Gunman who killed 4 people at Oklahoma medical office was targeting his surgeon, police say

A gunman who killed his surgeon and three other people at a Tulsa medical office blamed the doctor for his continuing pain after a recent back operation and bought an AR-style rifle just hours before the rampage, police said Thursday.

Police say the man had a letter that made clear he blamed his surgeon for ongoing pain after a back surgery

The sun rises over the Saint Francis Health System hospital campus on Thursday in Tulsa, Okla. Police said a gunman who killed four people and himself in a Wednesday shooting at a medical building there was targeting his surgeon. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World/The Associated Press)

A gunman who killed his surgeon and three other people at a Tulsa, Okla., medical office blamed the doctor for his continuing pain after a recent back operation and bought an AR-style rifle just hours before the rampage, police said Thursday.

The gunman called the clinic repeatedly complaining of pain and specifically targeted the doctor who performed the surgery, then killed himself as police arrived, Tulsa police Chief Wendell Franklin said.

That physician, Dr. Preston Phillips, was killed Wednesday, along with Dr. Stephanie Husen, receptionist Amanda Glenn and patient William Love, police said. The attack occurred on the campus of Saint Francis Health System.

It was the latest in a series of mass shootings in United States including the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and an attack on a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y. The recent Memorial Day weekend saw multiple mass shootings nationwide, including at an outdoor festival in Taft, Okla., a little more than 70 kilometres from Tulsa.

U.S. President Joe Biden addressed the carnage in recent years from mass shootings with AR-style rifles in an address Thursday night.

Since the mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school killed 21 people, including 19 children, "just over a week ago, there have been 20 mass shootings in America, each with four or more people killed or injured," he said. After describing the Tulsa shooting as one of those 20 mass shootings, the president said, "That doesn't count the carnage we see every single day that doesn't make the headlines."

In Tulsa, the 45-year-old gunman carried a letter that said he was targeting Phillips, Franklin said. The letter "made it clear that he came in with the intent to kill Dr. Phillips and anyone who got in his way," he said.

"He blamed Dr. Phillips for the ongoing pain following the surgery."

Franklin said Phillips performed the surgery on May 19 and the gunman was released from the hospital on May 24.

He said the man called the doctor's office "several times over several days" reporting he was still in pain and saw Phillips on Tuesday for "additional treatment." The man called the office again Wednesday "complaining of back pain and wanting additional assistance," he said. 

Victims remembered fondly

Phillips, 59, was an orthopedic surgeon with an interest in spinal surgery and joint reconstruction, according to a profile on the clinic's website. He once served as lead physician for Tulsa's WNBA team before the franchise moved out of state, according to the Tulsa World.

Dr. Cliff Robertson, president and CEO of Saint Francis Health System, called Phillips a "consummate gentleman" and "a man that we should all strive to emulate."

He said the employees who were killed were "the three best people in the entire world" and that they "didn't deserve to die this way."

The shooting left four people dead, in addition to the gunman, who police say died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. (J Pat Carter/Getty Images)

Husen was 48 and Glenn was 40, officials said.

Love, a 73-year-old retired army sergeant, was a patient at the clinic but that day he was accompanying his wife, Deborah, for her six-month checkup, said their daughter, Karen Denise Love.

Police have received reports that Love held a door shut in hopes of allowing others to flee from the gunman through another door, Franklin said in response to reporters' questions.

Karen Love said her parents were in an examination room with one of Phillips' assistants when the couple heard the commotion outside. When they realized it was gunshots, she said her father grabbed the door handle from inside the room.

"As they heard this guy going up and down the hall, they knew it was gunfire," she said. "They thought it was someone just shooting people. My dad was trying to hold the door the best he could."

Guns purchased legally 

Police believe the gunman bought his weapons legally, Franklin said. The gunman bought an AR-style semi-automatic rifle on the afternoon of the shooting and a handgun on Sunday, the police chief said.

Franklin praised the law enforcement officers, 911 operators and emergency personnel for their "immediate response" to the attack Wednesday.

Police responded to the call about three minutes after dispatchers received the report at 4:52 p.m. local time and made contact with the gunman at 5:01 p.m., authorities said Wednesday.

Franklin said police believe the gunman shot himself about 39 seconds after the first officers entered the building. 

"Our training led us to take immediate action without hesitation," he said. "That's exactly what officers do and that's what they did in this instance.

The length of time it took police officers in Uvalde to engage that gunman during last week's deadly school shooting has become a key focus of that investigation. Officers waited over an hour to breach the classroom where the 18-year-old gunman, armed with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle, was holed up. He killed 19 children and two teachers.

WATCH | Tulsa police chief describes leadup to shooting:

Tulsa gunman targeted doctor he blamed for pain after surgery, police say

2 months ago
Duration 6:17
Tulsa police Chief Wendell Franklin described the events leading up to Wednesday's deadly shooting at an Oklahoma medical office by a man who blamed his doctor for pain following a recent back surgery. Four people were killed in the attack that police said ended with the shooter apparently taking his own life.

Political divide on gun control legislation

Democratic leaders have amplified their calls for greater restrictions on guns since the Uvalde shooting, while Republicans are emphasizing more security at schools.

The divide mirrors a partisan split that has stymied action in Congress and many state capitols over how best to respond to a record-high number of gun-related deaths in the U.S.

Oklahoma House Democrats on Thursday called for a special session to consider gun safety legislation, but that's unlikely to happen in a Republican-controlled legislature that has been pushing for years to loosen firearms restrictions.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is running for re-election, said last week after the Texas shooting that it was too soon to talk about firearms policy.

A pro-firearms group, the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association, is an influential force at the state Capitol, and the first bill Stitt signed into law after taking office in 2019 was a measure that allows most adults to openly carry firearms without the previously required background check or training.