CUMMING — A year after one of the more frightening incidents in Forsyth County history, law enforcement personnel and others who were in downtown Cumming that morning are still marveling at the swift response that prevented it from being more deadly.
On June 6, 2014, a heavily armed gunman attempted to storm the Forsyth County Courthouse and, authorities have said, kill as many people as possible.
“He didn’t even make it inside,” said Lynnette Frey, a server at a Sal’s Place, a popular eatery located just behind the courthouse. “We were spooked, and everything was kind of chaotic for a while because we were inside and didn’t know really what was going on for a while. But I realized I was OK. [Responding deputies] were so on it.
“So in the moment it was bad, but now looking back it makes me feel safe because of how well they did their job.”
Frey said she was prepping the restaurant to open for the day when she heard sirens and a commotion outside. It was just before 10 a.m. on a Friday.
On the other side of the circa 1978 courthouse, which faces Veterans Memorial Boulevard, 48-year-old Dennis Marx of Cumming had just driven a rented Nissan Armada onto the plaza and thrown out spikes to hold off law enforcement’s response.
His goal was to conduct a “full frontal assault” on the facility. But that was before a sheriff’s deputy began firing back.
Marx then shot Daniel Rush, a 30-year veteran of the force, in the leg. Rush has since undergone surgery, recovered and returned to work, though he has sought to remain out of the spotlight.
“Because of the selfless heroism by several deputies that day, they diverted what would have been a terrible disaster,” said Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper.
Marx was no stranger to local law enforcement. He was due in court that morning on drug and weapon charges stemming from an August 2011 incident.
Marx wore body armor and brought tear gas, smoke grenades, pepper spray and flex cuffs, Piper had said. He was killed during the attack when other deputies, alerted by Rush’s shots, returned fire.
In the year since the incident, Piper has never shied away from hailing the actions of Rush and the others who stopped Marx’s assault.
Two deputies, Bobby Francis and Brian Chatham, received life-saving awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Macon for their actions to help Rush.
They, Rush and 11 other deputies were honored with a state Senate resolution during this year’s legislative session.
Piper cited training as a reason the incident was handled so effectively.
“Some SWAT deputies happened to be on the way to do some training in another part of the county, and courthouse deputies over previous months had been doing scenario trainings, and one was exactly what happened,” Piper said. “The ones who were there had just finished that training within a couple of days.”
He went on to say that he has focused his time as sheriff, an elected position, on making sure his force is ready for any situation.
“We train and train and train for things we hope to God never happen,” he said.
Even so, he said his first reaction to the call about the attack was disbelief.
“I never expected something like this to happen. No one does,” he said. “As much as we train for it, I never actually thought and expected to see it in Cumming, Georgia. But I don’t think I’m alone in that, so I’m proud of our deputies in handling it.”
And when the training is finished and the incident is unfolding, what really makes the difference between a potentially disastrous situation and something that’s not to be celebrated but assuredly could have been worse?
“You can’t train courage. You can’t train willingness,” Piper said. “They have to have that themselves.”
Lynnette Frey said she and those around her realized what was happening when officers ushered people from the courthouse into the restaurant.
“We have a seating capacity of 55, and there were people standing all over the place, so we offered them drinks and food,” she said. “They were upset. Some were pretty shaken up. You hope it never happens again, but you never know.
“But with the security they have at the new courthouse [that opened across the street in March], it looks like we’re being taken care of. I mean, even then, he didn’t make it inside the building.”