by Ivan Foley
A longtime court reporter committed suicide in the Platte County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities said Terry Easton, age 50, of Parkville, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was found about 4:20 p.m. by a cleaning crew in a restroom that is connected to the jury deliberation room on the first floor of the courthouse.
Easton had worked in the courthouse for more than 20 years and had served as a court reporter for multiple judges during that time, most recently for Judge Abe Shafer. Court reporters create word-for-word accounts of activity and testimony in the courtroom.
Easton was married and had two children.
Cpt. Frank Hunter of the Platte County Sheriff's Department said Easton killed himself with his own gun, a weapon he had purchased earlier Tuesday.
State law had changed that very day eliminating the requirement for persons wishing to purchase a concealable gun to go through the sheriff's department for a background check prior to purchasing the weapon.
Hunter said the new law requires only that the gun dealer do a background check on persons purchasing the gun, and he is not aware of any waiting period the new law requires.
Hunter declined to say where Easton had purchased the gun on Tuesday.
"We have the receipt but I have not seen it," he said.
Hunter also confirmed that additional ammunition belonging to Easton was found in the bathroom. Asked by The Landmark if this was an indication Easton may have been considering firing more shots other than the one that killed him, Hunter responded: "There is no indication of that.”
Hunter declined to say how much additional ammunition was found in the restroom with Easton. Asked to confirm whether that amount was substantial, Hunter remarked: "I will only say there was other ammunition.”
As had the gun, the ammunition had been purchased by Easton on Tuesday. Hunter said the gun was a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. He described it as larger than a .357 and said a .40 caliber is the weapon used by the sheriff’s department.
"He had just acquired everything," Hunter said.
Hunter said authorities believe Easton may have shot himself around 3:30 p.m., though he wasn't found until nearly an hour later. He was deceased at the time of the discovery.
"No one apparently heard the shot. It's in kind of an out-of-the-way area," the captain explained.
He said the restroom is connected to the jury deliberation room so that jurors can use the facility without having to exit the room.
The cleaning crew members who found Easton notified the jury commissioner, who then contacted security.
"We immediately commenced an investigation and determined that from preliminary investigation we are 99% sure it was suicide. Only the medical examiner can make that determination, and we expect that determination relatively soon," Hunter said Wednesday morning.
No suicide note was found.
Hunter declined to say to what part of the body the fatal shot was fired. Multiple sources told The Landmark Easton shot himself in the chest and "bled out." The county has employed a specialty firm to perform the clean-up of the scene.
"The medical examiner will have to tell us that," Hunter said.
Authorities said information they have obtained indicates Easton may have had some medical issues.
"We're not into those quite yet," Hunter said.
Hunter said there was no indication from fellow workers that Easton had been despondent.
"At least not an incident to indicate that had surfaced at any given time," Hunter told The Landmark.
HOW DID THE WEAPON
GET IN THE
In response to Landmark questions about security measures for employees, Hunter indicated it would have been easy for Easton to get the gun and ammunition into the courthouse. He said employees, who have approved electronic security pass keys, are not required to walk through a metal detector.
Employees can enter the courthouse at, among other places, side doors where only the normal electronic pass key is required. The general public enters through the front door of the courthouse and must pass through a metal detector.
Hunter said employees can also enter the courthouse through the administration building, which sits behind the courthouse located on the Platte City downtown square.
Asked if security measures would now be enhanced at various entrances or whether a new policy for employee security would be studied, Hunter indicated there are no plans to change anything.
"We see no reason to recommend any changes. There really isn't a way to completely lock down the whole complex," he said, indicating sheriff's department officials had already discussed the matter after Tuesday's event.
Hunter said Tuesday's incident is "an aberration as far as we're concerned.”
Dana Babcock, director of administration for Platte County, said the county has brought in grief counselors to be on site to work with any employees in need.
"Counseling is being made available to anybody who needs it. If not today, whenever they need it," Babcock said.