2 dead, 7 hurt in gunfire in Western Psych lobby
Police were trying to find out how and why an unidentified gunman started a bloody rampage on Thursday in the lobby of an Oakland psychiatric hospital, leaving him and a clinic employee dead, seven people injured and a hospital community badly shaken.
The lone gunman walked into the unsecured lobby of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic about 1:40 p.m. with two semiautomatic pistols and began shooting. Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper said last night that investigators do not know the shooter’s identity. Three University of Pittsburgh police officers opened fire on the gunman, but investigators declined tosay whether they knew who shot whom.
“We heard a bunch of yelling, some shooting, people yelling, ‘Hide! Hide!” said witness Gregory Brant, 53, who told The Associated Press that he was in a first-floor waiting room when the shooting began. “Everyone’s yelling, ‘Stay down!’ ”
Brant and six others, including a young girl and her parents, barricaded themselves inside the waiting room. The group crouched in a corner, hoping the gunman would not see them as he went past, Brant said.
“We were kind of sitting ducks,” said Brant, who estimated the ordeal lasted for 15 or 20 minutes. “Luckily, he didn’t see us in there, and we didn’t make eye contact with him.”
Authorities did not identify the dead employee or the wounded, who included five other employees and a Pitt police officer who investigators said was grazed in the leg. A relative identified one of the injured as receptionist Kathryn F. Leight, 64, of Shaler. She was in serious condition last night.
“All I can say is that she was shot in the chest and that she is in surgery,” said a woman who answered the phone at Leight’s home but declined to give her name.
“Her husband (John) was talking to her on the phone when it happened. He heard the shots,” said neighbor Rita Luniewski, 70. The phone went dead, then the family got a call telling them what had happened, she said.
Other patients being treated at UPMC for gunshot wounds are: Two men age 46 and 35, and a 54-year-old woman, all in fair condition; and a 49-year-old man in serious condition.
Hours after the shootings, Western Psych President Claudia Roth said authorities would review surveillance videos from the lobby to try to piece together the sequence of events. Investigators said the gunman’s wounds made quick identification difficult.
“The police acted admirably and did engage in gunfire,” Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said during a news conference. “It’s too early to say exactly what wound or what gun killed the two deceased, but the police did act courageously.”
‘It was scary stuff’
The shootings rattled Oakland and the tightly packed buildings of the Pitt and UPMC campuses.
“It was scary stuff. It was very scary,” said Pitt professor Evelyn Talbott, who watched as SWAT officers arrived. “Then you realize that people were hurt and you thought, ‘This is really terrible.'”
Uniformed officers and SWAT teams from across the area swarmed Oakland as nearby schools and businesses locked down their buildings because of fears that a second shooter was on the loose. Officers sent some employees and patients to the nearby Petersen Events Center as SWAT teams checked each of the clinic’s 16 floors.
“I saw police officers with rifles and bulletproof protective clothing running into the building and people coming out at the same time,” said Linda Duchak, a public health administrator at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, who watched from a window across the street. “I saw three people being carried out on stretchers, others coming out of the building who were clearly in distress, holding their heads, wrapping arms around each other and comforting each other.”
Many employees and patients who were visibly shaken declined to comment. One woman waiting at Scaife Hall was choking back tears, asking the woman next to her if she had heard from a mutual acquaintance who may have been near the scene of the shooting. Another woman who would not give her name said she had heard as many as 15 shots.
Some at a parking garage were wrapped in blankets to stay warm and were hugging and crying as they called their family members to tell them that they were all right. One said that as she was hiding in an office, “I heard the door handle jiggle, and I didn’t know who it was.”
The injured were rushed across the street to UPMC Presbyterian. Dr. Donald Yealy, chief of emergency medicine for UPMC, said one of the seven wounded was in intensive care after undergoing surgery, two had been released and four were admitted; at least three will likely require surgery. He said all are expected to survive “and do well.”
“This is a sad time to have to spread news like this,” Yealy said.
Pitt sends email alert
News of the chaotic events spread quickly throughout the university district. Ben Sciulli, owner of Milano’s Pizza on Fifth Avenue, said several Western Psych employees were eating lunch in his restaurant when they got frantic phone calls and texts from co-workers inside the hospital.
“They texted to say they were hiding under tables,” Sciulli said. “They were frightened. … Everybody is frightened.”
As calls went out about the shootings, police closed De Soto Street with more than 20 cruisers and a SWAT vehicle while officers yelled at people to stay inside surrounding buildings. SWAT officers from Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, the Port Authority and departments in the South Hills responded.
Pitt sent out an email alert that read: “An active shooter has been identified at Western Psychiatric Institute. Several injured; possible 2nd actor in Western Psych. Lock-down recommended until further notice. If safe to do so, tell others of this message.”
Brian Wagner, a Pitt employee, said he was heading to a staff recognition ceremony at Western Psych when “there was an influx of police cars.” He turned around and watched from Parran Hall as officers sped up Bouquet Street toward the clinic.
“It’s pretty scary,” Wagner said. “You worry about who’s been injured and all the other people on campus.”
Wagner was to be recognized for five years of service. Attendees were supposed to arrive at 2 p.m. — just minutes after the shootings — for the 2:30 p.m. ceremony, he said.
“When you see police officers running with assault rifles drawn, you know it’s more than just a drill or a small emergency,” Wagner said.
Eric Majeski, 35, of the South Side said he spoke to his girlfriend, who works at Western Psych, by phone briefly but drove there when he could not reach her later.
“She said she saw people shot,” Majeski said.
Staff writers Michael Hasch, Tom Fontaine, Chris Togneri Justin Merriman, Tony LaRussa, Jason Cato and Luis Fábregas contributed to this report.
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Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at a glance
Average occupancy rate: 90 percent
Conditions treated: Agoraphobia, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia nervosa, anxiety, ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, bulimia, dementia, depression, intellectual disability, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, schizophrenia, social phobia and substance abuse.