City police look for missed signals in aftermath of Hopkins shooting

September 17, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Baltimore police have begun a postmortem on Thursday's shootings at Johns Hopkins Hospital to determine whether police or hospital employees missed any signals that might have prevented a man from injuring a doctor and then killing his mother and himself.

"Was there a clue we could have picked up?" Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld said at a news conference Friday afternoon. "It's important that we go back and critique this for the safety of all Baltimoreans."

One question that Bealefeld said he would like answered is whether Paul Warren Pardus always carried his small, .38-caliber Kel-Tec handgun — so small the chief said it could be "concealed in the palm of your hand" — when he visited is ailing mother, 84-year-old Jean Davis, at the hospital.

Police said that Pardus, speaking with a doctor and believing the surgeon had failed to help his cancer-stricken mother, pulled out the gun, shot the doctor and then retreated into Room 873 at the Nelson Building, where he shot her and then himself.

Bealefeld said the first responding officers had no idea that the two were already dead and believed they might have a hostage situation. The commissioner also said that police had to assume that the man had gotten out "and was at large in the Nelson Building or he had made his escape into the general area. We were working through all those contingencies."

Bealefeld said Pardus had a gun permit from Virginia for at least three years and had purchased the handgun about two years ago. He said officers have replayed video taken from cameras before the standoff but haven't seen anything that was missed. He said his officers have been working closely with the FBI, who arrived at standoff in its first minutes, to research the suspect's background.

The commissioner said that, perhaps, relatives or doctors at Hopkins might have known something or had a clue to unusual behavior that could have prompted authorities or security staff to further scrutinize Pardus.

But Bealefeld said it's next to impossible to fully protect the mini-city that is Hopkins and the tens of thousands of people that are on its sprawling East Baltimore campus every day.

"The frustrations we have in protecting Baltimore, not just at Hopkins but across the city, is that police officers aren't equipped with X-ray vision. ... It speaks to the vigilance of all of us. I would like to think there is some communication between a family member that we missed. Was there some communication between staff?"

Hopkins officials have said that putting metal detectors at every hospital entrance would be an impossible task and an impediment to effectively treating patients. Bealefeld agreed.

"But this is America, and I would not be in favor of sacrificing people's civil liberties to the extent that it would require us to assure that no one has a penknife in their pockets," the commissioner said.

Asked if Hopkins, one of the nation's premier hospitals, is safe, Bealefeld offered some rare insight into his personal life. "My mother suffered a stroke over a year ago," he said, "and she's received care in a number of area hospitals. She gets treatment two days a week, and this morning, she's at Hopkins hospital getting her physical therapy, and I have zero concerns about her safety."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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