2 slain at Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe

2 slain at Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe

January 7th, 2012 by Kate Harrison Belz and Mariann Martin in News

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson, left, and Corky Jewell, chairman of the board of directors of Hutcheson, right, speak with media during a press conference Friday night. Police and other law enforcement personnel responded to the report of a shooting at Hutcheson Medial Center on Friday night.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

Two women are dead after a man walked into the waiting room at the Hutcheson Medical Center intensive care unit in Fort Oglethorpe and began shooting at his estranged wife and mother-in-law, authorities said.

Officials have not released names of the victims or the suspect.

The shooting happened shortly after 6 p.m. Friday on the second floor of the hospital. The women were at the hospital visiting a relative, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead.

Shortly after the incident, the shooter drove to the Fort Oglethorpe police station, less than two miles from the hospital, and turned himself in, according to Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson.

At least one victim was airlifted to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga immediately after the shooting, Wilson said.

Hutcheson Medical Center was on lockdown for several more hours as investigators secured the hospital.

Dozens of law enforcement officials from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia State Patrol, Walker County Sheriff's Office, Catoosa County Sheriff's Office and the Fort Oglethorpe police surrounded the hospital within an hour of the shooting.

Officials searched the hospital and grounds, using dogs and other equipment, before allowing employees to leave. They said they had no reason to believe anyone else was involved in the shooting.

Family members of patients or employees were directed to nearby facilities to wait until authorities allowed them to contact their families.

Police vehicles sit outside Hutcheson Medical Center after a shooting Friday night.

Photo by Jake Daniels/Times Free Press.

As she waited for news, Tammy Fowlkes stood at the edge of the sidewalk, as near to the hospital as she could. Her sister, Valerie Scott, was working at the hospital switchboard when the shooting happened, Fowlkes said.

Fowlkes, who worked at Hutcheson for 18 years before taking a job at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, was on her way home from work Friday evening when Fowlkes' mother called.

"She said there had been a shooting inside the hospital," Fowlkes said. "And I said, 'Please tell me it wasn't employees.'"

Fowlkes immediately tried to call her sister. "She answered and said she was OK but she couldn't talk," Fowlkes said.

During the course of the evening, as the hospital remained on lockdown, Fowlkes was able to talk to her sister several times very briefly.

"It's scary when you know your sister is in there," she said. "I've seen a lot of crazy things all the years I've worked at the hospital, but nothing like this."

Law enforcement held two news conferences during the evening to provide information.

At the first conference, Wilson said the shooting had occurred in Walker County and his office was leading the initial investigation. The hospital is on the Walker-Catoosa County line.

At the second news briefing, Wilson said Fort Oglethorpe police had assumed the lead in the investigation and would provide additional information.

Authorities declined to release any information about the events surrounding the incident. They did not say how many shots were fired or the type of gun that was used.

Officials said they did not know how many patients were in intensive care at the time of the shooting.

Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Lynn Long said that the shooting stemmed from a domestic dispute, but he did not know further details.

"It's just a tragedy," Long said Friday night.

At the last briefing, Hutcheson board Chairman Corky Jewell said the hospital would return to "as normal operations as we can given what has happened tonight."

Jewell assured everyone the hospital was safe. Hutcheson provides its own security and had a former state patrol officer on duty Friday evening, he said.

"As soon as we can do it feasibly the facility is going to be open for business," he said. "I don't have any qualms about anybody coming to this hospital right now. If someone is of a mindset to do so, they will find a way to do harm. I don't feel we have a level of insecurity."