A man on trial for fraudulent bankruptcy opened fire in a courthouse in Milan in northern Italy on Thursday, killing his lawyer, co-defendant and a judge before being arrested by police after fleeing the scene.

“Now he’s being held in a Carabinieri military police barracks,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said.

As the shots rang out, court employees barricaded themselves inside their offices and took cover under their desks as police hunted for the gunman in the fortress-like courthouse. Eventually, the employees trickled out, women first, followed by the men who had their court ID cards checked.

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Prosecutor Edmondo Bruti Liberati said the gunman first fired on his lawyer and co-defendant, killing both and seriously injuring a second co-defendant.

Afterwards, he “walked through the building, going down a floor, and killed the judge”, Bruti Liberati said.

He said it was not clear whether there was any relationship between the gunman and the judge.

He identified the slain judge as Fernando Ciampi, who worked in the civil section of bankruptcy court. The ANSA news agency identified the gunman as Claudio Giardiello.

The sound of shots ringing out had caused panic, lawyer Marcello Ilia, who was in the courthouse when the shooting began, said.

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“All of a sudden we heard at least three or four shots,” he said.

“We tried to find out what was going on. There were suddenly lots of police officers who told us not to leave the room, they shut us in.

“After a few minutes we came out. They told us someone in a suit and tie was armed and at large in the court,” he said.

The Palace of Justice is in the historic centre in Milan, only a few streets away from the city’s cathedral and shopping district.

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The shooting immediately raised questions about how the man gained entrance to the courthouse. The courthouse has metal detectors at the four main entrances, but lawyers and courthouse employees with official IDs are regularly waved through without the additional security screen.

Employees who exited the building after the shooting suggested that the gunman could easily have gained entrance without passing through the metal detector by entering with his lawyer.