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D.A.: Psych patient shot caseworker, doctor

The psychiatrist returned fire with his own gun, police said.

SWAT members canvas the area.
SWAT members canvas the area.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

DOCTORS ARE known for saving lives - but rarely do they do it with a gun.

But that's exactly what happened yesterday, authorities said, when a psychiatrist returned fire on a patient who had shot him in the head and had fatally shot a caseworker at the Sister Marie Lenahan Mercy Wellness Center in Yeadon, Delaware County.

"Without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives," Yeadon Police Chief Donald Molineux said. "If he [the doctor] wasn't armed . . . this guy could have went out in the hallway and just walked down the offices until he ran out of ammunition."

The patient, Richard Plotts, 49, of Upper Darby, was brought to the center yesterday afternoon by his caseworker, Theresa Hunt, 53, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan said.

Plotts, Hunt and the psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Silverman, met about 2 p.m. in a small office in the psychiatric unit on the third floor of the center, across the street from Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, Whelan said.

A worker in a nearby office heard them arguing, opened the door and saw Plotts pointing a gun at Silverman's head, Whelan said. That staffer quickly and quietly shut the door and called police.

Moments later, shots rang out.

Two other staffers - a caseworker and a psychiatrist - forced their way into the office and wrestled Plotts to the floor in the hallway, initially unaware that he was still armed, Whelan said. They disarmed Plotts and secured his weapon.

Authorities don't know for sure what went on inside the office - and only two people are still alive to tell the story. Hunt, the caseworker, died from a gunshot wound that entered the right side of her face and exited her left temple.

Silverman suffered a graze wound to the head. He was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was treated and was expected to be released last night.

Plotts, shot twice in the torso and once in the arm, was listed in critical but stable condition at HUP. He has a history of suicide attempts and a criminal record, authorities said.

Whelan said two guns were recovered. He said investigators believe that Plotts shot Hunt and Silverman, prompting the doctor to pull his own weapon and shoot Plotts.

"We believe that's probably what occurred - but the only person right now that can confirm that, based on all the evidence we've pieced together, is the doctor," Whelan said. "We believe the doctor, certainly from all of our accounts, would be acting in self-defense."

Police response from throughout the county was swift. Just eight months ago, the Yeadon Police Department and neighboring departments had conducted an active-shooter-scenario drill at Mercy Fitzgerald, which Molineux said "surely played in our favor in regard to the response."

Right after the shooting, the hospital campus was put on lockdown and SWAT teams were called in. Patients outside were ushered into the main hospital building, and those inside the center were ushered out to other buildings.

Millicent Russell, 73, of Lansdowne, said she had arrived at the wellness center two hours early for her appointment and had fallen asleep in a waiting room.

"When I opened my eyes, the cops had guns in front of us telling us to 'Move, move, move!' " she said. "The hospital should be a safe place and you're not even safe there. You're safe nowhere."

Plotts, according to police and those who knew him, was not just a threat to the safety of others - but also to himself.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said his department had involuntarily committed Plotts for suicide attempts in 2010 and 2013. Court documents show Plotts has at least four firearms violations and a history of drug offenses.

In 1995, Plotts was accused of robbing a Wilmington, Del., bank but got away with nothing when a dye pack in the stolen bag of money exploded and scared him into dropping the loot, according to an Inquirer report at the time. The report said Plotts was a "self-employed contractor" with a wife and two kids.

Yesterday, neighbors at Plotts' last known address in Upper Darby, where he lived alone, were not shocked by his alleged actions.

"You could tell something was wrong with him, you could see he needed help," said Cathy Nickel, who lived down the hall from Plotts at Kenneth House Apartments, on West Chester Pike near Lynn Boulevard.

"You could see some oddities in him," said Bert Garcia, who lived just two doors away from Plotts.

Like the time he knocked on Garcia's door after stabbing himself in the leg, or his frequent trips into the hallway, where he would pop off the drop-ceiling tiles and play with the electrical wiring, Garcia said.

"I tried to stay away from him," Garcia said. "He's a big guy, always very sweaty . . . seemed like he was strung out on drugs or medication."

Garcia said he saw Plotts when Horizon House, an organization that supports people with mental and physical disabilities, helped him move out.

Plotts' caseworker was with him that day, and Garcia described her as kind and genuinely concerned for the troubled man.

"She was always ready to step up for him, to help him out," he said.

Neither Nickel nor Garcia knew where Plotts had gone after leaving Kenneth House.

But in the year or so since Plotts left, Garcia said, he would run into him occasionally, usually on the SEPTA Route 113 bus, which cuts a path through Upper Darby on its way to its last stop in Claymont, Del.

"It's just a shame, man," Garcia said last night on the steps of the apartment complex. "You feel weird saying it, but it's not a surprise to hear this happened."

David Winkler, a tattoo artist and former ranking member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club who is friends with Plotts' ex-girlfriend, called Plotts a "bedbug."

"He was a troublemaker from the minute he was able to cause trouble," Winkler said. "It was just one nightmare after another."

Winkler said Plotts had been a heavy drug user and once kicked his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach.

"He got passed through the system," Winkler said. "And then something like this unfolds."