JEFFERSON CITY | A former rural Missouri sheriff's deputy is suspected of killing his ex-wife and her new boyfriend before leading officers on a high-speed chase that ended with a shootout at an upscale hotel hosting a Christmas party for hundreds of doctors, nurses and their families, authorities said Sunday.
None of the hotel's guests, which also included members of a youth hockey team, were injured in the Saturday night shootout just two blocks from the Missouri Capitol.
The night's drama began about 70 miles to the southeast in the rural town of Salem, where authorities say former Dent County Sheriff's Deputy Marvin Rice, 44, went to the home of his ex-wife and her current boyfriend, demanding custody of his 2-year-old son and pulling out a handgun during an argument. Annette Durham, 32, and Steven Strotkamp, 39, were fatally shot. Rice fled with the boy while Durham's 6-year-old daughter – who heard the gunshots from a bedroom – ran to a neighbor, who called authorities, the sheriff's office said.
Rice left his son at his home with his current wife, then took off again in his vehicle, said Wayne Becker, an investigator for the sheriff's computer crimes task force who was called in to help track Rice's cell phone signal. Authorities picked up on Rice's cell phone heading north on U.S. 63, and a chase ensued at speeds of up to 100 mph. Rice may have been headed to a mental health facility at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Columbia, Becker said.
The right front tire of his vehicle ran over spikes police had placed on the road near the Osage River and gradually deflated before Rice pulled into the parking lot of the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City and ran inside, Reinsch said.
A Jefferson City police officer was in close pursuit on foot as Rice entered the hotel lobby and ran past the check-in desk. To the right was a ballroom where an estimated 570 people were dancing at the annual Christmas party for employees of the Jefferson City Medical Group. Witnesses said the gunman turned to the left, toward the elevators and a swimming pool area that had just recently been vacated by members of a visiting youth hockey team from the St. Louis area.
Then came a loud sound: pop, pop, pop.
“I heard something that I kind of knew in the back of my head was gunfire, and I was hoping that it was a firecracker or something,” said Chad Lignoul, 39, of Granite City, Ill., who was at the hotel with his 8-year-old son's hockey team and had been watching a St. Louis Blues hockey game on a TV in the hotel lounge. “I turned and looked, and I saw people diving away or running away from the scene.”
Lignoul ducked for cover behind the wooden wall of a wheel chair ramp and saw a man who appeared to be a police officer or guard fire four shots toward the gunman.
Lyle Rosburg also heard the noise. The medical group's chief financial officer had just finished telling jokes and passing out awards as the party's emcee. He closed the ballroom doors, yelled for everyone to get down and went out into the lobby. Rosburg, who also is a reserve sheriff's deputy, said the medical group had decided to hire an off-duty Cole County sheriff's deputy to provide security at their event. Rosburg said he helped that deputy and a Jefferson City police officer as they handcuffed the gunman, who appeared to have been shot in the abdomen and forearm.
Rice was in fair condition Sunday at a Columbia hospital after being wounded in the shootout. Criminal charges had not yet been filed Sunday, and there was no indication that Rice had an attorney. A phone number listed for Rice in Salem was disconnected.
Rice had worked as a Dent County sheriff's deputy from 2004 until he was terminated in 2009, the sheriff's office said without elaborating on why Rice was fired. He previously worked for the Houston, Mo., Police Department and, after leaving the sheriff's office, got a job with the Missouri Department of Corrections. A department spokesman confirmed Sunday that Rice is a correctional officer at the South Central Correctional Center in Licking.
At the Capitol Plaza Hotel on Sunday, there was barely any indication that a shootout had occurred. The yellow police tape that had sealed off the hotel 12 hours earlier had been removed. There was no blood on the floor. But as they checked out, the still somewhat shaken guests walked past a wall that had about eight bullet marks in it.
“I'm just happy to be alive,” Lignoul said.