One person was killed and four others injured in a mass shooting at a high-rise Midtown Atlanta hospital that put Georgia’s capital city on edge and immediately sparked calls on all levels of government for more action on gun safety.
The shooting happened around lunchtime in a waiting room at the Northside Hospital Midtown medical center on West Peachtree Street, causing the Atlanta Police Department to urge people to shelter in place for more than two hours.
About 3 p.m. workers in hospital scrubs walked north on West Peachtree away from the medical building after police told them to shelter in place on a different floor at the Northside Hospital health care center.
One woman in scrubs walking briskly toward the Arts Center MARTA station said she was on lockdown for two hours on a different floor than where the shooting took place. She said she was hurrying off to meet her five children at school, worried they had heard of the shooting and didn’t know that she was safe.
Other workers in hospital scrubs still had sterile shoe covers on as they walked north on the sidewalk along West Peachtree.
The gunman, who was last seen in Cobb County, was still at large as of Wednesday evening.
Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said all of the victims were women. The victim who died was 39 years old, and those who were injured were between the ages of 25 and 71. The shooter’s motive was not immediately clear.
“The clarity that I think that we would want to know as a city and as a society, we just don’t have at this particular moment, but we’ll provide it as soon as we can,” Schierbaum said.
Four patients were being treated at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta. Three of them arrived in critical condition and one in stable condition, according to a hospital spokesperson. Shortly after 6 p.m., the hospital confirmed the three critical patients underwent surgery and were moved to the intensive care unit while the stable patient remained in the trauma center.
Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who said his two young children were on lockdown at school, called for more congressional action on guns in a speech on the Senate floor a few hours after the shooting.
“This happened in a medical facility, where people are trying to find healing,” Warnock said. “I want to underscore that because there have been so many mass shootings – in fact, about one every day in this country this year – that, tragically, we act as if this is routine. We behave as if this is normal.
“It is not normal. It is not right for us to live in a nation where nobody is safe, no matter where they are,” he said, rattling off the long list of places where mass shootings have happened. “And still we have done so very little in this building.”
Congress passed modest gun safety legislation last year in the wake of a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas that killed 19 children and two adults. It was the first major gun safety legislation passed in three decades.
“It was a significant piece of legislation, but obviously, it’s not enough,” Warnock said, decrying the resistance to universal background checks.
Under the Gold Dome, lawmakers have eased gun laws in recent years. Last year, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a measure that ended the requirement for a permit to carry a firearm in public.
Schierbaum said police are searching for a suspect, 24-year-old Deion Patterson.
Patterson is a former member of the U.S. Coast Guard, WABE reported. He joined the service in 2018 and was discharged from active duty in January.
Police believe Patterson carjacked a vehicle near the hospital and fled before law enforcement arrived, Schierbaum said. By the afternoon, the search for Patterson had expanded into southern Cobb County.
At about 6 p.m., Cobb County Police Sgt. Wayne Delk told reporters Patterson had been spotted on camera in the area at about 12:30, but there had been no confirmed sightings since then.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said his office has been contacted by the White House for support.
Democrats call for gun reform
State Sen. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, was having lunch with a friend at a restaurant next to the medical center and was trapped in the lockdown for about two hours.
“There was an incredibly large police presence right outside the restaurant, so most of the time we were pretty confident that nobody was going to come in or out of the building that we were in, but that didn’t reduce the amount of stress. I know people who were personally affected by this, so it’s stressful for a lot of reasons.”
Gwinnett Democratic state Sen. Nabilah Islam said she was attending a nearby conference that was placed on lockdown after the shooting.
“We should not accept this as normal,” she tweeted. “We need gun safety reform NOW.”
Democrats introduced multiple bills aimed at bolstering gun safety this year, but none came to a vote in either GOP-controlled chamber.
“It almost feels like politicians are not willing to take action on gun violence unless they’re personally affected by it somehow, and that is not the level of empathy that I think we demand from our politicians,” McLaurin said. “And, look, I’ll not be shy about it. It’s mostly Republican politicians and interest groups like the NRA that are blocking this type of legislation.”
Georgia Recorder Editor John McCosh contributed to this report.