Stabbing suspect planned arson at Homestead mental health facility, police say
Police believe the man accused of stabbing five people Friday also intended to set fire to the Homestead mental health facility where he was eventually shot and wounded by a SWAT team.
Now Dustin Johnson, 38, faces multiple charges, among them attempted homicide, as police continue to investigate the attack at Turtle Creek Valley Mental Health/Mental Retardation Inc.
Johnson is accused of entering the West Street facility, where staff members said he previously spent time as a patient, about 2 p.m. Friday. He was dressed in all black and brandished a pistol along with multiple large kitchen knives, according to court records and officials.
Five people, all either residents or employees, were stabbed before police cornered Johnson at the end of a long hallway and persuaded him to drop the knives. Trapped victims and witnesses hid under desks and in offices.
Three SWAT officers fired at him after he continued to brandish the pistol, which turned out to be a black CO2-powered air gun with a flashlight mounted on it. But police say it had no orange tip or markings to differentiate it from a real firearm.
Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough on Saturday said he wouldn’t speculate about what might have led up to or what prompted the incident.
But he said investigators believe Johnson poured lighter fluid into an elevator and had a lighter among a bag of possessions he carried when he entered the facility.
“We believe it was an attempt to start a fire,” he said.
Attempts to reach facility officials were unsuccessful Saturday.
Johnson was taken to a hospital and underwent surgery for multiple gunshot wounds. He was recovering in an intensive care unit as of Friday night. The victims also were hospitalized; most were taken to UPMC Mercy in Uptown. Police did not disclose their names. One victim in critical condition underwent surgery for stab wounds to the neck. The others were all in stable condition.
A UPMC official on Saturday referred a request for updates on the victims’ and Johnson’s conditions to police. McDonough on Saturday said he did not have any updates.
Police believe Johnson last resided at a motel in Crafton, though he checked out on Friday.
A criminal complaint lists a Mt. Washington apartment as Johnson’s residence, though McDonough said investigators believe his address “changes frequently.”
Court records show Johnson pleaded guilty to a terroristic threat charge in January 2007 and was sentenced to two years of probation. He was also convicted of disorderly conduct and retail theft in 2010 and 2013, respectively.
The officers who shot Johnson were placed on administrative duty per protocol until the incident is reviewed and the district attorney consulted, McDonough said.
McDonough on Saturday also dismissed an initial report from a 911 caller that Johnson sexually assaulted at least one person. He attributed the false claim to the “initial confusion” surrounding the attacks.
Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.