Pa. clinic shooter called gifted, troubled student
Sunday, March 11, 2012
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The man who police say fatally shot a medical worker and wounded six other people at a psychiatric clinic was a gifted, hardworking student at one school yet was banned from another for harassing female students, school officials said Saturday.
Police say John Shick, 30, opened fire shortly after entering the lobby of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic on Thursday afternoon. They haven’t disclosed a possible motive. He was killed by police officers who had trained for a Virginia Tech-style shooting, authorities said.
Duquesne University spokeswoman Bridget Fare said Saturday that Shick was expelled from the school last November after harassment complaints.
Shick enrolled in August as a graduate biology student, but soon numerous female students filed a formal complaint. The harassment never contained any threats or indication of violence, Fare said.
“It was making them uncomfortable,” she said of his persistent requests for dates or social contact.
Shick was relieved of his duties as a teaching assistant on Oct. 21 and there was a hearing on the harassment charge on Nov. 3. The school told Shick that he was prohibited from campus and from making contact with any of the women.
“He withdrew voluntarily” and wrote a brief thank-you note to the judicial staff person who handled the case, Fare said, adding that she wasn’t aware of any complaints after he left the school.
In the past, Shick had a reputation for being gifted and hardworking.
David Alberg, a professor of chemistry at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., said Shick was a “good, hardworking student” who got degrees from that school and Columbia University in New York.
Carleton spokesman Eric Sieger said Shick graduated in 2004 as part of a prestigious and demanding five-year collaborative program with Columbia. Shick spent his first three years at Carleton and then two at Columbia, and ended up with two degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry from Carleton and a Bachelor of Science in engineering from Columbia.
“Typically, those are the very top students, who are very motivated,” Sieger said of the participants in the program.
Police hadn’t disclosed if Shick had a history of criminal or mental health problems, but an online database of state criminal court records revealed no arrests or convictions in Pennsylvania. A nationwide search of records turned up a speeding ticket in Oregon in April.
But Shick apparently had a history of legally changing his name. Records in Oregon, where he once lived, show he changed his name to William Huhnpere Scholskan in 2009. In early 2010, a person with that name and the same address as Shick was charged with assaulting a public safety officer. Then, in May 2010, Scholskan petitioned to change his name back to John Frederick Shick.
Calls to homes listed in the names of Shick’s parents in Green Cove Springs, Fla., and San Jose, Calif., went unanswered Saturday.
Western Psychiatric, which is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, wouldn’t say whether he was ever a patient there or had any connection to the institution.
“Because of privacy laws, we can’t confirm or deny if any individual is or was a patient at our facilities,” said Wendy Zellner, director of media relations for UPMC.
Larry Barton, a professor of risk management at The American College in Bryn Mawr, said it would be highly unusual for Shick’s attack to have been truly random. Barton, who also is an instructor in Threat Management for the FBI, said more than 97 percent of people who commit workplace killings have some connection to the place of the shooting.
And while federal law does technically grant control over a deceased person’s health information to their heirs, Barton said this is a special case.
“Courts have ruled they have an obligation to share that information,” Barton said. “They’re not violating his privacy by doing so. The public has a right to know, was he a patient?”
Police said Shick used two semiautomatic pistols as he marched around checking offices at the clinic, possibly in an attempt to find more victims. They traced Shick’s guns to Texas and said one had been stolen. He also had a fanny pack containing plastic bags with medicines police haven’t disclosed and carried extra ammunition.
Six University of Pittsburgh officers responded to the clinic within two minutes of the first emergency call, campus police Chief Tim Delaney said. The first three officers returned fire and killed Shick.
No witnesses have reported that Shick said or did anything to explain his motives, and police said they found nothing on him to indicate a reason.
On Saturday, UPMC said one victim of the shooting was discharged Friday, and the four people still hospitalized were in fair or good condition. All are expected to survive.
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