- Oxford Eagle
- October 19, 1997
- Ed Pierce killed in Las
- "Box Killer" Ed Pierce shot dead by
federal agents in Las Vegas casino rooftop
- Chase McFadden
- STAFF WRITER
- Las Vegas, Nev. - Police in the city of Las Vegas,
who admit that they are used to bizarre crimes and
criminals from mobsters to pimps to the growing drug
trade, say that they are still stunned from the shootout
that took place on their busiest street this past Friday
night. The total tally: three deaths, the wounding of
eleven police officers of various rank, and close to six
million dollars in property damage to the state of Nevada
and to the casino itself.
- Authorities comment that they were compelled to treat
the situation as a terrorist attack from the outset, when
the suspect opened fire on them with a hail of bullets
right as they pulled up to the front walk of the casino.
- "It was like a war," one officer said, "and I wasn't
sure we'd win it."
- The shootout involved the infamous "box killer"
Edward Pierce, who was wanted nationwide for the murder
of University of Mississippi student Purity Knight.
Knight was kidnapped and held against her will in a box
in a rural part of Yoknapatawpha County, then later
- Pierce has been on the lam since his escape Sept. 20
from a Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department
transport van as he and another prisoner were being
transferred to a more secure facility.
- Pierce was reportedly traveling through Las Vegas to
an undisclosed location on the West Coast with Victoria
Symons, a one-time waitress and student at the University
of Mississippi. Symons reportedly approached police in
Las Vegas around 3:30 on Friday afternoon and informed
them that Pierce was in the area. When police raided the
location that Symons had described, they found it empty.
- Only thirty minutes later, they received a 911 call
from downtown, during which the caller, a store owner,
described a man firing at security personnel at the
Horseshoe casino on the "Strip," the several-mile long
main drag of Las Vegas.
- Federal agent Gary Stremcha said Pierce had attempted
to cut through the casino after Stremcha, in an unmarked
patrol car, spotted Pierce walking along the Strip and
turned on the car's flashing lights. Upon entering the
casino, security personnel said Pierce set off hidden
metal detectors, which prompted several security officers
to follow him as he moved through the main gambling area.
Upon being ordered to stop, Pierce bolted for the exit
and opened fire.
- Both the Las Vegas SWAT team and the Las Vegas Office
of the Nevada State Police responded to the 911 call.
- The caller, one Thomas Berry, described a "war" that
was going on outside the front doors of the casino
between a man and several casino security personnel. The
caller also reported that the man was carrying and firing
at least three separate weapons, one of which he
described as a shotgun. (See our additional story on page
- Las Vegas authorities sped to the scene and were
immediately fired upon by the suspect, who took up a
crouched position right inside the open breezeway of the
casino entrance, using a set of concrete pillars as a
- Officers believed he fired more than two hundred
rounds at them in the space of ten minutes, resulting in
the destruction of three police cars and the wounding of
four officers, who all are expected to recover.
- Officials say that they could have moved in on Pierce
quickly but what started as a shoot-out escalated into a
hostage situation when Pierce ran inside, firing behind
him for cover, and grabbed a woman who had just stepped
off the elevator by chance. He pushed her backwards into
the elevator and placed his gun on the elevator operator
and forced him to use the keys to take the elevator to
- Once on the roof, police say, Pierce shut down the
elevator and forced his two captives onto the roof.
Pierce walked the elevator operator over to the roof edge
and held him over the side of the balcony and fired on
- Police, who had received a report that Pierce was on
the roof, opened fire on the figure who they thought was
Pierce. Bill Madsen, 54, a twenty-seven year veteran of
the Las Vegas casino business, was killed in the return
of gunfire, and Pierce subsequently threw his body from
the roof, where it crashed into a police car windshield.
- By this time, a Las Vegas police helicopter was on
the scene, and coming under a hail of fire from Pierce,
were forced to back away. During the entire attack,
Pierce held Barbara Ragsdale, 34, a hotel guest on
vacation from Minneapolis, in front of him, almost daring
the helicopter to fire on him. On another occasion, he
threatened to throw Mrs. Ragsdale from the roof unless
they backed off.
- Authorities on the ground tried to force Pierce back
into the elevator by firing multiple tear gas canisters
onto the roof. Pierce responded by throwing them back off
the roof, creating more confusion on the "Strip."
Downtown Las Vegas was awash in green and white smoke for
the better part of four hours.
- The Las Vegas SWAT team commandeered a separate
elevator and began to ride up to the roof. When Pierce
realized what was happening, he dragged his hostage over
to the elevator shaft and threw a tear gas canister down
the shaft, causing the team to retreat back down to
- By this time, the entire casino and adjoining hotel
had been evacuated and several news cameramen and
reporters had arrived. A helicopter from the main Las
Vegas television station was also hovering about two
hundred yards away from the roof, and filmed the latter
part of the siege. That tape is now the property of the
Las Vegas Police Department. A crowd numbering in the
hundreds had collected on the ground below and were
coughing from the tear gas.
- The Las Vegas Police commandeered floor plans of the
building from the casino security office and found that a
set of stairs on the floor below the roof led outside and
onto the roof. Apparently the stairs are used by casino
personnel for access to the air conditioning control
panel, which is enclosed inside a short hallway on the
roof itself, in a back corner. The hallway has one access
door which leads to the roof and the entrance to the roof
is barred by a mesh gate.
- Using this stairwell, members of the Las Vegas SWAT
team were able to open the door quietly and cut round
hole through the mesh. Their finest sniper, Lieutenant
Paul Dickerson, took up a position where he could have a
clear shot at Pierce, who was standing some one hundred
yards away with his back turned, holding Mrs. Ragsdale in
front of him with a gun to her head.
- Dickerson, a U.S. Army Ranger in Vietnam with
twenty-seven confirmed kills as a sniper, drew a bead on
Pierce's head and waited for the signal from his
commanding officer, who was next to him and watching
Pierce's movements through a pair of binoculars.
- The Las Vegas Police helicopter approached the roof
once more. Pierce began to yell that he would throw Mrs.
Ragsdale off the roof and edged over towards it with her
in tow. Pierce reportedly turned his head to the side for
a moment to fire over the roof at the police below and at
this point Dickerson received the go-ahead from his
commander and shot Pierce in the back of the head.
- Pierce's forward momentum as he was shot knocked Mrs.
Ragsdale out of his arms and from the roof, where she was
caught by a firefighter's net which had been erected
during the standoff. Ragsdale reportedly suffered a
broken collarbone from the fall.
- After cutting through the remaining mesh on the
screen door, the SWAT team edged out and made sure that
Pierce was dead. On his person were a sawed-off double
barreled shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, a .38 pistol,
ammunition, and a hunting knife with a ten-inch blade. A
.357 Magnum matching the description of the gun stolen
off the corpse of Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Deputy
Vernon Schiff, who was killed in the Sept. 20 van crash,
was also in Pierce's possession.
- In Pierce's trouser pocket police found a small pill
bottle of methamphetamines, which authorities say could
account for his seemingly superhuman energy and endurance
during the four-hour standoff.
- Symons is being held in Las Vegas pending extradition
back to Yoknapatawpha County, where she will face felony
charges that include aiding and abetting the escape of
Pierce and concealment of a felony charged suspect.
- Symons has been questioned about the disappearance of
Macy Lamar, the daughter of Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff
Charles Lamar. Pierce was reportedly the prime suspect in
her disappearance but authorities are releasing no
further details at this time.