Doctor Opens Fire at Bronx Hospital, Killing Woman and Wounding 6 Others
By SARAH MASLIN NIRJUNE
The New York Times
A disgruntled doctor armed with an AR-15 rifle and wearing a lab coat went on a rampage on Friday in the Bronx hospital where he had worked, killing a doctor and wounding six other people — five of them seriously — before setting himself on fire and shooting himself in the head, the authorities said.
The furious attack by the doctor — identified by the police as Henry Bello, 45 — sent workers at the hospital, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, diving behind desks and doors as gunshots and smoke filled the hallways of a place devoted to healing. Witnesses described medical workers’ ripping a fire hose from the wall to use as a tourniquet on one victim’s leg, while others recalled the horrific sight of the gunman, his torso aflame, running down a hallway.
Dr. Bello had a troubled past, having worked at the hospital for about six months before quitting after being accused of sexual harassment, officials said. And years earlier, he was arrested and charged with sexual abuse after assaulting a woman in Manhattan.
The attack appeared to be the type of mass shooting by a lone gunman that has struck communities around the United States.
“He’s shooting! He’s shooting!” one woman yelled in the frantic initial moments of the afternoon assault, as recounted by a mother in the pediatric emergency room who had cowered with her five children, ages 1 to 10.
Some believed that the death toll would have been far higher had the shooting occurred anywhere but where it did — a hospital filled with state-of-the-art medical equipment, and with doctors and nurses who rushed to victims and performed triage where they fell, in staircases and hallways, even as the gunman was still at large.
“The situation unfolded in the middle of a place that people associate with care and comfort,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters outside the hospital, on the Grand Concourse in the Claremont Village neighborhood. The gunman acted alone, Mr. de Blasio said, adding that it appeared to be a workplace dispute that ended when the gunman committed suicide — “but not before having done horrible damage,” the mayor said.
Dr. Bello was armed with a rifle, an AR-15, that investigators believe he sneaked into the hospital under his lab coat, police officials said.
While investigators were still trying to determine a motive, one official said, “Most likely it’s a workplace violence on the part of a former disgruntled employee.”
Dr. Bello was hired in August 2014, according to Errol C. Schneer, the hospital’s vice president, and left in February 2015, in lieu of being terminated. The police said he resigned after an accusation of workplace sexual harassment.
CreditNew York Police Department
In 2004, Dr. Bello was arrested and charged with sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment after a 23-year-old woman told officers he had grabbed her crotch area outside a building on Bleecker Street in Manhattan and tried to penetrate her through her underwear, a law enforcement official said. The woman told officers that Dr. Bello had lifted her up in the air and dragged her while saying, “You’re coming with me.”
Court records indicate that Dr. Bello pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the second degree, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to community service. The felony sexual abuse charge was dismissed.
Mr. Schneer said on Friday night that the hospital did not know about Dr. Bello’s criminal past when he was hired. “At that time, and as a result of a human resources and security department background check, which includes fingerprinting, there was no record of any conviction for sexual abuse,” he said.
Dr. Bello was a graduate of Ross University School of Medicine on the Caribbean island of Dominica, a New York State official said.
The police escorted people across the street outside the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center on Friday. CreditMary Altaffer/Associated Press
The state’s Education Department said Dr. Bello had received a limited permit to practice as an international medical graduate in order to gain experience so that he could be licensed. The permit was issued on July 1, 2014, and expired on July 1, 2016. He also had an expired pharmacy technician license, issued in California in 2006.
The carnage took place around 2:50 p.m. Friday on the 16th and 17th floors of one of the Bronx’s largest hospitals, which has 1.1 million patient visits and over 140,000 emergency room visits a year, according to its website. Witnesses said that on Friday afternoon, Bronx-Lebanon’s rooms and corridors were filled with patients and visitors.
As the situation developed, emergency workers were at first prevented from entering the building. At least one of the wounded was being treated by people inside the hospital who had tied an emergency fire hose as a tourniquet, a Fire Department official said. At one point, the police escorted into the building a group of emergency workers wearing armor, as the gunman was still being sought.
Dr. Sridhar Chilimuri, the physician in chief at the hospital, said the doctor who was killed had been shot in the chest. Of the five victims in critical condition, one is a family services physician, three are medical students and one is a gastrointestinal specialist. Dr. Chilimuri said he had treated some of the victims, who were friends and colleagues. The situation was “extraordinarily difficult,” he said.
CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times
Norma Ruiz, a patient-care technician at Bronx-Lebanon, said the shooting took place on a floor where she works, and she recalled seeing a man, now believed to be the gunman, on fire. “He was running down the hall throwing himself on the floor,” she said. “We threw ourselves on the floor, and when everybody was quiet, my co-worker and me, we lift our heads, and the doctors’ station was on fire.”
“Everybody just started screaming,” said the mother in the pediatric unit, who asked that her name not be used to protect her children’s medical privacy. The hospital staff frantically tried to quiet everyone, she said, ordering people in the packed waiting room to lie on the floor while the lights were turned off.
The woman ran into an exam room with her children and shoved them underneath a hospital bed, while she lay on the floor as a barricade in front of them. When her 1-year-old began to cry, she breast fed him to keep him quiet, she said. “My heart was pounding,” she said. “I was shaking, just shaking.”
Miguel Mercado, 61, was lying in a hospital bed on the 10th floor, waiting for an M.R.I. after complications from back surgery earlier in June, when the police burst into the room and ordered patients who could walk to head down the stairs with their hands up. “The cops came and started emptying out the rooms floor by floor — ‘Everybody get out, get out, get out!’” he said about an hour after the shooting, standing in the parking lot outside the hospital, IV tubes dangling from his arm. On his feet he wore only hospital socks.
Hospital staff stood outside the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital on Friday.CreditTimothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“It’s been happening almost anywhere, but nobody was waiting for this,” Mr. Mercado said, referring to the workplace shooting. “Who would have thought it would happen in a hospital?”
Shortly after the shooting, graphic images emerged online that purported to show the suspect lying on the hospital floor, in a button-down shirt worn under a lab coat, the scene covered in blood.
As patients and employees drifted from the hospital in the hours after the shooting, Ms. Ruiz, the patient-care technician, stood in her green scrubs, deeply shaken.
“I just want to get out of here,” she said, recalling the moment she heard the gunman. “We hear, ‘Boom, boom, boom.’ We thought, ‘A patient, a relative.’ But no, it came from the doctors’ station.”