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Published: Friday, 3/9/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

2 dead, 7 hurt in Pittsburgh hospital shooting

Gunman, other man killed; all injured expected to survive

BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
People crowd the doorway at the main entrance to the facility as they wait to be evacuated from the scene. The UPMC hospitals were put on alert at 1:58 p.m. that a gunman had entered the building. People crowd the doorway at the main entrance to the facility as they wait to be evacuated from the scene. The UPMC hospitals were put on alert at 1:58 p.m. that a gunman had entered the building.
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE/ROBIN ROMBACH Enlarge

PITTSBURGH -- A man entered Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Oakland shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday armed with two semiautomatic handguns and started firing, wounding several people.

Within minutes, the gunman and another man lay dead after a gun battle with University of Pittsburgh police.

All but one of the injured suffered gunshot wounds, including a University of Pittsburgh police officer grazed by a bullet, but officials at UPMC Presbyterian said they expected all would survive.

Three University of Pittsburgh police officers, who were close to the Western Psychiatric Institute when the call came, traded gunfire with the man, though Pittsburgh police did not immediately know which of the officers' bullets struck him.

City police who arrived shortly after the University of Pittsburgh officers described a chaotic scene in the hospital lobby, with blood-splattered floors and people running in different directions amid gun smoke.

Officers said they saw two men dead in a first-floor hallway, where one of the walls was riddled with bullet holes. A third man was clutching his ankle, saying he had been shot. A frightened woman fell and broke her arm.

Near the gunman's face-down body were two semi-automatic handguns and a box of unused ammunition. He and the other man, a Western Psychiatric Institute employee, were lying near each other in the hallway, facing the same direction.

Police believe the gunman was roaming the first floor before he was killed. There were dozens of shell casings in the area.

Officials said they believed the shooter had never been a patient at Western Psychiatric Institute. Police had difficulty in identifying the man, as he was not carrying identification. Detectives were working to learn more about his background and motivations late Thursday.

Claudia Roth, president and chief executive officer of Western Psychiatric Institute and the Clinic of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said at a news conference Thursday evening that UPMC officials are reviewing surveillance footage of the lobby to see if cameras captured the incident. In addition to the University of Pittsburgh police officer, five of the injured victims are clinic employees, she said; a sixth shooting victim was a visitor.

Police in SWAT gear make their way up the street to the Western Psychiatric Institute. Three University of Pittsburgh police officers traded fire with the shooter. Police in SWAT gear make their way up the street to the Western Psychiatric Institute. Three University of Pittsburgh police officers traded fire with the shooter.
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE/ ROBIN ROMBACH Enlarge

The wounded

Ms. Roth said fewer than 30 people were evacuated from an unspecified unit in the hospital, which has 16 floors, 10 of which house patients. There were 289 patients in the hospital when the shooting started, none of whom was hurt.

All of the injured were taken to UPMC Presbyterian hospital across the street. Two were treated and released, two were in the intensive care unit, and three others were admitted for treatment.

Kathryn Leight, 64, of Shaler, Pa., a receptionist at Western Psychiatric Institute, was among the injured. She was out of surgery and in the intensive care unit Thursday night, according to her daughter-in-law.

John Leight, Jr., Mrs. Leight's stepson, was at his parents' house in Shaler late last night to fetch some clothes. His father, John, Sr., was watching his son's 1 1/2-year-old daughter during the day, waiting to pick up Mrs. Leight from work.

He said his mother was shot four times and remained in the intensive care unit but had been taken off a ventilator and was breathing on her own.

He didn't have a lot of information about her, but he went around the neighborhood anyway, telling friends what he knew.

"I couldn't fill them in on much information," other than to say she was expected to survive, he said.

One Western Psychiatric Institute employee said one of the five employees was a second female receptionist who worked on another floor and apparently just happened to be in the lobby when the shooter entered. She was not critically wounded, the employee said.

The same employee said he believes one of the other wounded employees is one of Western Psychiatric Institute's unarmed security guards who was stationed in the lobby. That employee's primary duty is not to guard the lobby but to monitor traffic in and out of the emergency room entrance that runs off of the main lobby. His condition was not available.

"This is a sad time to actually have to spread news like this," said Dr. Donald Yealy, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, at the news conference. All of the injured are expected to survive, he said.

"This was a tragic day, a sad day, a senseless day in many ways," said Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who praised the bravery of public safety employees as well as the institute's staff. Mr. Ravenstahl said the University of Pittsburgh police officers' "quick response saved lives today."

"It's going to be a very long investigation," said Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper, who did not speak at the news conference. He said his detectives were trying to determine the shooter's motives and how he got inside the building.

He described the efforts of many law enforcement agencies as "teamwork" and said of the shooting only, "It's a tragedy."

Police evacuate the Western Psychiatric Institute after the shooting. The University of Pittsburgh is on break, so few students were on campus. All injured were taken to the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital up the street. Police evacuate the Western Psychiatric Institute after the shooting. The University of Pittsburgh is on break, so few students were on campus. All injured were taken to the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital up the street.
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE/PAM PANCHAK Enlarge

The call comes in

Police were called shortly before 2 p.m. After the University of Pittsburgh officers responded, scores of city police officers arrived and were reinforced by FBI agents, sheriff's deputies, state police troopers and members of the city, Allegheny County, Port Authority, and South Hills SWAT teams, as well as bomb-sniffing dogs.

As the wounded were taken away, police worked to secure the chaotic scene and determine whether there was still a threat.

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.

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

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

The University of Pittsburgh is on break, so there are few students there this week.

Pittsburgh Public Schools, several banks, some high schools, and other local institutions issued notifications of the incident. Several schools and institutions went on lockdown. Streets around the hospital were closed and buses rerouted.

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.

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.

Sweeping the facility

Once police confirmed the two fatalities and took the injured to the hospital, they moved "nonessential" employees from the building while others were allowed to stay to tend to patients. Then they began a methodical sweep of the facility.

Police walk through the main entrance to Western Psychiatric Institute. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl praised the public safety employees as well as the institute's staff. Police walk through the main entrance to Western Psychiatric Institute. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl praised the public safety employees as well as the institute's staff.
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE/ROBIN ROMBACH Enlarge

The teams spent nearly three hours after the shootings going through the building floor by floor and unit by unit, checking for the well-being of staff and patients, for other injured people, and confirming that there was not another shooter, as had been erroneously believed. In some of the locked units, police had to determine whether those inside were safe.

Evacuation of staff and some patients, including children, continued until just before 4 p.m. Children, many of them shoeless, were carried by staff members and loaded into the back of an armored SWAT vehicle. Those who were not injured were taken to the nearby Petersen Events Center, where families were also directed to go.

Hospital security

Mayor Ravenstahl said the shooter entered through a public area.

Security is normally very tight at Western Psychiatric, according to those who work there. The facility at 3811 O'Hara St. is a 17-story, 60-year-old building that is officially called Thomas Detre Hall, named after the late, former head of UPMC.

While it is most well-known as the home to the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, the building is 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 facility, with 250 to 300 patients daily.

Although there are a number of locked units with very tight security, the lobby is open to the public and no security checks are done before entry.

Block News Alliance staff writers Moriah Balingit, Sadie Gurman, Sean Hamill, Dan Majors, Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, Liz Navratil, Kaitlynn Riely, Mark Roth, Bill Schackner, Jon Schmitz, Steve Twedt, Paula Reed Ward, and Lillian Thomas contributed to this report.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The contributors are reporters and editors for the Post-Gazette.


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