Gunman intended to ram courthouse, attach bombs to hostages

The heavily armed gunman who attempted to storm the Forsyth County courthouse Friday planned to smash his SUV into the building and attach bombs to hostages.

Dennis Marx wore two sets of bulletproof vests. That initially made it difficult for sheriff’s deputies to stop him before he was shot dead.

Marx rented a particular type of SUV — a Nissan Armada — he thought he would be able to drive up the steps of the courthouse and into the building. Found inside his vehicles were explosives made to physically link hostages together.

Forsyth Sheriff Duane Piper revealed those details Saturday during an interview at his office in Cumming, while hailing the bravery of his deputies and underscoring how their training kicked in.

“Between what he had with him, what he had on him, what he had in the vehicle and what he had at his house, he was coming there to take hostages,” said Piper, who took office in January of last year. “He was coming there to occupy that courthouse and kill as many people as he could.”

Piper said he has not found any evidence indicating Marx had accomplices or was part of any anti-government groups, including the Sovereign Citizens Movement, as has been reported in the news media.

Marx had filed a lawsuit against Piper’s agency, saying that it had confiscated his life savings and weapons. He hoped to spare “unsuspecting citizens” the “lies and brutality that he has personally survived to date,” Marx wrote in court filings. Marx was expected at a court hearing on criminal charges on Friday before he launched his assault. He was arrested in 2011 on charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Armed with a rifle and wearing a gas mask, Marx tossed homemade smoke grenades, pepper spray grenades and spike strips in an effort to keep law enforcement personnel from stopping his approach to the courthouse. Officials found other explosives in Marx’s home in Cumming. They were probably made to booby-trap the house, Piper said, though they had not been set up to do that.

Authorities also found a handwritten checklist Marx wrote about his plans, though it didn’t identify any motives.

“He fully intended to go up the stairs and drive into the front of the courthouse,” Piper said. “He had the restraining devices and the explosives … in bags, buckets … to grab out of the vehicle quickly. So he was going to run through the front of the courthouse, grab this stuff and start grabbing people.”

Piper credited a quick-thinking deputy for helping foil Marx’s plans. Deputy Daniel Rush happened to be doing a routine security check in an area just outside the courthouse’s front entrance when he heard Marx’s SUV barreling toward the building. Marx aimed his SUV at Rush but came to a stop after hitting a corner of the stairs. Rush drew his handgun, though it is unknown if he was able to fire before Marx shot him through the SUV’s windshield, fracturing Rush’s tibia and fibula.

In all, eight deputies fired on Marx. Some hit him with no apparent effect, probably because of his bullet proof vests, one of which included hard plates, Piper said. Marx finally fell when other deputies — some carrying rifles — arrived on the scene and fired on him from different angles. Marx had also booby-trapped his own body, using grenades and wires, Piper said.

A 24-year-old veteran of the county sheriff’s office, Rush, 46, was in stable condition Saturday and was scheduled to undergo additional surgery. He was being treated at North Fulton Hospital in Roswell. Rush had just had firearms training on Wednesday, Piper said. Rush’s friends have set up a donation fund account at BB&T to help cover expenses related to his recovery.

“What averted the tragedy were the acts of those courthouse deputies,” Piper said. “Then all the tactical guys with the rifles and everything ended it.”