Fatal shooting at hospital still under investigation

Posted: July 30, 2014

His colleagues knew that Lee Silverman carried a gun, a pistol so small it slipped indiscernibly into the psychiatrist's pocket.

And Richard Plotts had a deep history with guns - one that even felony convictions wouldn't stop.

Four days after the two men clashed in a shootout at a Delaware County hospital, authorities on Monday continued to investigate the violent office visit that left caseworker Theresa Hunt dead and both men injured.

Plotts was still hospitalized, awaiting his first court appearance on murder and other charges. Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said Monday that the .32-caliber revolver Plotts brought to the wellness center next to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital dated to at least 1940 and was "so old that it wasn't registered." Police also found two other old revolvers at his Upper Darby home.

Silverman was recovering at his home in Lower Merion. A woman who answered the door there identified herself as Silverman's wife but declined to speak about the shootings. Taped to their front door was a picture, sketched by their daughter, that showed Silverman with a cast on his wrist, a bandage on his forehead, and the words "my dad is a hero" written atop the page. A photo of the sketch - and of the psychiatrist in bandages - also appeared on Silverman's Facebook page.

Silverman's use of his own weapon has been widely praised by gun-rights advocates across the country, including the National Rifle Association, whose Facebook post about the psychiatrist garnered nearly 20,000 "likes." But professors and conservative bloggers said they doubted the shooting will have much of an impact on public opinion or gun policies - despite investigators' belief that Plotts, who was armed with 39 bullets, intended to kill more people if Silverman had not pulled out his own gun.

"Guns-saving-lives stories are very popular," said Bob Owens, editor of the site BearingArms.com, part of Townhall Media. "And this one is important because it potentially stopped a mass murder. That in and of itself has not happened a lot."

Plotts, who had sporadically been a patient of Silverman's for about 20 years, arrived more than an hour early for his appointment at the hospital's Sister Marie Lenahan Wellness Center on Thursday, according to an affidavit made public Monday by investigators.

Silverman told police that Plotts appeared upset when he entered the small office with Hunt, a 53-year-old caseworker who lived in Philadelphia.

After a brief verbal exchange, police said, Plotts pulled out his weapon and shot Hunt twice in the head. Silverman crouched behind his desk and chair as he pulled his own gun from his pocket. Plotts' shots grazed Silverman in the thumb and forehead, while Silverman shot Plotts three times.

Silverman was known by colleagues to carry the small handgun at work, Whelan said. Silverman, 52, had a license to carry the weapon, although the hospital has a policy banning firearms in its buildings.

"There were other ... employees that understood that he had a permit to carry a gun and that he would at times carry a gun," Whelan said.

The hospital has declined to discuss Silverman's possession of the gun. Spokeswoman Bernice Manallo Ho said Monday the staff looked forward to the psychiatrist's return.

"Dr. Silverman remains a full member of the Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital medical staff, and we are praying for his speedy recovery and return," she said in a statement.

Plotts remained at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was arraigned Saturday on first- and third-degree murder, attempted murder, and other charges. He does not yet have an attorney.

Yeadon Police Chief Donald Molineux said officers were pursuing leads about Plotts' actions in the days before the shooting.

Owens, who runs the gun-rights website, said the shooting would be just another anecdote of a "good guy shooting a bad guy" unless someone tried to use it to push against gun-free zones, such as the one at Mercy Fitzgerald that Silverman ignored.

"People are going to have another data point to say that gun-free zones don't work," Owens added. "But someone for gun control will just write it off as what it was - one incident."

Kristin A. Goss, associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, said Pennsylvania already has a permissive concealed-carry gun law that grants permits to applicants as along as they meet all of the requirements. In an e-mail, Goss said it would be "hard to imagine what policy would shift in response."

She added: "This battle of anecdotes has been going on for a long time and shows no sign of abating. In reality, single episodes of gun use (or misuse) seldom move policy, certainly not nationally."


lmccrystal@phillynews.com

610-313-8116

@Lmccrystal

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