VALHALLA, NY (AP) — A man shot a patient to death in her bed at a suburban New York hospital Wednesday and then killed himself, police said.
Police were trying to determine the connection between the two, who were found in a fourth-floor room after gunfire rang out around 9:40 a.m. at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, a major medical campus about 35 miles north of Manhattan. No one else was in the room at the time, authorities said.
“There appears to be some type of family relationship between the two victims and a murder-suicide-type situation,” Westchester County Police Commissioner Thomas Gleason said. He said both people were in their 70s.
The woman was found in a bed, with the man and a licensed .38-caliber revolver on the floor, authorities said. It’s unknown how many shots were fired.
Dr. Srihari Naidu, an interventional cardiologist at the hospital, said he was at his office in a nearby building when he got an “active shooter alert,” followed by a lockdown notification that lasted for about a half-hour.
The building where the shooting happened is “very well guarded,” he said, and many areas cannot be accessed without badges.
A third-party company handles security for Westchester Medical Center, providing both unarmed guards and some armed supervisors with law-enforcement backgrounds. People entering the hospital aren’t searched for weapons.
Police said the hospital’s security staff responded immediately, and police arrived within two minutes.
Visitor Linda Pepitone said she was trying to get on an elevator, aiming to seek out some salt and pepper for her egg breakfast, when she realized the elevator didn’t seem to be running. A hospital employee came by and told her there was an alert about someone with a weapon.
Jatziri Escobar, a patient who arrived at the hospital shortly after 9 a.m., told The Journal News that she was in a room on the first floor when staffers ran through the building, alerting patients about the active shooting.
“I was kinda scared, but one of the officers told me to relax and all would be OK,” said Escobar, 22, of Elmsford.
The fourth-floor area around the site of the shooting remained sealed off afterward, Gleason said, but other aspects of the hospital got back to normal.
Hope Conley said she and her mother-in-law came to visit her hospitalized father-in-law right around the time of the shooting and were told they had to wait. After about a half-hour, they were allowed up to his fourth-floor room, which wasn’t in the closed-off area, she said.
They found the door to his room had been closed for safety, she said.
“They just made sure the patients were secured — they shut all the doors. They did what they had to do,” said Conley, of New Windsor, New York. She said hospital staffers quickly resumed their work: Her father-in-law went into surgery around 10:30 a.m.
The hospital totals over 600 adult, pediatric and psychiatric beds in a campus in northern Westchester.
A study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine counted 154 shootings at hospitals in the U.S. from 2000 through 2011.
In June 2017, a doctor who had been forced to resign from Bronx Lebanon Hospital in New York City two years earlier amid a sexual harassment claim opened fire inside the hospital, killing a doctor and hurting six others, authorities said. Police said the doctor, Henry Bello, killed himself at the scene.
Hospitals have been beefing up security in the wake of last year’s Bronx shooting.
Two hospitals on Long Island recently started arming their security guards. Another now requires visitors to show identification and obtain a hospital-issued guest pass before passing through security turnstiles.
Other New York-area hospitals have been hiring police officers to provide security.
Westchester Medical Center spokeswoman Kara Bennorth declined to discuss whether any security changes might be made in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting.
“First and foremost, everyone is safe. That’s what’s most important,” she said.