By Seth Klamann, Shane Sanderson and Joshua Wolfson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER — A man fired multiple gunshots inside Wyoming Medical Center early Monday before police officers arrested him at a nearby building on the campus of the Casper hospital.
The man, whom police identified as 20-year-old Mitchell Taylor, fired shots inside the radiology department shortly after 1 a.m. No one was injured.
Police received multiple phone calls reporting the shooting at 1:06 a.m., Chief Keith McPheeters told reporters during a press conference at the hospital. Officers arrived four minutes later, two minutes after they were dispatched, and began searching for the suspect. The hospital, meanwhile, initiated a lockdown.
Police checked the emergency department, which McPheeters said was secured, but the suspect was not there. Officers then checked the radiology department, where they found signs of a shooting but no suspect.
They began a systematic search of the campus and surprised Taylor inside a nearby building across Conwell Street at 1:26 a.m. Officers used a Taser to take Taylor into custody, McPheeters said.
J.R. and Yolanda Isaldo, of Casper, visited the emergency department around 11:40 p.m. Shortly after 1 a.m., a nurse was getting ready to discharge Yolanda when they heard a loud bang and a scream, the couple told the Star-Tribune. The nurse left the room to check on the disturbance, and the Isaldos heard at least two more gunshots.
Yolanda closed the door and pushed a hospital bed in front of it, locking the bed’s wheels, they said. They turned off the room’s lights and J.R. called 911. The nurse came by their room twice more and spoke through the door to update them on the police response.
Yolanda said she heard a total of seven shots.
Police did not allow them to leave until the lockdown was lifted at about 2:30 a.m. When the Isaldos left the hospital, caution tape marked off the area around the nurses’ station and entrance to the radiology department.
McPheeters said Taylor was armed with a handgun. Taylor was examined at the hospital’s emergency room before being taken to jail. Prosecutors have indicated they plan to charge him with two counts of aggravated assault, use of a firearm while committing a felony and property damage. He did not appear Monday in court.
The chief declined to say whether Taylor had a specific target or why he had headed to the radiology department, which is a restricted area within the hospital. Investigators have spoken with the suspect, who they believe is from Casper, and there is no indication that anyone else was involved.
Authorities could not say how Taylor gained access to radiology or if there were any staff members in the area at the time. Hospital spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer declined to comment beyond saying that police were investigating and that WMC “will review” its response to the incident after the law enforcement inquiry is complete.
McPheeters said by phone late Monday afternoon that it is not yet clear to police how Taylor gained access to the the restricted area. He said law enforcement does not know of any prior ties between Taylor and the hospital.
The police chief said his agency is “actively investigating” whether Taylor was under the influence of controlled substances at the time of the shooting. He said he could not say why Taylor did not make his initial appearance in court Monday and noted his agency would not play a role in that decision.
McPheeters then handed the phone to investigations Sgt. Joey Wilhelm, who speculated that Taylor “may not have been in the correct state of mind to appear at initials today.”
District Attorney Dan Itzen said the sheriff’s office determines whether a person is capable of making an initial court appearance.
A spokesman for the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the Natrona County Detention Center, declined to comment on the case. Speaking generally, Sgt. Aaron Shatto said that if it appears a person in custody is under the influence of an intoxicant, the agency will hold them until they are prepared to appear in court.
McPheeters said police are reviewing information about how the gunman entered the hospital with a firearm. The chief said he didn’t know which entrance he used. Security staff were monitoring cameras and relaying information to officers as they searched for the gunman. The security staff at the hospital were unarmed but responded to the incident, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Spokeswoman Mandy Cepeda said she didn’t believe Taylor used the emergency department entrance, which is on East Second Street. The radiology department is near the emergency department. From north to south, it is directly down the hall and to the left from the ER entrance.
Cepeda said the suspect could’ve followed someone in or used a hospital phone to gain access.
The hospital, which is the largest in Wyoming, does have metal detectors and its main guard station at its emergency department. Those metal detectors are the only ones in the building.
There are a number of other entrances into the facility, which sits at the corner of East Second and Conwell streets in central Casper. Cepeda said the entrance to the hospital’s main lobby in the West Tower would’ve been locked after hours, and to enter the building anywhere else but through the ER, the suspect would’ve had to pick up a phone and call security.
In a statement, Wyoming Medical Center said counselors would be at the hospital Monday to meet with employees who might be experiencing emotional difficulties related to the incident. Bleizeffer said later that counseling would also be made available to people in the ER during the incident and that the hospital would be contacting them.
“The safety of our patients and employees is our utmost concern, and we will work with all involved agencies to review the incident,” the hospital said in the statement.
The hospital said officials there could not comment on the investigation, but they would be working with police throughout the process.
“It is our great honor to serve this community, and we appreciate all the thoughts and well wishes extended to our staff today,” the hospital said in its statement.