Details emerge on shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
Police look for evidence at gunman's apartment
March 10, 2012 3:00 PM
According to Scott Kunst, a tenant at the Royal York Apartments, notes like this one would be left on John Shick's door.
By Sadie Gurman Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
University of Pittsburgh police trained for the day they hoped would never come.
Chief Tim Delaney said that day was Thursday, when his officers heard the call come crackling over their radios: shots fired on the first floor of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Oakland.
Within minutes, six Pitt officers were at the hospital's front doors, where they could hear the gunfire.
"There were rounds coming out the front doors as they were going in," Chief Delaney said Friday, offering a glimpse into his officers' efforts to end a rampage that left two people dead and wounded seven others, including two of the patrolmen.
On cue, the six officers split into two teams of three and rushed into the building's lobby to search for the assailant. They would learn only later he was 30-year-old John Shick, armed with two 9 mm semi-automatic pistols and ammunition to spare.
He wasn't hard to find.
"As soon as the Pitt officers went in, his attention went to the officers," the chief said. "They engaged in gunfire the minute they stepped in the front door."
Three Pitt policemen -- a lieutenant, a sergeant, and a patrolman -- fired on Mr. Shick, killing him. His body fell in a bullet-riddled first-floor hallway, less than a foot from that of 25-year-old Michael Schaab, a geriatric therapist who had been returning to work from his lunch break.
Surveillance footage and witness accounts showed that all of the shooting victims were wounded by the gunman before police arrived, investigators said.
The shooting lasted only minutes. Mr. Shick, in a tan trench coat, T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, walked into the front doors and wordlessly opened fire. Calls flooded the 911 center seconds after he entered, police said.
Five people were shot on the first floor. Mr. Shick then ran into a stairwell and tried to flee out a second-floor door that leads to a parking garage. Lacking an access card that would allow him to get past a secure door, he fired a shot into a window panel. Police said he ran back downstairs and headed toward the front doors.
"There are indications he was checking office doors to possibly shoot other victims," Pittsburgh police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said. "About that time, police arrived on scene."
At least two of the responding officers were on the department's tactical team. Chief Delaney said he puts tactical officers on each shift for just such a scenario.
Spurred by the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, Chief Delaney began giving his 74 officers twice-yearly "active shooter training," in which they respond to similar mock scenarios in a variety of environments.
"This is what we prepare for and hope never happens," he said. "It happened."
Detectives have yet to verify which officer's rounds struck Mr. Shick fatally. The three who fired, whom officials would not identify, have been placed on administrative leave per protocol while the Allegheny County district attorney's office investigates the shooting.
"I'm so proud of my guys," the chief said. "They're heavy-hearted because it's not normal to take somebody's life."
Mr. Shick died of gunshots to the head and chest, the medical examiner's office said.
Even after he was dead, officers feared there was a second gunman roaming the sprawling building because they found two guns near his body. That drew SWAT teams from several area agencies, who searched every corner of the 17-floor building for explosives and other dangers, requesting staff keys to get past locked doors and breaking down others.
Paramedics who responded to the scene said the wounded were quickly hoisted onto stretchers and out the front steps to UPMC Presbyterian across the street. Among the wounded was a Pitt police officer who hurt his ankle when he slipped on a bloody floor. Another officer was grazed by a bullet that ricocheted off his vest. They were released Thursday night.
A 54-year-old woman was sent home from the hospital on Friday, and four other shooting victims remained. Two were in serious condition, one was in fair condition and one was in good condition. All were expected to recover.
Detectives were still trying to pinpoint a motive for what Cmdr. Stangrecki described as "a senseless act of violence." Dozens of spent shell casings littered the floors and a thick, lingering smoke from gunfire permeated the first floor.
Near Mr. Shick's corpse police found two boxes of unused ammunition. His guns were traced to Texas and at least one was stolen. Detectives were trying to learn more about how they came into his hands.
Mr. Shick was wearing a watch on each wrist, two fanny packs containing unspecified white pills in sandwich bags and Tums, pens and paper but nothing with which to positively identify him. His first name was written somewhere on his belongings, which gave detectives scant clues to his identity.
Police on Friday released a post-mortem photo hoping the public could name him shortly before they announced that he had been identified. Their efforts were hindered because witnesses did not recognize Mr. Shick and his fingerprints yielded no matches in local and national databases. A search of online court records revealed he had no criminal history in Pennsylvania.
Police were still investigating whether he was a former patient and whether his violence was random. A UPMC spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on his history, citing privacy rules.
Officers, trying to trace his steps, believe that Mr. Shick most likely walked to Western Pysch before the shooting. The hospital is within walking distance from his apartment in North Oakland.
Detectives searched the apartment Friday night and found a number of doctor's notes suggesting he was in ailing health. They also found hand-written notes and a 30-pound bag of medication, though it was not immediately clear what kinds.
They studied the contexts of several brown paper bags and containers as well as other evidence, including text messages, into the night.