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Wayne hires ‘active shooter instructor’

Courthouse once had an active shooter

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HONESDALE, PA — At the bottom of the Wayne commissioners’ August 15 agenda, the last item in ‘new hires/salary board’ was the appointment of a certified active shooter instructor at $20.43 per hour.

Deputy Sheriff Nick Sanseverino took the certification training and became Wayne County’s first active-shooter instructor on August 12, Commissioner Wendell Kay said. Generally speaking, the trainer is the person who instructs people on how to react should they find themselves in threatening situations with armed person or persons. The trainer gives instructions on when it is appropriate to hide, run, or fight back.

To many people, Honesdale may appear to be straight out of “The Music Man,” a middle-class, farm and manufacturing town, where people often greet passing strangers on the street. It just doesn’t seem to be a place where active shooters would appear; but officials are aware that many other unlikely places have experienced these issues recently.

Commissioner and former school administrator Joe Adams said the school districts have regular shooter drills. The courthouse also drills. Sheriff Mark Steelman began one of those drills with the firing of a blank handgun shell in the lobby. District magistrate Linus Myers said courthouse employees are told generally when to expect drills, but not given the time of day they will occur.

Myers said the county has been attentive to security, closing off what were numerous entrances to the old courthouse and installing a metal detector in the late 1990s at the entrance. Any firearms are collected and stored in a gun safe in the lobby alcove. Myers recalled the story of a 1977 incident (which occurred about a month before Myers entered county employment) that contributed to the county’s caution.

Before a multi-story enlargement was completed in the 1970s, the county court was located on the first floor, which now houses Myers’ magistrate court and office. His office back then was that of President Judge James Rutherford.

The Lukens Shooting

According to press accounts, on the afternoon of August 29, 1977, Judge Rutherford was meeting with Elwood Lukens, 49, of Equinunk, his wife Estella, 32, and their respective attorneys, Lee Krause and Stephen Jennings, to negotiate terms of a peace bond, which would prevent Elwood from being near his wife.

Estella charged that her husband had earlier threatened her with a gun. Published details varied, but when the attorneys moved to the hallway to finalize the bond, Elwood apparently asked to join them. According to one account, Elwood offered his wife a sum of money, which she refused, which prompted the aggrieved husband to draw a .357 revolver from a shoulder holster and fire at his wife.

At about the same time, Dorothy Rutherford, the judge’s wife, had appeared and was conversing with the two attorneys.

Elwood’s first shot apparently grazed his wife’s face and shattered her glasses, prompting her to run for the courthouse entrance. A second shot hit Estella in the back and passed through her body.
The stunned attorneys pushed Dorothy into her husband’s office doorway and joined her there, sheltering in a small restroom. Elwood entered a private stairway entrance leading from the office, where he shot and killed himself.

Estella survived the incident. She was taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital, where she was treated. From the unpublished account of an acquaintance, an ashen and blood-spattered Dorothy left the courthouse, encountered the acquaintance, who tried to question her to find out what had happened to her. “The only thing she said was, ‘I was right there. I saw the whole thing.’”

Myers said that a Coke machine, which was struck by one of Elwood’s shots, leaving a large hole, remained in the lobby for some time.

The library research staff at the Wayne County Historical Society was of major assistance in the reporting of this account.

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