A disgruntled doctor armed with an assault rifle and wearing a lab coat went on a rampage in the Bronx hospital where he had worked on Friday, killing a female doctor and wounding six other people â five of them seriously â before setting himself on fire and shooting himself in the head, the authorities said.
The furious attack by the doctor â identified by one police official as Henry Bello â sent workers at the hospital, Bronx-Lebanon, diving behind desks and doors as gunshots and smoke filled the hallways of a place usually reserved for saving lives. Witnesses described medical workers ripping a fire hose from the wall to use as a makeshift tourniquet on one victimâs leg, while others recalled the horrific sight of the gunman, his torso aflame, running down a hallway.
Terrorism was quickly ruled out; instead, it appeared to be the type of mass shooting by a lone gunman that has seared communities around the United States.
âHeâs shooting! Heâs shooting!â one woman yelled in the frantic initial moments of the assault, as recounted by a mother in the pediatric emergency room cowering with her five children, ages 1 to 10.
Some believed the death toll would have been far higher had the shooting occurred anywhere but where it did â a hospital filled with state-of-the-art medical equipment, doctors and nurses who rushed to victims even as the gunman was still at large and performed tirage where they fell, in staircases and hallways.
âThe situation unfolded in the middle of a place that people associate with care and comfort,â Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a news conference outside the hospital on the Grand Concourse in the Claremont Village neighborhood. The gunman acted alone, he said, adding that it appeared to be a workplace dispute that ended in a suicide â âbut not before having done horrible damage,â the mayor said.
The police did not identify the victim, other than to say she was a doctor, and a woman. The five seriously injured patients are âfighting for their lives,â the police commissioner said. The sixth had a gunshot wound to the leg.
Dr. Bello was going to be fired by the hospital, but instead chose to resign, after he was accused of sexual harassment, a police official said. Another police official said Dr. Bello had left the hospital some time ago. âHe didnât leave voluntarily, he didnât leave to take another job or go back,â the official said.
Dr. Bello was armed with an AR-15 rifle that investigators believed he sneaked in the hospital by concealing it under his lab coat, the two police officials said.
While investigators were still trying to determine a motive, one official said, âMost likely itâs a workplace violence on the part of a former disgruntled employee.â
The New York State Education Department said that Dr. Henry Bello had a limited permit to practice as an international medical graduate in order to gain experience so he could be licensed. The permit was issued on July 1, 2014 and expired on July 1, 2016. He also had a pharmacy technician license that had been issued in California in 2006.
Shortly after the shooting, graphic images emerged online that purported to be the suspect prone on the hospital floor, in a button-down shirt worn under a labcoat, the scene covered in blood.
In 2004, Dr. Bello was arrested and charged with sex abuse and unlawful imprisonment after a 23-year-old woman told officers he had grabbed her crotch area outside a building on Bleecker Street in Manhattan and tried to penetrate her through her underwear, a law enforcement official said. The woman told officers that Dr. Bello lifted her up in the air and dragged her while saying, âYouâre coming with me.â
Norma Ruiz, a patient care technician at Bronx Lebanon, said the shooting took place on a floor where she works, and recalled seeing a man, now believed to be the gunman, on fire. âHe was running down the hall throwing himself on the floor,â she said. âWe throw ourselves on the floor and when everybody was quiet, my co-worker and me, we lift our heads and the doctorsâ station was on fire.â
The carnage took place on the 16th and 17th floors of one of the Bronxâs largest hospitals with 1.1 million patient visits and over 140,000 emergency room visits per year, according to its website. Witnesses said that on Friday afternoon the hospitalâs rooms and corridors were filled with patients and visitors.
âEverybody just started screaming,â said the mother in the pediatric unit, who asked that her name not be used to protect her childrenâsâ medical privacy. The hospital staff frantically tried to quiet people down, she said, ordering people in the packed waiting room to lie on the floor while they turned out the lights.
The woman ran into an exam room with her children and shoved them underneath a hospital bed, while she lay on the floor as a barricade in front of them. The ordeal lasted an hour. When her one-year-old began to cry, she breast fed him to keep him quiet, she said. âMy heart was pounding,â she said. âI was shaking, just shaking.â
As the situation unfolded on Friday afternoon, emergency workers were at first prevented from entering the building. At least one of the wounded was being treated by people inside the hospital who had tied an emergency fire hose as a tourniquet, a Fire Department official said. At one point, the police escorted a group of heavily armored emergency workers into the building, even as the gunman had not yet been located.
Inside hospitalâs pediatric unit, while the gunman was still at large, a woman answering the phone who declined to give her name said that she and others were hunkered down, unable to leave. “We are just keeping safe. We are ok,â she said. âAll of us have to feel tense because of the situation.â
Miguel Mercado, 61, was lying in a hospital bed on the 10th floor waiting for an M.R.I. after complications from back surgery earlier this month, when the police burst in the room and ordered patients who could walk to head down the stairs, with their hands up. âThe cops came and started emptying out the rooms floor by floor â âEverybody get out, get out, get out!ââ he said about an hour after the shooting, standing in the parking lot outside the hospital, I.V. tubes dangling from his arm. On his feet he wore only hospital socks.
âItâs been happening almost anywhere, but nobody was waiting for this,â Mr. Mercado said referring to the workplace shooting. âWho would have thought it would happen in a hospital?â
As patients and employees drifted from the hospital in the hours after the shooting, Ms. Ruiz, the patient care coordinator stood in her green scrubs, deeply shaken. âI just want to get out of here,â she said, recalling the moment she heard the gunman. âWe hear, âboom, boom, boom. We thought, âa patient, a relative.â But no, it came from the doctorâs station.â