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Pa. shooting: ‘Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives’

Hospital rules prohibit firearms on campus in Darby, Pa., but because a doctor had one of these and used it, a police chief says lives were saved.
Hospital rules prohibit firearms on campus in Darby, Pa., but because a doctor had one of these and used it, a police chief says lives were saved.
Dave Workman

(UPDATED 12:10 p.m. PDT) A psychiatrist at a wellness center on the campus of Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., is being credited by a local police chief with saving lives Thursday afternoon, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, because he was armed when a gunman who ignored an apparent firearms prohibition on the campus opened fire, and the doctor shot back.

The armed psychiatrist was identified by WCAU, the local NBC affiliate, as Dr. Lee Silverman, 52. Friday morning, ABC News was reporting that Silverman will not be the subject of any investigation, and authorities are focusing on the suspect, who will face a murder charge if he recovers. The Associated Press is reporting that suspected gunman Richard Plotts will be arraigned at bedside in the hospital, where he remains sedated following surgery.

It is not known what precipitated the shooting at the Sister Marie Lenahan Wellness Center, but Seattle Times readers are not only defending and hailing the doctor’s actions, they are using the incident to beat up on Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure in Washington State.

Police Chief Donald Molineaux of nearby Yeadon was quoted by the Inquirer noting “Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives. Without that firearm, this guy (the suspect) could have went out in the hallway and just walked down the offices until he ran out of ammunition.”

Likewise, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan was quoted by the Associated Press Friday asserting, "I believe that if the doctor did not have a firearm, (and) the doctor did not utilize the firearm, he'd be dead today, and I believe that other people in that facility would also be dead."

Subsequent reports say Plotts had nearly 40 rounds of ammunition. Authorities believe he planned to do considerably more harm than he was able, thanks to Dr. Silverman's return fire.

The Associated Press story also said that “The hospital has a policy barring anyone except on-duty law enforcement officers from carrying weapons anywhere on its campus,” according to a spokeswoman for the Mercy Health System. Whether the incident causes hospital authorities to re-think that policy, the case serves as strong evidence that an armed citizen in the right place at the right time can make a difference.

Various news reports quoted Whelan indicating that all accounts of the shooting so far suggest the psychiatrist acted in self-defense. It was not quick enough to save the life of one hospital caseworker, identified by WTXF, the local Fox News affiliate as Theresa Hunt of Philadelphia. She was 53.

Plotts reportedly came to the psychiatrist’s third-floor office with Hunt. Published reports said there was a loud argument and that other workers called police, but before they arrived, shots were fired. Plotts apparently fatally shot Hunt and then turned his gun on the psychiatrist, wounding him slightly in the face.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, Plotts had been involuntarily committed for attempting suicide in 2010 and again last year. Plotts also reportedly had four firearms violations on his record and “a history of drug offenses.” Nearly 20 years ago, he was reportedly accused of bank robbery, according to the Daily News, quoting coverage from that period in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Associated Press said he had been barred from at least one shelter because of his behavior.

Plotts was reportedly wrestled to the floor by two other staff members, a doctor and another caseworker. By that time, the suspect had been seriously wounded.

Plotts was reportedly hit in the chest and arm, various reports say. He was transported to a nearby university hospital in critical condition while the psychiatrist was only grazed. Investigating police recovered two guns at the scene.

WPVI, the Philadelphia ABC affiliate, reported that there are no metal detectors at the facility.

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