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Pittsburgh  police officers Police officers dressed in swat gear make their way towards Western Psychiatric hospital in Pittsburgh.
Police officers dressed in swat gear make their way towards Western Psychiatric hospital in Pittsburgh.
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Published: Thursday, 3/8/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Two dead, seven injured in Western Psych shooting in Pittsburgh

BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

PITTSBURGH -- Two people are dead, including a person who began firing from two guns inside Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC shortly before 2 p.m.

At least seven additional people required treatment for injuries after the shootings at Western Psychiatric. A University of Pittsburgh police officer was grazed in the leg, officials said.

The injured were taken to UPMC Presbyterian across the street. Two have since been released.

The other survivors are either in surgery or will require surgery in the next 12 to 24 hours. One of the people injured was not hit by gunfire.

The identities of the shooter and of the other person killed are not available, but one official on the scene said a University of Pittsburgh police officer shot the gunman.

"What we're worrying about right now is patient care and taking care of all the wounded people," Mr. Wood said.

The building has been secured, Mr. Wood said. He was firm that earlier reports of a second shooter or hostage situation were incorrect.

"We've been hearing reports that two staff members were injured in the shooting, but we have not been able to confirm that with authorities," said Matt Richards, spokesman with the Service Employees International Union, which represents more than a hundred workers at Western Psychiatric. "It's just what we're hearing from our folks over there. Our thoughts and prayers, of course, are with all of the workers and patients there. We hope that everyone is safe."

Mr. Richards said SEIU represents 28 service employees -- clerks, psychiatric aides and drivers -- 30 housekeepers and 80 registered nurses.

Officials at the scene said that police are still searching the building. SWAT teams from Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Port Authority and state police have been called to the scene. Bomb-sniffing dogs are on the scene.

The facility where the shooting occurred, at 3811 O'Hara Street in Oakland, is a 17-story, 60-year-old building that is officially called Thomas Detre Hall, named after the late, former head of UPMC.

Evacuation of staff and patients continued just before 4 p.m. Children, many shoeless, were carried by staff members and loaded into the back an armored SWAT vehicle.

Security usually tight

Security is normally very tight at Western Psychiatric, according to those who work there.

Law enforcement sources said the shooting may have begun in an area called the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, or DEC, as it's referred -- a fact that stunned employees.

"That's the most secure part of the entire building," one employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

The DEC is the equivalent of Western Psych's emergency room where patients are admitted. It is an area located off of the first floor that requires all visitors, including employees, to go through security similar to airport screenings, though the guards do not carry guns, another employee said.

Visitors have to empty their pockets of everything, and all their possessions checked out by a team of security officers before passing through a metal detector there.

Only after passing through that do you get to go past the first locked door, which leads to a second locked door where you have to ring for another security guard asks you why you're there. Only then, if approved, can you enter.

Police flood in

A large crowd was drawn to the scene near the shootings, but they were kept away by scores of heavily armed police and SWAT team members who set up a perimeter around the hospital.

Police blocked off the area near Bouquet, De Soto and O'Hara streets.

Police were called shortly before 2 p.m. Scores of city police officers arrived and were reinforced by FBI agents, sheriff's deputies, state police troopers and members of the South Hills SWAT team.

UPMC hospitals in Oakland were put on a bronze alert at 1:58 p.m. for someone with a weapon in Western Psychiatric. The alert requires employees to stay where they are and respond to the alert with their exact location.

Rich Mellen said he was working on a roof of a nearby hotel when he saw dozens of police cars converge on the area.

It was "cops, cops and more cops," he said.

One woman, who did not give her name, said she and other nurses from Western Psychiatric were slowly returning from their lunch break when a woman yelled at them not to enter the building.

The woman said there was a shooter in the first floor lobby and that at least five people had been hit, including a Pitt police officer struck while walking in the front door.

She said she was grateful she and her friends had stalled their return to the hospital.

"A few seconds later and we would have been in the lobby," she said.

A message sent to Pitt employees at 2:08 p.m. said that several people have been injured and that "lock-down recommended until further notice."

It also said, "If safe to do so, tell others of this message."

Pitt is on break, so there are few students there.

After chaos, calm

Nearly two hours later, police and other authorities streamed in and out of the building's front entrance unhurried. A couple of dozen staff were escorted out in a line, as well. Two armored vehicles remained parked near the entrance, while staff in nearby Crabtree Hall were told to remain away from windows.

Several dozen people, including some middle and high school students attending a robotics competition, stood on the second floor of the Petersen Events Center, some licking ice cream.

Building security workers said no one is allowed to enter or exit the building until police clear the scene. All the main outside doors are locked.

A few people sat outside on the wet steps, waiting quietly as they wait for updates about a friend who works in the Western Psychiatric.

Buses detoured

The 81 Oak Hill and 83 Webster bus routes are detouring via Lothrop Street instead of De Soto Street, which is blocked, according to the Port Authority.

The 93 Lawrenceville-Oakland is continuing on Fifth rather than turning on De Soto, turning left on McKee Place, left on Forbes Avenue, left on Bigelow Boulevard and right to stay on Bigelow and return to its regular route.

Buses that use Fifth and Forbes avenues are not being detoured.

Where UPMC began

While it is most well known as the home to the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, the building is actually owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition to UPMC's psychiatric and research units, it also houses the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry.

In it, the Western Psychiatric portion of the building houses Western Pennsylvania's largest psychiatric faclity, with 250 to 300 patients daily.

In addition, it is considered the place where UPMC had its beginnings as the region's dominant healthcare provider. It was at Western Psychiatric in 1973 that Dr. Detre, a psychiatrist and academic leader who died in 2010, got his start in Pittsburgh as director of Western Psychiatric.

He turned the facility into one of the largest grant recipients in the country, and he later lead the move for acquisitions and mergers of hospitals in the region that became UPMC.

Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mark Roth is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette.



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