48-year-old James Palmer of Van Buren, Arkansas walked into the Crawford County courthouse Tuesday wearing a long trench coat, despite the simmering temperature. He asked to speak to Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell and when he was told the judge wasn't in he took a gun from under his coat and started firing. He wounded the judge's secretary in the leg as she was fleeing. He then fired at least 70 rounds from an assault rifle and three semi-automatic handguns as employees hid under desks and behind doors. Palmer left the courthouse and exchanged gunfire with police. He was shot and died of his injuries.
Palmer had no criminal history and had a concealed weapons permit. The motive behind the shootings was unclear, but police believe Judge Cottrell handled Palmer's divorce and child custody proceedings in 2008. "This guy came heavily armed. He came here for a mission," said Sheriff Ron Brown. "When all the pieces are put together in this case the public will see, this man came to die on the Crawford County Courthouse lawn. He was going to take as many people as he could with him."