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Blair County Shooting Update

A criminal complaint is providing more details about what led to a shooting Wednesday at the Blair County Central Court building that claimed the life of a corrections officer.

Authorities were called to the court facility, located at 615 4th Street, just after 3 p.m. for reports of shots fired and an officer down.

Crews responded to find that 47-year-old Rhonda Russell had been shot in the holding area.

Officials say she taken to UPMC Altoona, where she was pronounced dead.

State police say they’ve since charged 54-year-old Christopher Aikens with murder of the second degree and murder of a law enforcement officer of the second degree.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, laid out by state police, Aikens was at the court facility Wednesday for a preliminary hearing regarding multiple firearm and drug charges.

Troopers say Aikens had prior burglary and robbery convictions, which prohibit him from possessing any guns.

In the affidavit, troopers say they were able to watch the shooting incident unfold using surveillance video.

Investigators say Russell, armed with her duty pistol, was in full uniform as a Blair County Prison Corrections Officer.

They say she was alone with several inmates as she supervised them during court proceedings.

One of the inmates she was watching was Aikens who claimed he needed to use the bathroom, troopers say.

Russell uncuffed one of Aikens hands so he could use the bathroom, troopers say.

As Aikens returned from the bathroom, officials say Russell tried to open the holding cell door for him and that’s when he began assaulting her.

Troopers say Aikens was able to take Russell’s gun and began holding her hostage.

According to the affidavit, an Altoona police officer overheard the commotion and went to help.

He reportedly opened the holding cell door to find Aikens pointing a gun at him while restraining Russell.

The Altoona police officer retreated into a hallway to grab his duty pistol before confronting Aikens a second time.

When the officer opened the holding cell door a second time, Aikens pointed the gun at him again, so the Altoona police officer fired a shot at Aikens who lifted Russell into the line of fire, the affidavit says.

Court documents do not say how the situation in the holding cell ended, if Aiken’s surrendered or was physically subdued after Russell was shot.

State police say they interviewed Aikens who confirmed his intentions to escape.

He told troopers that he was “surprised that CO Russell was left alone to monitor him and the other inmates,” the complaint says.

He explained that he was able to remove his handcuffs from the restraint belt because one handcuff was left open, the affidavit reads.

Troopers say Aiken also admitted to wanting to disarm Russell, and that he pointed the gun twice at the Altoona police officer.

Aikens’ bail was denied, and he is being held in the Blair County Prison.

He has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Dec. 1.

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