Long running custody dispute at center of Wilmington courthouse shooting

A woman shot dead inside the New Castle County Courthouse on Monday morning had been mired in a long child custody dispute and feared for her safety, neighbors say. Christine Belford, 39, of Newark was one of three left dead by gunfire.

Sources told WHYY/NewsWorks that she was shot by Thomas Matsuiewicz, the father of her ex-husband.

Three were killed and two others wounded as Matusuiewicz opened fire inside the courthouse shortly after it opened at 8 a.m. Matusuiewicz was killed by Capitol Police officers. Two Capitol Police officers were hit by bullets, but both were wearing bullet-proof vests.  They were taken to Christiana Hospital for an examination and released after a few hours. The third person killed has not been identified by authorities, who remained close-lipped through the day. The News Journal reports the other woman was a friend of Belford’s, Laura Mulford.

A source told WHYY a hearing was scheduled at the courthouse Monday involving Belford and her ex-husband, David Matsuiewicz. But the source said it was David’s father, Thomas, who did the shooting. The source also says David Matsuiewicz was questioned and taken into custody and will be held in prison overnight.

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Domestic woes began in ’07

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden wouldn’t identify the shooter at a late afternoon news conference, but he did say, “This is not a random act. This is a custody dispute that has gone through the courts for several years.”

Belford’s neighbours were shocked to hear of her death, but they knew she had issues over alimony and other payments by David Matsuiewicz. In 2009, he was sentenced by a federal judge to four years in prison over a bizarre domestic kidnapping and fraud.

One neighbor said he knew of Belford’s upcoming court hearing and said that Belford feared something might happen.

“If you look around the house, the windows, she had all the windows secured and locked, she’s got cameras all around her house, and at one time she had two German Sheppard dogs so she was terrified of what could happen,” said Lois Dawson. Dawson said Belford would ask her neighbors to tell her if they saw something suspicious.

In Middletown, where David Matsuiewciz lived with Belford when they were married. some neighbors felt something like this could happen.

“There were lots of problems in the household when they lived there,” said Tracy Campbell. “I guess he was never going to let it go and that is the sad part somebody told me today that his ex-wife had a restraining order against him.”

Vests made a difference

Delaware State Police described a chaotic scene after the shots. Sgt. Paul Shavack, spokesman for the Delaware State Police, says at one point the gunman and the officers were shooting at each other on the main floor of the courthouse, inside the entry doors. Shavack said the shooter was in his 50’s or 60’s.

Chief William Jopp, the head of the Delaware Capitol Police, praised the officers involved in the shooting. He said he didn’t want to release the names of the officers until their families had time to speak to them.

“They were saved by their vests,” confirming the two officers were wearing Kevlar vests.

Jopp also said Delaware Gov. Jack Markell spoke to the officers while they were in the hospital. The governor is on an economic trade mission to India. He was supposed to hold a teleconference with students at Delaware Vo-Tech High School, but cancelled that because of the shooting.

Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams was also on the scene after the first reports of the shooting. During his first month in office he also has had to deal with the shooting of a Wilmington Police officer during a routine traffic stop. His newly appointed police chief, Christine Dunning, was in Philadelphia at a hearing on gun control legislation, a hearing being chaired by Vice President Joe Biden.

Courthouse closed Tuesday

Attorney General Biden, the vice president’s son, would not give a timetable on when the investigation would be completed. He said the courthouse had been completely searched in the hours after the shooting as police looked for evidence.

He said the courthouse would be closed on Tuesday as the investigation continues. Anyone with business in the New Castle County Courthouse should look at the county Web site for updates.

Reporters at a late afternoon briefing pressed for additional details on the name of the shooter. “If we release the name we wouldn’t be following our normal protocol,” Beau Biden said. “We won’t jeopardize the investigation.”

Markell headed home

Even though Beau Biden said the shootings stemmed from a personal grievance,  security was tight around Wilmington all through a tense day.  At the Redding City-County building, blocks away from the courthouse,  guards were using security wands in addition to the normal metal detectors as people came into the building.

Security was also tight throughout the King Street corridor, a major thoroughfare in downtown Wilmington.

Mayor Williams put out a late Monday afternoon statement, which said in part, “Gun violence is an issues that doesn’t receive enough attention; it’s a systematic problem that affect all communities.

Markell’s office announced the governor would cut his mission to India short because of the shooting. His office had put out a statement early in the day expressing condolences for those who were killed in the shooting. A late afternoon statement from his office said the shooting was “another example of a domestic incident turned deadly”. He said more attention needed to be paid to victims of domestic violence. 

Senator Tom Carper said, “this incident is another reminder for leaders in Dover and Washington to have a thoughtful, but urgent discussion about gun violence.” Congressman John Carney also said he was “shocked and saddened” by the shooting. He said this “gives another heart breaking reminder to take the necessary steps to prevent violence.”

Senator Chris Coons echoed those remarks and added, “this…should serve as a reminder of the value of bulletproof vests to our law enforcement officers.”


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