CUMMING (Updated 5:47 p.m.) — Authorities have identified the heavily armed gunman who shot a veteran sheriff’s deputy in the leg Friday morning outside the Forsyth County Courthouse as 48-year-old Dennis Ronald Marx of Cumming.
Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper said that Marx, who was shot and killed by other deputies, acted alone.
Marx has been referred to as a “sovereign citizen” who was anti-law enforcement and anti-government. Piper couldn’t confirm that, but said Marx was due in court Friday morning on drug and weapons charges.
According to Piper, Marx drove a rented silver Nissan Armada onto the courthouse plaza about 9:57 a.m. and threw out spike strips to hold off law enforcement’s response before beginning a “full frontal assault” on the facility.
“It appeared he was trying to actually drive through the front of the courthouse,” Piper said. “We had a court security deputy who was outside at the time ... it looks like he saw that deputy, swerved toward him to try to run over the deputy and the deputy engaged him.”
The deputy, Daniel Rush, approached Marx, who began firing at him through the window of his sport utility vehicle at the courthouse steps.
Rush, a 30-year veteran of the force, posted on a social media site that he is OK. Piper hailed Rush, who is expected to make a full recovery, as the reason there were no other injuries.
“Had he not engaged him right there, Mr. Marx’s intention was to get in that front door and take hostages,” Piper said. “The deputy who engaged him outside, he saved lives.
“The entire situation was solved by that deputy.”
Shortly after the deputy encountered Marx, the county’s SWAT team, which just happened to be nearby, and deputies from the jail and courthouse joined in the firefight.
Marx, who was alone in the vehicle and wearing body armor, was struck several times and died at the scene.
When Marx arrived at the courthouse, he started throwing out gas grenades and smoke grenades, most of which the sheriff said were homemade.
“He came there with the purpose of occupying the courthouse,” said Piper, adding that Marx never made it inside the building.
In addition to the explosives, Piper said Marx had assault rifles and several other weapons. The arsenal included CS tear gas and smoke grenades to obscure vision, assault rifles, flex ties and “lots of ammunition.”
According to Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle, authorities believe Marx had legal permits to possess the firearms used during the assault.
“Apparently, he’s a gun dealer and trader,” Doyle said.
The deputies involved in the shooting have been placed on paid administrative leave, per sheriff’s office policy.
While the gunfire lasted about two minutes, it likely will be hours before downtown Cumming is cleared, as multiple explosives are still at the scene, the sheriff said.
The courthouse, Forsyth County Administration Building, Cumming City Hall and surrounding structures were evacuated and later closed for the day. Traffic is being rerouted.
Piper went on to note that Marx, who was no stranger to law enforcement, had a home on Lakeside Trail east of Cumming and near Lake Lanier, though he had not been living there for at least 10 days.
Authorities are searching the home.
“We are quite certain it’s booby-trapped with the purpose of killing law enforcement,” he said, adding it appears Marx had been preparing for the assault for quite some time.
The Holiday Inn Express on Market Place Boulevard, where Marx was staying, is considered a crime scene, as is his home, according to Doyle with the sheriff’s office.
Doyle added that the assumption is Marx’s home is “booby-trapped to the hilt because he wanted to kill as many cops as he could.”
“It’s going to be a long, painstaking process to search his house, search the hotel and search his vehicle, which is there at the hotel,” he said.
According to court documents, Marx was suing the sheriff’s office alleging civil rights violations, including excessive force.
He filed an amendment to the complaint on April 2, the inclusion of which a judge denied, alleging that a deputy had set in motion events causing a death in his family.
“Plaintiff also has information and receipts to verify his statements to defendants regarding the seizure of plaintiff’s family’s property, leaving plaintiff and plaintiff’s family without the means to properly protect themselves and/or relocate, as is their Constitutional right, leading directly or indirectly to the death and/or murder of one member of plaintiff’s family,” the motion read.
According to court records, Marx faced many drug-related charges from August 2011, including manufacturing marijuana, possessing a firearm or knife during the commission of a felony and possession with intent to distribute.
The sheriff’s office, Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms continue to work the scene downtown, though they say there is no further danger to the public. There is no estimation as to when the roads may reopen.
As a precaution, authorities are canvassing the area around the courthouse for any possible explosives.
Motorist Lenny Washington had driven into downtown this morning via Pirkle Ferry Road when he saw the incident unfold.
Washington heard shots, looked up and saw what he described as a puff of orange smoke.
He yelled at a woman, who was walking toward the courthouse, to run.
According to Washington, at the same time the woman began to flee, a man whose face was covered began firing a gun.
Washington did not know what type of weapon the man had, but said he was wearing some type of heavy vest and gear.
Authorities have extended the evacuation zone farther from downtown.
According to a sheriff’s deputy, they have not ruled out the possibility that there may be explosives in or near the courthouse.
At least one person, described as an older man, was taken to a hospital after he fell while leaving a building downtown.
Those who work in downtown Cumming were asked to lock their doors and remain inside after the shooting.
Ethan Underwood, an attorney with Lipscomb, Johnson, Sleister, Dailey & Smith LLP, was in his office just off the square behind Bank of America when the events started to unfold.
“We heard someone had called one of our co-workers and said there was a shooting at the courthouse and of course we were all concerned and doing a head count to make sure all of our staff and lawyers were accounted for,” he said.
He said several members of the office stepped outside to watch the happenings as they unfolded.
“We watched [sheriff’s deputies] put on their bullet-proof vests and we watched some of the marksmen up on top of some of the buildings and probably in about five minutes, they came by and asked everyone to go in and lock their doors.”
He said later he spoke with a client who was in the county administration building getting a building permit when the incident occurred.
“He was bragging on the security,” Underwood said. “He said they were great; they were calm and they shuffled everybody where they needed to go to.
“Obviously, everyone’s nerves were wrecked, but they did what they needed to do.”
Underwood also praised the emergency responders.
“It’s sad to realize that all of the expenditures that we’ve made for SWAT and police are necessary,” he said. “But, I’m very, very grateful that we have invested in that and that we have a great group of folks out there who are handling this situation.”
Check back for updates at forsythnews.com.