributed to this report. Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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