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April 5, 2012

DA lauds Pitt police

in WPIC shooting incident

The actions of University Police Department officers in responding to the active shooter incident at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) March 8 undoubtedly saved lives, according the Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr.

“Their actions were nothing short of heroic. It could have been much, much worse,” Zappala said at a press conference held March 28 at Pitt’s Public Safety Building.

During the March 8 incident, John Shick, 30, who had exhibited mental difficulties and bizarre behavior during the months prior to his shooting rampage, entered WPIC at 1:42 p.m. with two semi-automatic pistols. Zappala said Shick fired 30 rounds, killing UPMC employee Michael Schaab and wounding five others before being fatally struck three times by Pitt police Sgt. Dan Papale, a six-year veteran of the force who teaches active shooter training at the University.

In addition, Pitt police Officer Guy Johnson took a bullet in his chest protector but was uninjured. Pitt Officer Brian Veze slipped in blood during the incident and was treated for a twisted lower leg.

Two teams of Pitt police officers — 11 officers in all — responded 1 minute and 46 seconds after receiving the 911 call, a response time Zappala deemed outstanding. In all, 32 Pitt police officers responded during the incident; 15 entered the building while others assisted with evacuation and traffic-control duties.

Zappala also praised the officer responsible for killing Shick. “Sgt. Papale had done what he was trained to do. He took the guy out,” Zappala said.

At the press conference, Zappala identified the names of the other victims. Marta Drevitch was shot in the right cheek and right arm; Kathryn Leight was shot four times; Keith Taylor was shot in the ankle, and David White was shot in both arms. All are UPMC employees and all are expected to recover, Zappala said.

A sixth victim, a UPMC security guard whose name Zappala released, has requested since that his name not be used in any press coverage of the events. The guard, who was shot in the femur, also is expected to recover.

Pitt police Chief Tim Delaney and Pittsburgh police Chief Nathan Harper joined Zappala at the press conference.

Delaney had ordered active shooter training for the 74 Pitt officers on the force following the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. Every Pitt officer completes active shooter training at least once a year and the department trains its Specialized Emergency Response Team monthly, Pitt officials said after the press conference.

In response to a reporter’s question about Shick’s behavioral instability, which included showing up at UPMC Shadyside Hospital with a baseball bat twice in February, Chief Harper said, “If he shows up at Shadyside twice with a baseball bat, [Pittsburgh police] should have been notified.” Harper added that procedures governing these kinds of cases are under scrutiny.

Zappala said, “Quite frankly, it appears that in February it should have become a police matter in terms of an involuntary commitment and [Shick] should have been taken to an emergency room on that basis.” However, Zappala stopped short of accusing anyone of malfeasance, saying the investigation of the incident is ongoing.

—Peter Hart

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