Gunman in Ark. court shooting: 'Today's the day'

September 15, 2011 - 11:25 AM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Investigators believe that the gunman who opened fire inside a rural Arkansas courthouse this week tried to prepare his family, including sending a text message to his mother warning, "Today I'm going to die," police said Thursday.

James Ray Palmer, who died after exchanging gunfire with police, sent the message Tuesday before driving to the Crawford County courthouse in Van Buren, where he walked into a judge's office hiding two handguns and an assault rifle. Van Buren Police Lt. Brent Grill said the full message read: "Today's the day. Today I'm going to die."

Palmer had recently moved personal belongings to a storage unit, paid for the unit in advance and mailed a key to a family member, Grill said. His home was set on fire Tuesday, and when authorities entered the damaged house after the shootings, they found a newspaper clipping about a January 2010 shooting at a local Hampton Inn hotel, Grill said.

Palmer's mother contacted authorities the day before the shootings because she was worried about her 48-year-old son, Grill said. But after sheriff's deputies were sent to check on him, she called back and told them not to go, he said.

She called authorities again Tuesday after receiving the text, Grill said.

Phone messages left for Palmer's relatives by The Associated Press were not returned.

Police said Palmer, of nearby Kibler, went to the courthouse to speak to Arkansas Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell, who police believe handled Palmer's divorce and child custody proceedings in 2008. When a court worker told him the judge wasn't there, Palmer shot the worker in the leg as she tried to flee, authorities said. He later walked outside, exchanging gunfire with police, and died at a local hospital.

The shooting shocked Kibler's police chief, who had known Palmer for years. Roger Green said Palmer was frustrated by his divorce but never showed any signs that he was capable of Tuesday's attack.

Green was first called to Palmer's home several years ago after a burglary in which Palmer's motorcycles were stolen. The police chief said that after the burglary, Palmer would sometimes stop by his office to chat, and his divorce was often part of the conversation.

"It seemed to always be on his mind," Green said Thursday.

Palmer never threatened Cottrell or suggested that he was thinking of an attack, Green said.

The police chief was one of dozens of officers called to the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, but Green said he didn't know who was involved until he saw news reports Tuesday night.

"I still didn't believe it until I saw his picture on the website, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks," Green said.

Two days later, Green said he's still thinking about what he could have done to stop Palmer.

"I had gone through a divorce earlier, and I understood his feelings about divorce, but I never expected him to do anything like this," he said. "There were no signs."