Marion County Courthouse Gunman Is Being Evaluated At Rusk State Hospital - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/15/05-Marion County

Marion County Courthouse Gunman Is Being Evaluated At Rusk State Hospital

A possible shooting at an East Texas courthouse, diverted. The suspect, 38 year old Christopher Benefield, is in a mental hospital Wednesday night.

Authorities say Benefield threatened to shoot civilians and officers at the Marion County courthouse in Jefferson Tuesday afternoon. It was at the backside of the courthouse, adjacent to the jail on Dallas street.

Investigators believe if given a chance, Benefield would have carried out his threats. However, several armed officers stepped in before anyone was hurt.

"The thing I remember, stepping off that bottom step was 'Lord give me the courage and strength without hurting him,'" says investigator Larry Nance.

Nance is an investigator for the district attorney's office in Marion County. He'll never forget the moment he walked outside to confront the gunman who was aiming at officers. Christopher Benefield, was armed with a rifle and got out of his car on the backside of the courthouse. "He exited the vehicle and had leveled and pointed the weapon at several innocent bystanders," says captain Bob Gibson.

Judge Phil Parker was inside his office. Hearing yelling outside, he went to the window. "I'm like, we got a problem. I immediately went back to my desk and hit the panic button," says Judge Parker.

The button alerted all officers through their radios there was a threat at the courthouse, but before they could arrive, those on the scene were closing in on Benefield.

"I activated the laser and I think that's what distracted him," says captain Gibson as he described pointing his own gun at Benefield while walking closer to him.

Now Larry, with no bullet proof vest and only a pistol to defend himself came outside. "I could see him. I saw the officers with the guns drawn, keeping his attention to them," says Larry.

"He started turning towards me and stepped back, and brought his rifle up," says captain Gibson.

Larry feared Benefield was about to shoot, so he made his move. "I stepped around the rear of his truck and ran up and grabbed the gun and threw it down and grabbed him with my arm and took him backwards onto the ground," says Larry.

After a brief fight, Benefield was finally in custody, the danger over. For Larry, his prayer came true. Wednesday is his birthday and after his ordeal Tuesday, his celebration is sweeter. "I turn 45 today. I've got 3 kids and my wife and that's my main concern, going home to them and I did.

Officers say they are not sure why Christopher Benefield came to the courthouse Tuesday with a rifle. They say he had been in trouble in the past, but for only minor offenses. The last time was back in 1987.

Benefield is in Rusk State hospital for mental evaluation. Investigators say they will wait on that evaluation before deciding how to proceed with the case.

Amy Tatum, reporting.

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