Around 0930 this morning a defendant in a rape case in Atlanta grabbed a deputy sherriff’s handgun and killed the judge, the court stenographer, and at least one deputy. One deputy is fighting for his life in Grady Hospital, and there may be more casualties.

The assailant gunned his way out of the courthouse and hijacked a car, and he is still at large at this hour. Much of Atlanta is locked down right now, however, there are three major interstate highways within two blocks of the shooting location, so the suspect could have gone in at least six directions.

More later.

UPDATE: 3/12/05-1300ET: The suspect, Bryan Nichols, is in custody. He was arrested at an apartment complex in Duluth, GA, about 20 miles from downtown Atlanta, where the original incidents took place. With an overwhelming police presence in place, surrounded by SWAT teams, Nichols apparently realized that he would emerge from the building in one of two ways: in a body bag or in custody. He initiated his surrender by waving a white t-shirt from the window of the first-floor unit where he was holed up.

In further developments, around 8 AM this morning, the body of an ICE (Immigration and Customs
Enforcement) agent was found in Gwinnett County, an area northeast of metro Atlanta. The officer’s weapon, badge, and pickup truck were all missing. At that point the focus of the manhunt for Nichols was moved to the Gwinnett County/Duluth area. later in the morning, the local 911 center received a 911 call from a woman who stated that she knew where the suspect was. Calmly and without any sense of panic, the caller revealed the details, and stated that she knew Nichols, who had arrived at her apartment during the night and took her hostage. When she was sure that he was asleep, she managed to quietly slip away and make the 911 call. As the case unfolds, it has been alleged now that Nichols probably killed the ICE agent and stole his truck, ID, and weapon.

Nichols was arrested peacefully and without incident. He was taken to Gwinnett County jail, and has been transferred to the Federal Detention Facility in Atlanta. Charges will be preferred, probably on Monday, and will include a number of death penalty allegations, the murders heading the list. Further updates will follow as the case develops.

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