Bitter dispute led to Delaware courthouse shooting

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.

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

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

During the shootout, Thomas Matusiewicz suffered two gunshot wounds but died from a self-inflicted gunshot, said Delaware state police spokesman Sgt. Paul Shavack.

Strife over the divorce, custody battle and kidnapping stretched back years. 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 entire close-knit family, but that they were shocked by Monday’s shooting. Gonzalez said Lenore Matusiewicz told his wife she saw no signs that her husband was planning violence.

At the heart of the long-running custody and child support battles are 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, where federal prosecutors said David Matusiewicz took his daughters after kidnapping them. They were shown as blonde, smiling youngsters. One sat in Belford’s lap as her mother stroked her hair.

David Matusiewicz pleaded guilty in 2009 to federal fraud and kidnapping charges after fleeing to Nicaragua in a motor home with his mother and the three girls. Investigators said Matusiewicz, who was released from prison last year, kidnapped the girls after forging his ex-wife’s name on a loan document.

Thomas Matusiewicz was not charged in the scheme, but Lenore Matusiewicz pleaded guilty in state court to endangering the girls’ welfare and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

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