Doctors Work Furiously in Bid to Save Victims of Hospital Rampage

With gunfire thundering through the hospital, doctors dragged their colleagues and patients out of harm’s way and put them on elevators.


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Police officers responding to the reports of an active shooter at the hospital on Friday.

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Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Wherever the doctors found them, they grabbed them, took them out,” Dr. Sridhar Chilimuri, Bronx-Lebanon’s physician in chief, said on Saturday. “The active shooting was still happening while we had them in the operating room. It’s pretty remarkable how well everybody functioned.”

Had doctors and nurses not treated the victims immediately, those who were shot might not have lived.

By Saturday, two victims — those with the brain and liver injuries — remained in critical condition, while the rest had been stabilized. The victim with the liver wound was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan for specialized surgery. The victim with the head wound was expected to remain at Bronx-Lebanon.

Dr. Tam, 32, who the police said lived in Jamaica, Queens, appeared from online records to also have worked at a family medical center on Fulton Avenue in the Bronx. Errol Schneer, a hospital vice president, said that Friday had been Dr. Tam’s day off and that she was covering someone else’s shift when she was shot. He also said she was not the intended victim. ”She was not the target,” he said via text message.

Some hospital workers, still working furiously to aid the wounded, had hardly slept since the shooting. Dr. Chilimuri allowed himself a two-hour break, during which he lay down and thought about all that had happened. Calls poured into the hospital from overseas, with families wanting to make sure that doctors and nurses — many of them immigrants — were safe.

The shooting had torn through a close-knit staff on a routine afternoon. On the third floor, where Ana Nuñez had been waiting to undergo a surgical procedure, some patients were under anesthesia and unconscious. They stayed that way through the attack.

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“There were people under anesthesia that are still asleep in there,” Ms. Nuñez, 49, said in Spanish, as she left the hospital on Friday with her husband. She recalled an alarm sounding and nurses closing the door to her room and saying, “Don’t open it! Don’t open it!” When she was finally allowed to leave, all that was on her feet were hospital-issued socks.

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Workers hid in closets, called the police and ordered patients and their relatives to hide under beds. Some described especially scary moments. Alex Peñalosa, one of many hospital employees streaming out of the hospital and ducking under police tape on Friday, said he worked in the obstetrics and gynecology unit.

“Someone tried to open the door and get in,” he said, making shaking motions with his arms, “and we locked it.” He added: “Someone was trying to get in.”

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By Friday night, as journalists lingered outside, workers sat in silence in the hospital chapel. A woman in green scrubs stared off in silence. A colleague in blue scrubs leaned against a wall and covered her face with a hand. They worked on the 16th floor, where part of the rampage had happened. Around them in the chapel were stained-glass windows, water jugs, empty cups and a bare altar.

Leslie Lind, Bronx-Lebanon’s director of social work and mental health administration, told the women that they would have to wait longer before they could go upstairs to get their things.

“It’s still a crime scene,” Ms. Lind said. The women sat motionless.

By Saturday morning, investigators had cleared the 16th floor and were letting hospital workers begin the long process of cleaning up. Blood was splattered on the floor and computers showed damage caused by a fire set by the gunman, Dr. Henry Bello, as he tried to kill himself. The hospital’s 17th floor remained an active crime scene, and the hospital had closed part of the 15th floor for flood damage.

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People waited outside the building after it was evacuated.

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Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The 11th floor was designated for victims’ families to wait and grieve.

By late Saturday morning, after doctors had stabilized three of their colleagues in the coronary care unit, physicians from the family medicine department huddled together. The hospital’s website said Dr. Bello had worked in that unit.

Some embraced, their hands wrapped around their colleagues’ scrubs. A few whispered with one another about whom they had known, and for how long. At some point since 3 p.m. Friday, each had taken a two-hour break. Few of them, though, had slept.

“It’s still sinking in today,” said Dr. Chilimuri. “Many have not called home.”

Downstairs, at the hospital’s cafe, Marsela Caushaj, a technician who works on the ninth floor, waited in line for coffee. A neon light spelling out Grand Cafe threw off a red glow above a beige counter. A Winnie the Pooh balloon with wishes for a quick recovery bobbed at the entrance. Another woman in green scrubs, tears in her eyes, leaned across the counter and whispered to a worker.

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Dr. Chilimuri said the hospital had been prepared, with two hand surgeons ready to operate and a brain surgeon in the building to treat the head injury. Five operating rooms were up and running within minutes.

Even those victims who had been stabilized by Saturday faced long recoveries. Still, there were some hopeful signs. One man, a gastrointestinal fellow, underwent surgery for a severe gunshot wound to the hand and needs two more surgeries. He had woken up and was at Bronx-Lebanon with his wife, a medical resident at the hospital.

Another man, a medical student shot in the abdomen, had been removed from a ventilator and was awake and talking with his family, including his wife, who is also a medical student.

A fifth victim, a medical resident shot in the neck, had woken up and was talking with her family, Dr. Chilimuri said.


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