Statement on the Shootings at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
To: Members of the University
From: Mark A. Nordenberg
Re: Shootings at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic
Date: March 10, 2012
Our Oakland neighborhood is a very special place, largely defined by its unusually high levels of productive human activity. It is, without question, the educational and medical capital of Western Pennsylvania and at least contends for the crown of cultural capital as well. Because of university- and hospital-related activities, it also is the third busiest commercial district in the entire state of Pennsylvania, trailing only Philadelphia’s center city and downtown Pittsburgh.
What we regularly see in this neighborhood, then, are large numbers of people doing many creative and constructive things – teaching and learning and inventing and discovering and healing and contributing to the greater good in a broad range of other ways. This past Thursday afternoon, though, all of that accumulated good was overshadowed by the violent acts of a single person – a gunman who invaded Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and began shooting innocent people.
One of his victims, Michael Schaab, died almost immediately. Michael was a 25-year-old University of Pittsburgh graduate who worked with geriatric patients at WPIC and who, by all accounts, was a wonderful person. It has been reported that Michael became engaged to be married on Valentine’s Day, would have celebrated his next birthday on St. Patrick’s Day, and had plans to advance his career by attending graduate school at Pitt. It also has been reported that Michael’s fiancée is a nurse at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where the wounded were taken for care, and that his sister, his only sibling, was shot dead just a little over a year ago. In virtually every respect, this is a heart-wrenching, almost inconceivable, tragedy.
Obviously, we mourn for Michael, his fiancée, his parents, his friends and for the other members of his family. As a community, we also express our deep sorrow and extend our very best wishes for quick and complete recoveries to the other seven victims of the gunman – each of whom was wounded, some seriously, and all of whom had been moving innocently through what was a normal day before this unanticipated, unwelcome, violent force was unleashed upon them.
When violence takes a toll of this magnitude, it almost always triggers official inquiries. In this case, they already are underway and will take some time to complete. As a University, we necessarily will be respectful of those efforts, cannot presume to predict all of their conclusions, and will be helpful in any way that we can. In fact, we fully expect to learn from them. Even at this early point, though, there are some emerging themes worth sharing.
- The gunman arrived at WPIC with more than one weapon and with multiple rounds of ammunition. It now seems clear that the swift and effective actions of the Pitt police officers who intervened eliminated the likelihood that the list of casualties might have risen to a dramatically higher level. We all are in their debt.
- Without question, this intervention was a product of the courage and skill of the officers who risked their own lives by moving to deal with such a dangerous situation. Their successes also are a product of the professionalism of the entire Pitt police force, which regularly trains for a wide range of situations that we all hope never will arise.
- The police response was a striking example of what occurs in Oakland every day – effective team-work by law enforcement agencies committed to protecting the public. Police officers from the city and the university, in particular, partner on a daily basis to keep this busy and heavily populated neighborhood as safe and secure as it possibly can be. That can be challenging, even on more typical days, and is critical in a time of crisis. On Thursday, city and university police also were joined by law enforcement colleagues from the county, as well as by other emergency personnel who assisted in caring for the wounded, in evacuating the threatened, including children, and in providing other forms of essential support.
- That spirit of cooperation extended from the very top of city government. Knowing that I was not in the city when the shootings occurred, Mayor Ravenstahl personally reached out to me by phone to provide an up-to-date briefing based upon his on-site insights. I was deeply grateful for that thoughtfulness, which is characteristic of the way in which he has approached our relationship.
- Consistent with the high priority that Pitt has assigned to security, we planned carefully and invested strategically to make certain that we have both an effective emergency notification system and the technological capacity to remotely monitor unfolding events and to lock-down at-risk facilities. When tested by this crisis on Thursday, those systems seem to have functioned very well.
- An event like this one also underscores how lucky we are to be in such close proximity to world-class medical facilities. These shooting victims were transported across a single street from WPIC to UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, where they received levels of care equal to the best care that might have been received anywhere else in the world.
The Pitt Promise, a pledge taken by each incoming undergraduate class each year, begins with the following statement: “As a Pitt student, I will embrace the concept of a civil community which abhors violence . . .” One very sad, but unsurprising, lesson from this past week is that we cannot effectively impose even such a basic value on all others. But the experiences of this past week also underscore how important it is that we maintain such a commitment ourselves and do everything we can to make this a defining value for the University of Pittsburgh community.