Planning to replace Smith County Courthouse includes lessons from downtown Tyler’s most difficult day

Courthouse shootout was 15 years ago this week
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Published: Feb. 24, 2020 at 7:53 PM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - WARNING: Video may be disturbing to some viewers.

Echoes of gunshots fired 15 years ago continue to ring in downtown Tyler as county leaders work on a proposal to replace the Smith County Courthouse.

February 24 marks 15 years since a man wearing a bullet proof vest and armed with an AK-47 opened fire on the courthouse, killing two people and injuring four others. The gunman, David Hernandez Arroyo, Sr., was shot by law enforcement on U.S. Highway 271, while fleeing the scene.

“David Arroyo came around and tried to shoot Officer John [Smith]. Actually shot through the light bar above his head and as John passed by, it afforded me an opportunity to fire some shots at David Arroyo,” said Tyler Police Department Assistant Chief Rusty Jacks, who was a sergeant at the time of the shootout.

Maribel Estrada, in a legal battle with Arroyo over child support for their minor children, died on the courthouse steps. Beside her, their eldest son David Arroyo Jr. was shot in the leg. Across Spring Street, Mark Alan Wilson pulled his own handgun to engage Arroyo, losing his life but likely saving Arroyo’s son.

Law enforcement responding to calls for help were also injured. Smith County Deputy Sherman Dollison was shot five times. He recovered but with lasting effects, including a kidney transplant in 2017.

Lt. Marlin Suell with Smith County Sheriff’s Office and Tyler Police Department officer Clay Perrett were treated for minor injuries.

It was a day that Sheriff Larry Smith says changed everything.

The east entrance to the courthouse was closed off to the public. Active shooter training was held, and then held again. Deputies and police officers outgunned 15 years ago are now equipped with rifles.

“That’s one thing we’ve done more so in the courthouse than ever before with security there … training. Firearms training, reaction training, what to do in a situation like that," Smith said.

Planning to replace the courthouse, already underway at the time time of the shooting, stopped.

“At that time the commissioners court was going through a courthouse planning process and it really came to a halt and they began to shift gears and focus solely on safety and security after that point. Rightfully so, to address issues in that existing building at the time," said Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran.

Moran said safety is top of mind while considering what a new courthouse might look like.

“That day in February of 2005, I think made the community much more solemn and aware of the potential dangers and threats and evils of this world. And let’s just be honest and say there is evil in this world and we have to be prepared for that," Moran said. “This community is a very good community, but evil persists…and as it does, good must persist even more.”

When Smith County commissioners started looking at possible locations for a proposed...
When Smith County commissioners started looking at possible locations for a proposed courthouse, the east side of the downtown square wasn’t even on their radar.

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