KAUFMAN -- Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot dead outside the courthouse Thursday, spurring a complete lockdown of the grounds and an active search for at least one, and possibly two, shooters.
Kaufman County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Pat Laney said the assistant DA was assaulted and gunned down on his way in to court. He was shot multiple times in a parking lot at about 8:50 a.m. The courthouse was locked down and later closed for the day, the suspect or suspects remain at large.
During an afternoon press conference, Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes, District Attorney Mike McLelland and Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh begged the public for any information that could identify those responsible.
"We're very confident that we're going to find you, we're going to pull you out of whatever hole you're in, we're going to bring you back and we're going to let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law," McLelland said.
Hasse, a longtime prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office and current assistant DA for Kaufman County, was a felony prosecutor who headed murder and drug cases.
Hasse joined the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office in July 2010, records show.
"Mark was really a great guy, he was the consummate prosecutor, he was hard-working, loved his job, and juries loved him for some reason," said Dallas attorney Ted Steinke, who oversaw Hasse in the Dallas County DA's Office. "He wasn't very large in stature, but juries loved him and he exuded confidence."
Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood told News 8's Jonathan Betz that he was not aware of on any high-profile cases that required any extra security for him. Investigators are following up on his caseload.
However, hours after Hasse was gunned down, the Department of Justice issued a release on its website crediting the Kaufman County District Attorney's Office with helping investigate two known members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang. They pleaded guilty the day of the shooting to racketeering charges.
Before the release was issued, The Dallas Morning News credited "authorities with knowledge of the assistant DA's caseload" as saying he was "heavily involved" in an investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood. According to the DOJ release, Ben Christian Dillon, aka "Tuff", of Houston, and James Marshall Meldrum, aka "Dirty", of Dallas, both "agreed to commit multiple acts of murder, robbery, arson, kidnapping and narcotics tracking" for the Aryan Brotherhood.
During the press conference, Byrnes and Aulbaugh each warned against speculation, saying investigators are following "several" leads.
"Due to the nature of them, we can't discuss them," Albaugh said. "As soon as we're able to, we'd be be glad to help you."
Earlier, Wood classified Hasse's shooting as an "ambush" and told Betz that courthouse security is always tight, but not in the parking lot where Hasse was murdered.
"It's a scary deal," Steinke said. "Every prosecutor every once in a while gets a death threat, and we take them seriously, but this is the first time in 20 years that I can remember here in North Texas a prosecutor actually being assaulted."
Byrnes and Aulbaugh said Hasse was heading to misdemeanor court when he was killed. Both expressed disgust and outrage at the brazen act.
"When you get up into the level, you are really attacking society as a whole because our whole society is based on our criminal justice system and getting our day in court," Byrnes said. "This is not how to handle our business."
The Texas Department of Public Safety sent out an alert shortly after the murder for troopers to be on lookout for a silver "older model" Ford Taurus. According to the alert, two suspects were wearing all black and at least one was in a tactical vest. Meanwhile, DPS choppers flew low over the treeline in north Kaufman.
Kaufman County Crime Stoppers issued a reward that quickly swelled to $30,000 Thursday afternoon for information leading to who is responsible. To submit an anonymous tip, you're asked to call 817-847-7522.
Kaufman Independent School District Superintendent Todd Williams said all schools in the district were locked down Thursday as authorities search for the shooters. Forney ISD spokesman Larry Coker said all schools were ordered to lock their doors until the suspects are caught. Administrators will reevaluate the plan at 2 p.m.
Forney is about 22 miles northwest of Kaufman.
"This is a crime, as our county judge said, that is against the very basis of our fabric," McLelland said. "As far as I know, this has never been done before."
In an e-mail sent to staff Thursday morning, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office confirmed the victim was a prosecutor and was fatally shot. The message urged staffers to be aware of their surroundings as they walked back to their cars.
Below is the entire email sent by the Dallas County DA:
"This message is not intended to scare anyone but please be advised. A Kaufman County prosecutor was fatally shot a few minutes ago outside the Kaufman County Courthouse in Kaufman. Two masked gunman are the suspects. They have not been apprehended yet.
Please be aware of your surroundings when leaving the building for your safety. This is probably a isolated incident but until further notice if you plan to work past dark today please be careful and ask security for assistance escorting you to your vehicles if needed. I will keep you informed as to the arrest of the suspects when i am notified. Don’t panic but please be aware of your environment when leaving the building."
Employees at businesses nearby said they saw heavy police activity and heard reports of the shooting. Cathy Coulson, a real estate agent at Re/Max across from the courthouse, said she was not at work when the shooting happened, but reported seeing police helicopters searching overhead.
"I didn't hear anything, I came into my office right after it happened, but I talked to one of my clients that's two blocks behind us and he said that he heard it," Coulson said, adding that she's seen police walking the streets. "They don't have time to come tell us to lock down, we have enough sense to do that; we've seen them going around and the helicopters."
Tonya Ratcliff, a clerk at The Kaufman County Tax Office located to the right of the courthouse, said officers came inside and asked them to lock their doors.
Kaufman is a town of 7,000 about 30 miles southeast of Dallas.
News 8's Bailey McGowan and Carla Wade contributed to this report.