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Cumming police hailed for courthouse response

Authorities used city hall for interviews

POSTED: June 20, 2014 12:04 a.m.

CUMMING — While much of the buzz surrounding the June 6 shooting at the Forsyth County Courthouse has revolved around county employees, those who work for the city of Cumming were also impacted.

Tuesday night, Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and the city council recognized those who helped keep everyone safe in city hall, which is across the street from the courthouse, after gunman Dennis Ronald Marx attacked the facility.

“As everyone’s aware, on June 6 about 9:30, we averted what seemingly could have been a tragedy at our courthouse,” Gravitt said as he presented a proclamation honoring the Cumming and Forsyth County law enforcement and emergency services personnel who responded to the incident.

“I would like to, on behalf of Cumming City Council and the people of Cumming and Forsyth County, read a proclamation for the gratitude … for a job well-done by our police department and the sheriff’s department at that time.”

Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Rush was shot in the leg by Marx, 48, while trying to deter the attack.

Marx, who had a history of weapons and drug charges, drove a rented sport utility vehicle onto the lawn of the courthouse and then began what authorities have described as a “full frontal assault.”

He used explosives and other weapons in an attempt to enter the building and possibly take hostages and kill or injure as many people has he could. Instead, however, he was shot and killed before ever gaining entry.

Sheriff Duane Piper has credited Rush with “preventing a major catastrophe” by engaging Marx. The veteran deputy slowed the gunman enough for other law enforcement personnel to get into position.

Cumming Police Chef Casey Tatum said three of his officers also happened to be near the courthouse when the initial incident began.

Later, he said, most of the department’s officers, even some who were off duty, were also called in to assist with tasks such as traffic control and evacuation of buildings.

City Administrator Gerald Blackburn said municipal employees weren’t sure what was going on during the gunfight.

“Whenever the initial activity happened … we had our full staff [at city hall],” he said. “Then, of course, just as soon as the activity stopped, law enforcement began to come into the [city hall] building because at that point they didn’t know how many shooters there were and they were trying to determine all kinds of information.”

All city employees were then evacuated to the nearby Cumming Fairgrounds, where Blackburn said they waited about two hours.

During that time, he and other leaders were in constant contact with Cumming police officers who apprised them of the situation.

“Then they told us that we weren’t going to be able to come back and occupy city hall,” Blackburn said.

Employees were allowed to return briefly to the building to retrieve personal items like purses and car keys. They then went home for the rest of the day.

City hall took on an important role for Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FBI agents who had arrived on the scene.

“They said at that time that they needed this facility to interview everybody … who had been an eyewitness,” Blackburn said. “Of course, the mayor had told them that they could do that.”

For about 18 hours, witness statements were taken inside. City leaders later discovered that a window on the fourth floor of the building had been shattered by one of the bullets during the incident. Fortunately, that was the only damage.

“It could have been so much worse,” Blackburn said. “Just one window damaged. Really and truly, it was a miracle.”


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