Motive unknown in US clinic shooting

2012-03-09 16:16

Pittsburgh - Authorities still don't know why a man armed with two semiautomatic handguns entered the lobby of a psychiatric clinic at the University of Pittsburgh and opened fire, killing one person and wounding seven, before he was shot dead.

Officials said it appears the gunman acted alone on Thursday afternoon at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic near downtown Pittsburgh, but released no information on him. All the injured are expected to survive.

"We heard a bunch of yelling, some shooting, people yelling, 'Hide! Hide!'" said Gregory Brant, who found himself barricaded in the clinic's first-floor waiting room. "Everyone's yelling, 'Stay down!'"

Brant, aged 53, and six other people, including a young girl and her parents, cowered in a corner, hoping they wouldn't be seen. But the men in the room quickly decided that if the gunman entered, they'd rush him.

"We were kind of sitting ducks," Brant said. "Luckily, he didn't see us in there, and we didn't make eye contact with him."

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl stopped short of confirming the gunman was shot by a University of Pittsburgh police officer. But he added that "police acted admirably and did engage in gunfire".

Officer hurt

"There's no doubt that their swift response saved lives today," Ravenstahl said.

Officials at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre said they were treating five patients aged 35 to 64, including two who had undergone surgery. Two others were treated and released. Their names were not disclosed.

One of the injured was a police officer who was grazed by a bullet. The injured people included employees and a visitor, said Dr Donald Yealy, chair of emergency medicine at the university's medical school.

The university sent out e-mail and text alerts to warn people of the shooting.

"An active shooter has been identified at Western Psychiatric Institute. Several injured," the alert said. "Possible second actor in Western Psych. Lockdown recommended until further notice. If safe to do so, tell others of this message."

Reports about a possible second gunman and a hostage situation at the clinic or at a nearby hospital were unfounded, UPMC spokesperson Paul Wood said later.

Spring break

Ravenstahl said authorities are still investigating whether the gunman reached the second floor of the clinic building, since there were reports of shell casings there.

Police commando teams shut the street off and adjacent buildings were put on lockdown. But a few blocks away people went on with their business. Most students are on spring break, though offices and buildings are open.

Pete Finelli, who lives two blocks from the clinic and once worked there as a nursing assistant, said there are always security guards on the ground floor of the building, where the shooting occurred. That's also the equivalent of an emergency room, and is where patients are admitted and discharged.

Shaun Lorentz's wife, Melanie, works inside the clinic building. He said he's seen patients in the lobby who get irate because the facility doesn't have the resources to meet all their needs.

"A lot of mental facilities have closed" in the region, he said, and the remaining ones struggle to cope with the workload.

The psychiatric clinic has 292 beds but reported more than 372 000 outpatient visits and just over 11 000 emergency room visits in 2010, along with $79m in research funding.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre chief executive Jeffrey Romoff said the health network was "deeply, deeply saddened by today's events" and expressed "deepest sympathy to the victims and their families".