Oakland killings awaken memories of past shootings

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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Thursday that emergency efforts at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC gave him pause to remember the shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers three years ago.

"It reminded me of the heroism that was displayed in Stanton Heights," he said at a news conference, speaking of that 2009 crime scene.

What happened at the Western Psychiatric Institute rekindled memories of that and three other multiple shootings in recent Pittsburgh history.

Two incidents were declared racially motivated and occurred within a month of each other. Years later, another targeted the three city police officers. At the end of that summer, three were shot dead at a suburban gym.

On March 1, 2000, Ronald Taylor, 51, shot five men, three fatally, at an apartment building and two fast-food restaurants in Wilkinsburg. Mr. Taylor, who is black, was charged with ethnic intimidation for shooting the victims -- all white.

"My first reaction was, 'That doesn't happen in this area,' " District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in December 2000.

On April 28, 2000, Richard S. Baumhammers, 46, killed five people on a 20-mile route spanning two counties, starting in Mt. Lebanon and ending in Center, Beaver County.

Mr. Baumhammers' victims were a Jewish woman, two Asian-Americans, an Indian and a black man. Another Indian man was wounded and left paralyzed. He died seven years later, becoming the sixth victim. An anti-Semite who loathed nonwhite, non-European immigrants, Mr. Baumhammers also blasted two synagogues with gunshots and spray-painted swastikas during the 72-minute shooting rampage.

"Not again. Those are the first words that came to my mind. Not again," said then-Gov. Tom Ridge, as quoted in an April 2000 Post-Gazette article. "We are struggling to make sense of what appears to be yet another brutal racist rampage."

Both men were convicted in 2001 and sentenced to death. Former Gov. Ed Rendell signed death warrants for both men: Mr. Taylor in 2006 and Mr. Baumhammers in 2010. Both remain on death row, as no one has been executed in Pennsylvania since 1999.

On April 4, 2009, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, Richard Poplawski killed three Pittsburgh police officers after they responded to a domestic disturbance call from Mr. Poplawski's mother in Stanton Heights. From his bedroom window, Mr. Poplawski exchanged hundreds of rounds of gunfire with SWAT officers before he surrendered.

Last June Mr. Poplaswki, 25, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In the fall, he received an additional 85- to 190-year prison term for other offenses related to the incident.

On Aug. 4, 2009, George Sodini, 48, of Scott shot more than three dozen rounds during a crowded aerobics class at an LA Fitness Center in Collier, killing three women and injuring nine others.

Notes and online writing revealed Mr. Sodini's inability to connect with women, and the frustration that resulted. Though he had planned the shooting for months, he didn't know any of the women he targeted.

Mr. Sodini shot himself and died at the scene.


Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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