Three killed at Columbus hospital
Shooter allegedly held grudge in mother’s death
COLUMBUS — Armed with a three-year grudge and more guns than he could hold, a former substitute teacher stormed a west Georgia hospital looking to punish the nurse he blamed for his mother’s death.
The nurse, another employee and a bystander are dead, the alleged shooter is being treated for a gunshot wound police gave him and a military community accustomed to grieving is reeling.
Charles Johnston, 63, was expected to face murder and assault charges in Thursday’s rampage at Doctors Hospital, Police Chief Ricky Boren said. Johnston was being treated at another hospital Friday.
“Apparently it had been on his mind for a while,” Boren said. “It’s a horrible crime, a crime that never should have taken place.”
Johnston went to Doctors Hospital with a gun hidden in his waistband and other guns in his pants and jacket pockets, authorities said. He made his way to the fifth-floor intensive care unit, where his mother had been treated in 2004 before she died of natural causes in September of that year.
Boren said Johnston was looking for a nurse he knew only as “Pete,” and followed nurse Peter D. Wright into a hospital room after hearing Wright’s name called out. Wright, 44, was shot in the chest and head after trying to leave the room, Boren said.
“He held a grudge against ‘Pete’ because he believed Pete to be an individual that did not properly take care of his momma while she was in the hospital,” Boren said. “It had been bearing on his mind ... and yesterday he decided to do something about it.”
Wright may have administered care to Johnston’s mother, Boren said.
As Johnston started to leave, he shot a 44-year-old administrative assistant who crossed his path, Boren said. That victim was identified Friday as Leslie Harris, 44, of LaGrange.
After shooting Wright and the administrative assistant inside the hospital, Johnston got into his station wagon in the parking lot, Boren said. James David Baker, 76, pulled in to a spot facing Johnston, who shot him in the head as he got out of his car, the chief said.
Boren said Johnston may have thought that Baker, 76, was a police officer trying to arrest him.
A plainclothes detective shot Johnston in the shoulder moments later, after Johnston pulled a gun. He was in satisfactory condition Friday at the Medical Center in Columbus, a city of 190,000 on the Alabama line that has held more than a few military funerals because it neighbors Fort Benning, a major Army center for basic training.
Authorities do not know why Johnston wanted revenge against his mother’s nurse. A search of his Columbus home turned up a copy of his mother’s obituary from the newspaper, Boren said. Johnston had a pistol permit and did not appear to have a history of mental illness, Boren said.
Valerie Fuller, director of communications for Muscogee County Schools, said Johnston was a teacher’s aide from September 1973 to December 1973 at Rothschild Junior High School. She said he resigned in 1973 for personal reasons.
In 1997, she said, he enrolled in a class to train substitute teachers. May 2007 is the last time the system has him on the payroll as a substitute. Fuller said the school system did routine background checks in 2004 and 1996. Both came back clean.
Johnston, who lived near the hospital, kept to himself, said a neighbor, Thelma Lutrella, 78.
Lutrella said Charles Johnston and his brother Carl had lived in Atlanta for many years but returned to Columbus when their mother, Lillie Mae Love, became sick and disabled by diabetes.
Although Lutrella knew his mother, and summoned her sons back to Columbus when Love became ill, Charles Johnston seldom offered more than a wave of hello.
“He didn’t associate with nobody on this street,” Lutrella said.
Carl Johnston declined comment Friday. A man who answered the door at Baker’s house said Baker’s family did not wish to comment.
State Rep. Calvin Smyre, DColumbus, broke into tears as he stood in the well of the House at the Capitol in Atlanta and spoke of the shootings on Friday.
“When incidents happen like this we often ask ‘Why?’ Why do these types of tragedy occur? Why does one human take the lives of other innocent human beings? Why? Why? The answer: We do not know. One thing we do know is that there is a higher being and we ask God to give us comfort. This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it. We thank God for life.”
The chamber stood for a moment of silence.