MASONTOWN – A police officer shot and killed a gunman Wednesday after the man opened fire inside a packed district judge’s office in Fayette County, injuring three people and another police officer.
The gunman had been scheduled to appear that afternoon before District Judge Daniel Shimshock as the suspect in a domestic assault case when he opened fire while chasing a woman into the building, witnesses and investigators said.
“Obviously there are a lot of mixed emotions when you’re in that,” said German Township police Chief Dave Hromada Jr., whose officer shot and killed the gunman. “I’m proud of my officer.”
The Fayette County coroner’s office confirmed the identity of the shooter as Patrick Shaun Dowdell, 61, of Masontown.
Crystal Dowdell told the Fayette County Court in her Aug. 27 request for a protective order from her husband that he had grabbed her and threatened her with a gun three days earlier when she asked for a divorce.
Dowdell was scheduled to appear at 1 p.m. Wednesday before Shimshock on charges of aggravated assault, strangulation, making terroristic threats, simple assault and harassment, online court records show. He was free Wednesday on $10,000 bond.
The Herald-Standard in Uniontown reported Aug. 27, citing court records, that Dowdell had been accused of choking his wife, Crystal, with a belt and threatening to kill her after she told him she planned to divorce him.
Investigators confirmed a protection-from-abuse order had been approved against the gunman.
Investigators declined to identify the German Township police officer who shot and killed the gunman.
Masontown police Sgt. R. Scott Miller, a resident of Cumberland Township, also engaged the shooter, but was wounded in the hand. His injury was not considered life threatening.
Nor were the injuries to the other three people who were shot. Police did not identify them.
The shots were fired just before 2:30 p.m. inside the building at 1 E. Church St. The nearby Masontown Elementary School, which is part of Albert Gallatin Area School District, was temporarily placed on lockdown.
A man who identified himself only as Todd was in the district court lobby, waiting with about 60 other people, when a blonde woman in a pink shirt ran into the building, down a hallway and into the court’s packed waiting room.
Todd said he then heard gunshots, which prompted the people in the waiting room to attempt to get into either the courtroom or the court clerk’s office. It was “chaotic,” he said.
Todd ended up in the clerk’s office with the woman who had run into the building. She had been shot in the right arm, and Todd said he used his belt as a tourniquet to slow her bleeding.
He said the other victims were shot in the waiting area.
“He (the gunman) was targeting her but got other people,” Todd said.
Rosa Goff of Point Marion, who was awaiting a hearing at the court, which is within Masontown’s municipal complex, said she saw a man chasing a woman toward the municipal building and firing multiple shots.
“He was shooting at everyone,” Goff said
Goff said the gunman ran by her as he came into the building.
“He looked scary. I thought I was...,” Goff said before choking up. “The bullet just missed me.”
Another witness, who was across the street from the building and declined to be identified, said she heard three gunshots and then saw someone walk out of the building. The glass in the front entrance to the municipal building was shot out.
In addition to the district judge in the courtroom, there were several defense attorneys, an assistant district attorney and court staff. None of them was injured.
Scott Miller is the brother-in-law of Scott Kelley, Greene County budget director. Kelley said late Wednesday afternoon he was informed by his sister, Lisa, that Miller was doing “OK” and was on the way to Allegheny General Hospital for treatment. Kelley said she was told Miller’s wound might require surgery.
Miller, who is in his late 50s, has been an officer for Masontown Borough for “as long as I can remember,” Kelley said.
“He’s a really nice guy. He has a good sense of humor and is always telling jokes,” Kelley said.
Carmichaels Borough police Chief Craig Miller said he’s known Scott Miller for 15 to 16 years. Scott Miller conducted firearms training for the local police departments, he said.
“He’s been a mentor to a lot of us younger guys,” Craig Miller said.
Craig Miller said while working with Cumberland Township police, he had often been called to assist the neighboring Masontown police department. “He (Scott Miller) has always been very professional,” he said.
Lt. Steve Dowlin, the station commander at the Uniontown barracks, said the gunman made it down the hallway and into the lobby, but he did not say where he was fatally shot. Dowlin lauded the quick action of the police officers, who “ran toward the danger, not away” to prevent a catastrophe. He added the investigation is in the “infant stages” and asked anyone who witnessed the shooting to call their barracks.
Trooper Robert Broadwater said mass shootings such as these are “happening far too often” nowadays.
“It’s getting out of hand,” he said.
Gov. Tom Wolf stated in a tweet he was grateful for the courage of police officers after he learned of the shooting.
“Our police put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe,” Wolf wrote on the social media platform. “These senseless acts must stop.”
Staff writer Bob Niedbala contributed to this report.