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Wexner Center shooter took a hostage, spray-painted art

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Columbus Division of Police cruisers parked outside the Wexner Center for the Arts on Nov. 29. Credit: Michael Huson | Campus Editor

Columbus Division of Police cruisers parked outside the Wexner Center for the Arts on Nov. 29. Credit: Michael Huson | Campus Editor

New documents released by the Franklin County Municipal Court paint a darker picture of the violent scene that unfolded at the Wexner Center for the Arts last Sunday, in which a former Ohio State security officer vandalized artwork before taking his own life.

According to an affidavit filed by University Police, the man who ultimately killed himself, 63-year-old Dean Sturgis, not only fired shots at various pieces of art within the galleries but then turned the handgun on security officers, taking one as a hostage.

Sturgis, who chose to retire from OSU in lieu of termination in 2009, entered the building at about 11:20 a.m. Upon entering Gallery A, he began defacing artwork with a can of black spray paint, according to one search warrant affidavit.

“Upon entry into the museum, Dean Sturgis bypassed the ticket counter and walked directly down the steps to the gallery area,” the document stated.

Shortly thereafter, a security officer approached Sturgis in an attempt to stop the vandalism. Sturgis then produced a revolver from his coat pocket, stopping her advancement, according to another affidavit. A second security officer, who recognized Sturgis as a former OSU employee, was told by Sturgis to “relax.”

The man then escorted the officer by force to retrieve a key to a vault located inside the control center. Upon returning with the key, Sturgis was unable to gain entry into the control center itself, according to the document.

A university spokesman declined to comment on the contents of the Wexner Center vault.

In a recording of the 911 call obtained by The Lantern from University Police, the security supervisor who made the initial call described Sturgis approaching the security control center as he attempted to give the dispatcher directions to his location.

“We have a shooter at the Wexner Center,” he said in the call. “He’s still in the gallery.”

Several employees were hiding in the control center as Sturgis was attempting to enter, the court document stated. At this point, Sturgis took a seat, and then took his own life.

“Sir, the shooter is dead,” the 911 caller said. “He shot himself in the head.”

The Wexner Center security team evacuated two patrons and a small group of occupants from the building, as police were heard in the call approaching the control center.

In addition to spray-painting artwork at the Wexner Center, Sturgis also shot several pieces, including paintings and statues, according to one of the documents. Shots were also fired into the ceiling of the Wexner Center.

At that time the center was showcasing the “After Picasso: 80 Contemporary Artists” exhibition, which featured selected works of Spanish artist Pablo Picasso’s peers, including art by Brassaï and Andy Warhol.

The university has declined to provide specific information regarding what was vandalized or the extent of the damage. A university spokesman told The Lantern in an email that this information is not being shared due to an insurance agreement.

University Police learned during its investigation that Sturgis had visited the Wexner Center several days prior to the incident, with one witness saying he made “disparaging comments about the artwork,” according to the residence search affidavit.

Sherri Geldin, director of the Wexner Center, announced in a statement Tuesday that the art center would resume partial operations on Wednesday, with the annual Zoom program beginning on Thursday and running through the weekend.

“Moments like these help us remember what matters, ” she said. “For us, that’s … our loyal members, fans, friends and patrons who help make the Wex such a unique place in the cultural landscape. A place that fuels artistic expression and propels creative discovery. A place that both celebrates and enhances the human spirit.”

An affidavit to search Sturgis’ automobile, authored and signed by a University Police detective on Monday, stated that Sturgis had destroyed “an undetermined number of pieces.”

The gunman’s automobile was found parked in the Union South Garage. An inventory of the search showed little, apart from keys, a cellphone and a garage “spitter” ticket, time-and-date marked Sunday morning, just before the incident.

The search inventory of Sturgis’ residence included several gun cases, ammunition boxes and a two fired bullets.

The University Police investigation of the incident is ongoing, according to a university spokesman.

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