Houston TX Jan 8 2017A gun-wielding patient, apparently tired of waiting in the emergency room, was shot by off-duty sheriff's deputies after he opened fire Tuesday morning inside a suburban Houston hospital, sending receptionists diving under their desks.
Sheriff's deputies working security at North Cypress Medical Center confronted and shot the 21-year-old gunman, police said. Though struck multiple times, he is expected to survive. His name has not been released.
Though hospital shootings are rare, Houston has experienced at least two others in the past two years. Someone opens fire in a U.S. hospital -- most commonly in the emergency department -- more often than once a month, according to the most recently available data.
In the Cypress shooting, the alleged gunman arrived at the emergency room by car about 8 a.m. Tuesday and demanded an X-ray, according to a statement from the hospital, located at 21214 Northwest Freeway near Huffmeister. Police said the man did not have visible injuries but grew impatient waiting for care.
A triage nurse evaluated him before he was examined by a nurse and ER physician in a private room, the hospital said. When they asked him to disrobe, he refused, left the room and started running.
When he was stopped by a staff member in the ambulance bay, he allegedly pulled a black pistol from his waistband, fired at least one shot in the air and ran out of the building.
A pair of Harris County sheriff's deputies was alerted by hospital staff. They spotted him about 50 feet away as he headed toward other hospital buildings and ordered him to drop his weapon, a sheriff's office spokesman said. The man turned around and allegedly pointed the gun at the deputies, who opened fire, striking him four or five times in the legs and torso.
The man was rushed into surgery and is expected to survive, said the spokesman, Sgt. Cedrick Collier. No other injuries were reported.
"We're very lucky," Collier said.
Shootings at hospitals have grown more common, according to data recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. From 2000 through 2005, American hospitals saw an average of nine active-shooter incidents annually, compared to 16.7 incidents each year from 2006 through 2011 -- more than one a month, leaving 235 dead or injured.
But Dr. Eli Y. Adashi, a Brown University professor of medicine who wrote the article, cautioned against pouring money into metal detectors, armed guards and other security measures at U.S. hospitals.
"It's not that simple to create a foolproof system, and it's certainly very expensive," he said. "It's a very small, tiny fraction of the total number of preventable deaths, which have been estimated at 100,000 per year in the conservative estimate."
Houston drew national attention in 2015 when off-duty Houston police officers working at St. Joseph Medical Center downtown shot and wounded a 26-year-old student being treated for possible bipolar disorder. More recently, at Ben Taub Hospital, an off-duty sheriff's deputy last October shot a Harris County Jail inmate who had taken a medical student hostage. The man died two weeks later.
Monday's incident in Cypress was particularly unusual because police do not have a motive.
The alleged gunman had been combative throughout his treatment, Collier said, yelling even after he was shot. He did not have a criminal history, and police could not speak to his mental state.
Most hospital shooters have a specific target, according to Dr. Gabor Kelen, a Johns Hopkins University physician who has studied the phenomenon. Most are either seeking to commit suicide, euthanize an ailing relative or exact revenge on someone.
However, Monday's incident was typical in its location. More shootings happened in the ER than anywhere else, Kelen found -- about a third of the 154 hospital shootings from 2000 through 2011.
Throughout the morning, homicide investigators and crime-scene technicians scoured the area, placing at least 20 markers to indicate shell casings and other evidence.
The hospital complex largely had returned to normal by noon Tuesday as patients checked in to a neighboring outpatient clinic and, just a few feet from an apparent bullet hole in a window, employees ordered drinks at a coffee shop.