Bitter dispute led to Delaware courthouse shooting

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 12, 2013 at 9:25 pm •  Published: February 12, 2013
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WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — A bitter custody battle that included an international kidnapping and prison sentences for a former optometrist and his mother ended in gunfire at a Delaware courthouse, with the doctor's father killing his former daughter-in-law and another woman before fatally shooting himself, authorities said Tuesday.

Delaware State Police said Thomas Matusiewicz, 68, walked into the lobby of the New Castle County Courthouse on Monday, pulled out a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol and shot Christine Belford, a 39-year-old mother, and her friend Laura Mulford, 47. He then exchanged fire with police, striking two officers who were protected by armored vests.

Authorities were working Tuesday to understand how the killings were planned, questioning former optometrist and convicted kidnapper David Matusiewicz (muh-TOO'-suh-wits) about his father and searching the older man's home in Edcouch, Texas. The yard of the small single-story home was filled with a crime scene investigation truck and unmarked grey pickup trucks commonly driven by federal agents.

Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said Texas authorities were searching the premises on a request from Delaware law enforcement officials.

Belford and Mulford, both from Newark, were at the county courthouse on Monday to attend a child support arrears hearing for David Matusiewicz, Belford's ex-husband.

Delaware State Police said David Matusiewicz and his father entered the courthouse lobby about 7:40 a.m. David Matusiewicz went through a security checkpoint while his father remained in the lobby. About a half-hour later, Belford and Mulford entered the lobby, and Thomas Matusiewicz approached and shot them, police said.

Thomas Matusiewicz then exchanged gunfire with police, taking a bullet in the upper body but dying from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, said Delaware state police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack.

The shooting was the culmination of years of strife between the Matusiewicz family and Belford, who battled David Matusiewicz for custody of their three daughters. In 2007, he kidnapped the girls and took them to Central America, court records show.

In a bankruptcy filing in Texas last year, Thomas Matusiewicz noted that he and his wife, Lenore, along with his son and daughter, Amy Gonzalez, were defendants in a Delaware Superior Court lawsuit filed by Belford.

Amy's husband, Juan Gonzalez, said the acrimony had stressed out the family, but that they were shocked by Monday's shooting. Juan Gonzalez said Lenore Matusiewicz told Amy Gonzalez she saw no signs that her husband was planning violence.

Gonzalez, of Edinburg, Texas, said he last saw Thomas Matusiewicz about a week ago as the family was preparing to drive east for Monday's court hearing and to visit a family member in New Jersey.

"I guess Tom had other plans," Gonzalez said. "We're still trying to figure out why he did that."

Gonzalez said his wife told FBI officials that her father had a brain tumor that went untreated for years, and that she wondered if it could have played a role in the shooting.

"He was changing — forgetting things," Gonzalez said.

At the heart of the lengthy custody and child support battles were the former couple's daughters, ages 7, 9 and 10. In 2009. Two of them were pictured with their mother in the Wilmington newspaper after returning home from Central America. They were shown as blonde, smiling youngsters. One sat in Belford's lap as her mother stroked her hair.