Three killed at Colum­bus hospi­tal

Shooter al­legedly held grudge in mother’s death

The Covington News - - Crime & Courts - By Daniel Yee

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.

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