Home / The Fulton County Courthouse Massacre, Atlanta, Georgia.

The Fulton County Courthouse Massacre, Atlanta, Georgia.

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(After the death of a US Customs Agent overnight here in Atlanta, Brian Nichols was taken into custody by a Gwinnett County SWAT team at an apartment complex off Satellite Drive in Gwinnett County, Georgia, as of 11:31 a.m. EST, March 12, 2005. It appears Nichols will be charged in the death of the customs agent. The local news is relaying that it may have been the tracking of a cell phone signal that helped authorities determine Nichols’ location. Additionally it was reported that the downtown garage where the green Honda Accord that Nichols was assumed to be driving was found – one level down from where it was carjacked – was the garage where customs agents parked when they went to work out in a gym at or near the CNN center across the street.)

On Friday, March 11, 2005, at about 8:45 a.m. one Brian Nichols [Google News Search] was being held in an empty ‘holding room’ in a courthouse in downtown Atlanta.

Nichols was being held on charges of sodomy, possession of a machine gun, possession of a handgun, and possession of marijuana. He was dressed for court – street clothes, so as to not prejudice jurors – he was about to enter a re-trial of a rape case against him being held in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes [Google News Search].

Nichols, six-feet-one inches tall, over 200 pounds, described in one witness report as an “athletically built” man in his early 30’s, was in the charge of a yet-to-be-named female deputy.

Apparently Nichols wrestled the deputy’s service revolver away from her and shot her in the face. She is in critical condition as of this writing at Grady Hospital, but expected to live.

Rapidly he advanced into Judge Barnes’s court room, shooting and killing the highly respected long-time jurist and his court clerk.

From there Nichols was able to make his way to the street, where he fired on another deputy sheriff – a wound that proved fatal.

A reporter for WXIA, NBC’s Atlanta affiliate, happened to be nearby with his cameraman, and they managed to catch footage of other deputies and Atlanta PD tending to the downed deputy. Apparently, for a reason that is still difficult to fathom, it took emergency medical services 10 minutes to reach the scene. The deputy is dead.

From there Nichols continued his mini-rampage across the central downtown area, in short order car-jacking a number of bewildered and frightened Atlantans, including Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Don O’Briant, who had a remarkable reaction when Nichols trained a gun on him and told him to get in the trunk of his car. O’Briant ran like hell. Nichols managed to whack him in the head with the stolen pistol, but he did not shoot.

In the Sandy Springs area, literally just a few miles down the road from me, police were on high alert, as Nichols lived in a complex down in Sandy Springs. Schools in another area are on lockdown because of the suspicion that Nichols might have fled to the area where they are located.

A number of articles like this one from CNN.com – “3 killed in courthouse shooting” – have a quote from a juror who sat in Nichols’ previous trial, James Bailey.

Bailey said that in Nichols’ previous trial the defendant had made the jurors and courtroom spectators decidedly nervous, fixing them with an unsettling stare.

It was reported that more than once Nichols had been found in possession of “shanks” while in court – jailhouse-designed weapons, basically made out of anything that will take a point.

So, he was allowed to wear ‘street clothes’ in court, in order to not prejudice the jury in any fashion. He had a history of bringing hand-made weapons concealed on his person. He was a large, physically powerful man accused of violent crimes. He was in the charge of a female deputy, who no matter how well-trained was apparently not prepared for an attack…in spite of the fact the man had brought weapons on previous occasions.

In the CNN article I linked above, there was a telling quote, one I expect to see in the news again and again in the coming days:

“…Some said the shooting was predictable given the security lapses at the courthouse.

‘The security in the Fulton County Courthouse, the way they deal with prisoners, is absolutely atrocious,’ attorney Dennis Scheib told CNN. ‘I said this was going to happen.’…”

The manhunt for Brian Nichols was huge – a description and plate number for the vehicle he was last seen in was disseminated state-wide and was broadcast on the traffic alert boards on the interstates. I could hear what I’m sure was a police helicopter flying past, south towards Sandy Springs. State police as well as Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and ultimately federal (FBI, ATF) agents were involved along with local police departments.

The man was about to be re-tried after his first trial ended in a hung jury. The crimes for which Nichols was accused were severe, but none of them necessarily indicated the psychopathic level of violence seen today. For some reason, Brian Nichols picked this bright, cold, windy Georgia day to finally just explode, drop all the masks and show the world the monster he truly is, and probably was all along. To be fair to the deputy who had him in her charge when he went off, in spite of his shanks and the crimes for which he was accused, if he was a true psychopath, as I expect, he probably never really showed any sign of this kind of violence. In a personality devoid of conscience such malevolence is often easily concealed, through long years of practice.

I found it worth writing about because what I saw that needed marking was the possible lapse in security, in a courthouse – a place that should arguably be one of the safest of federal buildings – the murder of Judge Rowland Barnes, a man whose reputation, from all readings I can find, was sterling; a man respected by defense and prosecuting attorneys alike.

And I wanted to mark the fact that it happened here, and could happen anywhere. With the recent murder of the family of federal judge Joan Lefkow [Google News Search], it appears it is happening elsewhere.

Even though Brian Nichols was accused of some pretty vile crimes, it appears no one anticipated that he’d emerge as the explosively violent animal he appears to have been under the surface all along – an interview with the foreman of the “hung” jury from Nichols’ first trial was broadcast on CNN, and the man described Nichols as “earnest, intelligent, articulate”.

I also wanted to note another instance where the system’s bending over backwards to ensure a fair trial for the accused may have turned around and bitten the system hard, on it’s collective ass. At the very least, they should have kept the orange-red jumpsuit and shackles. If it was good enough for Denny Rader, the accused BTK Strangler, serial murderer of at least 10 people, [Google Search] to appear in jailhouse coveralls and chains at his arraignment, a man who on the surface had always appeared to most to be an excessively law-abiding citizen, it was good enough for Brian Nichols.

Below is a selection of news articles about this (at the moment) ongoing event:

(This blog entry can be found in a slightly different form at my “true crime” blog, www.planethuff.com/darkside.)

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About Steve

  • Eric Olsen

    wow, just crazy shit, thanks for such a great report on such a terrible sequence of events

  • Thanks Eric. I’ve tended to cover domestic stuff and serial crimes, as well as unsolved mystery-type stuff, but this one was so close, so omnipresent as to the news coverage that I figured I should follow it.

    Not to mention the creepy fact that they looked for him first in my neighborhood.

  • Eric Olsen

    let us know when they find and/or eliminate the plug, please

  • RJ

    I hope they catch this bastard, and soon. He’s clearly a killer. Anyone who is within 4 square miles of this madman is in perilous danger.

  • Dude, you’re not supposed to change the timestamp on the post to bump it up – put another post in. Looks like the comments section is screwed up too, not sure if it’s because of this post

    Thanks for the reporting

  • Sorry about that – I’d forgotten, and I was in a hurry. The comments? Don’t know about them – I’m given to understand we don’t control the comments.

  • Richard


  • RJ


  • Stay tuned…it’s inevitable that the defense and supporters of ‘the-innocent-by-reason-of-insanity-Mr. Nichols’ will cite a failed judicial system that caused Mr. Nichols to “snap” during his retrial, a flawed court security system, and a slow emergency response team who were unable to save the murdered victims. The blame game has already begun initiated by the official at the press conference who stated two times that he had “only been on the job for two months” in response to the lack of courtroom security.

  • The courthouse shootings shouldn’t shock anyone in Atlanta but it certainly should bring to light the lax security measures that this courthouse maintains. I cant help but go back to Ofc Hall, a 51 year old grandmother, by herself, being responsible for preparing, and escorting, an alleged violent rapist, to the courtroom. I have no idea who her supervisor was but he or she needs to be fired, no questions asked. Period. Had that first altercation not taken place, the story could have very well turned out differently. And the citizens of Atlanta would not have had to go through the amount of memorials that they have this week. This officer’s supervisor should also bear the responsibility of the deaths of Judge Barnes, Court Reporter Julie Brandau, Sgt Keith Teasley and Special Agent David Wilhelm. 4 people who didnt have to, died, one was seriously wounded…. because of incompetence. Period.
    The local news here is now reporting that the two officers who were supposed to be monitoring the cameras for the courtrooms, were on their way across the street to pick up breakfast for their Captain. Having worked in law enforcement most of my life, I can understand the occasional breakfast run. But that is only if time and security permits. What I cannot understand is that with the movement of Brian Nichols, the alleged rapist who two days prior had been discovered to be hiding two shanks in his shoes on his way into the courtroom. And after Judge Barnes had already made known to everyone that this particular inmate would need extra security due to his violent behavior, why in God’s name did they choose breakfast over what could go wrong, and what ultimately did go wrong. And reports have stated that Judge Barnes did activate the silent emergency button when Nichols broke into the courtroom. But no one responded.
    It was only a couple days after the shootings that Dekalb Co Sheriff’s Dept responded to a shots fired call in a parking lot. They arrive on the scene and toss a suspect in their patrol car. They began trying to sort out what was going on when someone began firing on them. They realized the gunfire was coming from the suspect they had placed in the backseat of the patrol car. This embarrasses me to be not only a citizen of Georgia but a member of law enforcement.
    In less than three days you have a shooting spree committed and the suspect somehow managed to make it down 8 floors and out into the streets of Atlanta, where he then gunned down two more people. And another office decides that he doesn’t have time to search a suspect at a SHOTS FIRED call, and ends up having to stand there gawking at his patrol car while it’s being wrapped with crime scene tape.
    God have mercy on this city.

  • yolanda

    i cant finnd my frieand and i ve been looking for his