On Thursday afternoon, a psychiatric patient with a long rap sheet and history of suicide attempts began shooting at healthcare providers at the Sister Marie Lenahan Wellness Center at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, PA, a suburb just south of Philadelphia. The gunman, who, according to Philly.com, was identified as Richard Plotts, fatally shot 53-year-old caseworker Theresa Hunt and wounded 52-year-old psychiatrist Dr. Lee Silverman. However, Plotts’ shooting rampage was cut short when Dr. Silverman produced his own personal firearm and shot Plotts three times.
The incident began when Plotts opened fire on Theresa Hunt, hitting her twice in the face and leading Silverman to reach for his own weapon. Dr. Silverman suffered a glancing bullet wound to the head but was able to recover and fire back at Plotts before anyone else was killed or wounded. After Silverman shot him three times, the gunman fled to the hallway where another doctor and caseworker tackled and restrained him. Richard Plotts is now in custody and in critical condition at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with two wounds to the torso and another to the arm.
Yeadon Police Department chief David Molineaux was quoted by Philly.com as saying that Lee Silverman’s defensive use of his firearm “without a doubt saved lives.” However, Dr. Silverman’s possession of a firearm on the hospital’s campus was technically against the facility’s policies. Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital spokesperson Bernice Ho indicated that hospital rules only allow security guards to carry weapons.
The gunman had complained in prior visits about the hospital’s policy disallowing him from bringing in firearms. An ultrasound technician working in the building was quoted by Philly.com as saying, “There’s a sign on the door that says you have to check your weapons at the front. But you can’t expect every crazy person to do that.”
According to The Delaware County Daily Times, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood described Plotts’ background as follows, “His criminal record goes back to the early 1990s for three arrests for illegal possession of firearms and arrests for narcotics violations and assaults in Philadelphia. In Upper Darby, he has been 302’d [involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital] on at least three occasions. The last one of the three was in January 2013… He’s got a long history of guns and mental illness.” Neighbors described Plotts as large and intimidating and indicated that he often seemed heavily medicated. Philly.com noted that a Delaware County man by the same name was sentenced to six years in prison in 1996 for a bank robbery.
Though his motive is currently unknown, ABC affiliate WPVI-TV is reporting that Plotts had 39 bullets in his possession, meaning he may have intended to shoot more victims. Plotts’ ex-wife told WPVI-TV, “He was always very controlling and very violent. He was physically abusive, mentally abusive, and I just never thought, the many times he was in and out of jail, he had changed from any of that. I’m not surprised.”
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said “I did receive information that there were incidents involving Mr. Plotts and hospital personnel including the doctor’s staff in the past.” Plotts will be charged with first degree murder if he survives his wounds. Whelan, who indicated that investigators believe that Dr. Silverman shot Plotts in self-defense, also said, “This could be a much different situation if the perpetrator was allowed to continue with his actions, so I give credit for the staff for intervening.”