Doctor’s quick action kept Darby hospital gunman from killing others, authorities say

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     A hospital worker embraces a woman near the scene of a shooting at the Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., on Thursday. A prosecutor said a gunman opened fire inside the psychiatric unit leaving one hospital employee dead and a doctor injured before being critically wounded himself. (AP photo)

    A hospital worker embraces a woman near the scene of a shooting at the Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., on Thursday. A prosecutor said a gunman opened fire inside the psychiatric unit leaving one hospital employee dead and a doctor injured before being critically wounded himself. (AP photo)

    The man who killed a 53-year old caseworker and wounded a doctor at the Mercy-Fitzgerald Hospital in Delaware County Thursday planned to kill more people, authorities say.

    County District Attorney Jack Whelan says the gunman, a psychiatric patient at the hospital who was wounded in a shootout with his doctor, had 39 more bullets.

    Richard Plotz has known Dr. Lee Silverman for 20 years. That relationship took a deadly turn on Thursday. In the space of just a few minutes, Whelan said, Plotz shot and killed his caseworker, Theresa Hunt of Philadelphia, then turned his revolver on Silverman, wounding the psychiatrist. Silverman shot back and hit Plotz.

    Silverman and another caseworker who climbed in a window to keep the defendant from reloading prevented a wider tragedy, Whelan said.

    “I believe if the doctor did not have the firearm, if the doctor did not utilize the firearm, he’d be dead today,” Whelan said Friday. “And I believe that other people in that facility would also be dead, and we’d be making funeral arrangements for those individuals because of the actions of Mr. Plotz.”

    The Darby hospital is in a gun-free zone. Plotz, who has a long criminal record including firearms offenses, was not allowed to have a gun. As of Friday afternoon, he was under sedation at University of Pennsylvania Hospital in stable condition.

    Leading mental health associations say there are no policies about a physician carrying a gun.

    Deb Shoemaker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, said the issue of physicians carrying weapons is a difficult one to address.

    “It’s more,” she said, “striking a balance between protecting doctor-patient relationship and personal safety or safety of the public at large.”

    She stressed that only 3 to 5 percent of crimes involve people with psychiatric conditions. While the shooter was a patient, she said a bigger problem is lack of access to care because of a mental health system she calls financially broken.

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