From 1990 to 2000, Thomas J. Piccard worked as a police officer in Wheeling, West Virginia, an Ohio River town of 30,000 in the state's narrow panhandle wedged between Ohio and Pennsylvania sixty miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Piccard quit the force before he had acquired enough service time to qualify for a pension.
In 2013, the 55-year-old ex-Wheeling police officer suffered from stomach cancer. He resided five miles west of downtown Wheeling in the Presidential Estates Trailer Park across the river in Bridgeport, Ohio. He told his friends that he hoped to spend his final days in Florida. As far as Piccard's friends knew, the ex-cop was not an angry man who harbored a grudge against the government. Moreover, he did not have a history of mental illness.
At 2:45 in the afternoon of Wednesday, October 9, 2013, Piccard, looking thin and frail, parked his car in the Chase Bank lot on Chapline Street across from Wheeling's gray, three-story federal building. Piccard climbed out of his vehicle armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. Just before randomly spraying the federal building with 25 or more bullets, he waved people on the street out of harm's way.
Inside the understaffed federal building--forty percent of the workforce had been furloughed as a result of the government shutdown--employees were crawling on the floor and hiding under their desks. Three security officers were injured by flying window glass. There were no other injuries.
Piccard, who didn't appear to be targeting any window or person, was shot several times by a federal security guard and a Wheeling police officer. As the bullet-ridden ex-cop was wheeled to the ambulance, a couple of paramedics worked furiously to save him. Piccard died en route to the hospital.
FBI agents searched Piccard's car for clues that might shed light on his motive for shooting-up the federal building. After a bomb squad cleared Piccard's trailer in Bridgeport, agents searched his dwelling. A forensic pathologist in the state's medical examiner's office in Charleston will, among other things, determine if Piccard had cancer, and whether or not he had acted under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Mahlon Shields, a Piccard acquaintance who lived in the trailer park, told an Associated Press reporter that he didn't think Mr. Piccard had intended to hurt anyone. "I think he was afraid to commit suicide," Shields said. "I believe it was suicide by cop."