RACINE - Judge Dennis Barry was found dead Thursday morning after apparently taking his own life.
Barry, 64, was found dead in Lincoln Park just north of Spring Street. He was found with a shotgun wound to the head, lying on his back in a shallow creek from the waist up, with his legs on the shore, said Racine County Medical Examiner Tom Terry.
"We're satisfied that it's a self-inflicted wound to the head," Terry said. "It's a suicide."
Barry was pronounced dead at the scene at 9:15 a.m., but Terry said he probably died Wednesday evening.
There will not be an autopsy, Terry said.
"If there was any doubt at all, we'd still be out there," he said.
Police said they responded to a missing person report at about 7 a.m., went to Lincoln Park and found the body at about 8:45 a.m.
Quantisha Etiaae of Racine may have heard the killing gunshot.
"I was in my living room around 1 in the morning, 12 or 1, when I heard this big old boom!" she said. "I wasn't sure what it was; it sounded like it could have been a gunshot, but I just laid down on the couch and went to bed, I didn't bother with it."
Regina Werth, 52, a retired Racine resident, said at the scene, "We were coming through and we - my husband and grandkids and me - saw the cops truck and then saw cop cars coming in at around 8 a.m.
"Detective then came up and told me we needed to get the kids out of the area because it was too gruesome; we needed to leave now."
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Allan "Pat" Torhorst said he was notified of Barry's death by county officials at 9:30 a.m.
"I was notified as soon as they could by the county executive and the sheriff," said Torhorst, deputy chief district judge for this judicial district.
Torhorst called the death "a real loss to not only the community but the county."
There are 10 judges in Racine County Circuit Court, and every two years they rotate among assignments. Barry's most recent assignment was to civil court. Racine County Clerk of Circuit Court Rose Lee said Judge Charles Constantine, the other civil court judge, picked up a Barry case Thursday morning in his absence before anyone had heard the grim news. Court staffers adjourned two afternoon cases and rescheduled a Friday hearing scheduled before Barry.
Going forward, Barry's cases will be handled either by other circuit judges or by bringing in reserve judges, Lee said. The district court administrator will coordinate that.
"It's all of our problem, and we're all working very hard together to coordinate it all," she said.
Barry was an active member of the Downtown Rotary club for many years but recently submitted his letter of resignation. On June 28 he sent a two-paragraph email to current club President Jessica McPhail and Past President Chris Terry.
It began, "I have absolutely enjoyed all the friendships I have made as a member of our Rotary Club over the 23 years I have been a member. Unfortunately job and personal circumstances change over time and that is the situation that causes me to have to submit my resignation."
Barry added that he wanted to be involved in some Rotary activities such as a middle school career exploration program.
"His resignation came as a complete surprise to me," Terry said.
They chatted once recently, Terry said, adding, "There was no indication I have ever gotten from Dennis that this would be on the horizon."
Alicia Abercrombie and Bridget Thoreson contributed to this report.