NASHVILLE, N.C. (AP) - A gunman opened fire on two men in front of the courthouse in this small North Carolina town on Tuesday, sending panicked lunchtime shoppers ducking into shops along the normally quiet main drag.
The suspect was caught in the late afternoon after a manhunt that included dozens of armed officers searching the woods along a state highway with a police helicopter flying overhead. A second suspect was still on the loose Tuesday night. Authorities didn’t offer a motive but believe the victims were targeted. Both were expected to survive.
The shooting shattered the calm of the sunny lunch hours along Nashville’s main street, which is flanked by the courthouse on one side and one-story shops across the street. Witnesses on the strip that includes a flower shop, cafe and furniture store said violence is unusual in the town of about 5,500.
“We heard gunshots, like: Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!” said Judy Winstead, who works at a real estate office across from the court. “It was very loud, and when we came out we even smelled gunpowder.”
Nash County Sheriff Dick Jenkins said he believes the gunman targeted his two victims when he opened fire around 11:15 a.m.
The suspected gunman was arrested Tuesday afternoon and police identified him in a news release as 23-year-old Ontarious Montre Lewis of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The release gave no information on possible charges.
Nashville Police Chief Thomas Bashore said in the same statement Tuesday night that police were also seeking a second suspect, 36-year-old Demond Levar Morris, also of Rocky Mount. Authorities haven’t said what Morris’s role in the crime may have been.
Bashore said the gunman ran up in front of the courthouse, shot several times and ran away before he got into a light-colored car and escaped.
Authorities say one victim ran inside the Nash County Courthouse and collapsed after being hit in the hand and leg. The other victim ran down the street and was found in a lot with a back wound. Bashore said the victims, both men, didn’t work at the courthouse.
Officers found four or five bullet casings at the scene.
“It’s senseless to me that anybody would shoot anything let alone in front of the courthouse,” Jenkins said.
At the real estate office nearby, Winstead said she heard the gunshots as she sat at her desk. She ran to the front door and locked it as an uninjured woman screamed on the courthouse steps.
Within minutes, Winstead said “there were deputies all over the place and cop cars zooming in” at the courthouse that handles both civil and criminal cases.
Renee Davis said she heard five loud, echoing shots inside her flower shop across the street. A half-dozen people ducked inside her store for cover, she said.
“You knew it was gunshots because it was consecutive,” said Davis, co-owner of Madelyn’s Flower Shop.
Davis said she occasionally hears verbal arguments in front of the courthouse, but she couldn’t recall any previous violence.
Before the gunfire, she and her co-owner had been enjoying the serene and unseasonably warm fall day. A bride had picked up flowers and pulled away not long before the shooting started.
“We had the doors open. It was a beautiful day,” Davis said.
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