||08-05-2009 05:14 AM
Bloodbath at the Gym
Gunman kills 3, wounds 9, before killing self at Collier fitness club
A gunman from Scott Township who investigators believe was nursing a grudge against women walked into an aerobics room at a Collier fitness center Tuesday night, turned out the lights and opened fire, killing three women and wounding nine others before taking his own life.
Investigators identified the gunman as George Sodini, a 48-year-old member of the LA Fitness center in the Great Southern Shopping Center where the shooting occurred shortly after 8 p.m. The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said his family has not been notified.
Allegheny County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said the gunman may have fired 50 shots at the 20-22 women inside the room at the time before turning one of his guns on himself and taking his own life. There were perhaps another 50 people in various other parts of the facility at the time.
Moffatt said the gunman left a note inside his gym bag that indicated he did expected to die in the carnage.
The superintendent did not reveal the contents of the note but other investigators said it appears that the Sodini hated women and had made a couple of trips to the fitness center earlier in the day before entering a final time shortly before 8 p.m., armed with at least two handguns hidden inside his gym bag.
"The big question is, why would he do something like this?" Moffatt said. "It probably only lasted a minute or so."
The superintendent, who said the guns were all registered to the gunman, said "there was nothing anyone could have done" to prevent the slaughter.
"I don't believe anyone could have stopped him to be quite honest," Moffatt said.
Moffatt said police and the Allegheny County Medical Examiner were still trying to identify the three dead women, one of whom was found about 7 feet from the gunman's body, the other about 12 feet away from him. The wounded women have all been identified.
"Some of them are undergoing surgery, some of them are in critical condition, others were treated and released," Moffatt said in a news briefing shortly after 2 a.m.
"The scene was so chaotic that we felt it was more important to secure the scene rather than send officers to the hospital," Moffatt said. "We're still attempting to identify some of the deceased. As you can imagine, in a fitness club they don't have their IDs on them so we're having trouble."
"He kept firing and firing," said Dennis Curry, 28, of Scott, who said he was working out on an elliptical machine upstairs when he heard the gunfire. "There was chaos. I ran out the back door, saw a girl lying there with a gunshot wound. I put a shirt on her to try and stop (the bleeding). There was blood everywhere."
"All of a sudden there was a really loud noise," said Julia Zorzi, 27, of Crafton, who was on a treadmill on the main floor when the gunfire began. "I heard 40 to 50 shots, and I hit the deck. I saw people running out. I ran outside and there were two girls lying outside."
"The shots came very fast," Zorzi said. "It sounded like he was using a serious piece of machinery."
Richard Sieber, a spokesman for St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, said one woman died at the hospital. Another woman, shot in the leg, was in stable condition. Another, shot in the shoulder, was released.
Five women were taken to UPMC Mercy, Uptown, with multiple gunshot wounds. Three were in serious condition, two were critical, a spokeswoman said.
Two women, ages 22 and 27, arrived at Allegheny General Hospital, North Side, about 9 p.m., spokesman Dan Laurent said. He had no information on their conditions or injuries.
It's the fifth mass shooting in Allegheny County in 10 years.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene as people ran from the gunman, ducking behind trees, running up hillsides, crouching behind parked cars.
Michael Hentosz, 21, of Collier said he carried from the building a woman who had been shot once in the thigh.
"She kept saying she thought she was going to die," Hentosz said. He waited with her until paramedics took her away.
He was using free weights when the shooting started. He had on headphones, and first noticed people running.
"It was like thud after thud," Hentosz said. "I probably heard 20 shots, but I had on headphones for about the first 10 shots."
"Latin Impact" was the gym's last class of the day, starting at 8 p.m. The gym's Web site describes it as "A Latin influenced aerobic workout that will leave you ready for more! Enjoy the dance styles of Salsa, Meranga and Cha Cha Cha while getting fit."
Debi Wozniak, of Dormont, said she usually attends the Latin Impact class, but did not last night. Her sister and niece were there, along with about 30 other women, she said.
"She told me she was in class when a man came in through the glass doors," Wozniak said. "He put a duffel bag down. She said, 'The next thing I knew he pulled two handguns out and starts firing. People were dropping.'"
Wozniak's sister said the instructor was hit.
Loretta Moss, 44, of McDonald described two waves of gunfire and confusion as people tried to figure out when to run and when to take cover. She jumped off her treadmill to run after the first wave. But after a pause of about five seconds, everybody lay back down, and she tried to crawl under the man next to her for protection, she said.
"I thought it was just tin cracking," Moss said about the first shots. "I thought it was guys hitting a racquetball and they knocked something down."
After the second round stopped, the gym went quiet for a moment. Somebody yelled, "Run," and people ran down the steps and outside, she said.
"We just heard a lot of shots in the aerobics room, about eight or nine," said Erma Torgent of Carnegie, who was with her husband Mike. "After the first two I just ran. I was upstairs, I just heard a pop, then a shout. There were a lot of shots. The lights in the aerobic room were off when I ran out. Everybody ran down the stairs and out the door."
Desiree Conrad, 30, of Coraopolis was inside the gym when the shooting took place. "It took everyone a while to figure out what was going on ... the trainers figured out what it was before everyone else did," she said.
Jennifer Arienzo, 26, of Dormont could not believe she was hearing gunshots.
"We're in LA Fitness -- who would be shooting in there?" she said.
"It took us a few shots to realize that, 'Jesus, there's a man in here with a gun,'" Conrad said.
Ron Michaels of Collier, who runs the racquetball courts, said he heard 15 to 20 shots "and I knew there was a lot of trouble. If that guy comes out, there were 10 people in the racquetball courts, two people in five courts, who could not have got out."
Michaels and the racquetball players were next door to the shooter.
"There must have been 30 women working out in the aerobics room. At first I thought it was a joke and then I realized this is not a prank," Michaels said. "It was unbelievable. We all ran out and made it up the hillside."
"There was one guy running around looking for his wife or daughter. He was hysterical. He was looking into every ambulance for them," Michaels said. "I still can't believe it happened."
Richard Walker went to the gym to play basketball with a group of friends. Two of them left carrying shooting victims, both women, over their shoulders, Walker said.
They got 50 yards from the gym's side entrance, and took cover between cars as soon as they reached the edge of the parking lot, he said two hours after the shooting, his Oklahoma All-State T-shirt covered in dried blood down its right side.
"They were like losing blood and almost freaking out," said Walker, 23, of Carnegie, who recently moved from Tulsa. "I just knew you put pressure on the wound."
Lisa Ross of Cecil was one of more than 20 people gathered outside Mercy waiting for news and updates of loved ones. Her best friend's daughter-in-law and niece were working out together when the shooting started. One of them was shot in the shoulder, the other, in her leg.
"People told us the guy turned out the lights and started shooting," Ross said.
County Executive Dan Onorato was out of town, but released a statement saying, "Our sincere condolences go out to the families of the victims, and we pray for the recovery of those who were injured."
Bishop David Zubik spent two hours visiting victims and their families at UPMC Mercy.
"I just wanted to see if I could be of any help," he said. "I heard the majority of people were brought here and I felt this was the best place to come. I wanted to see maybe if there was a possibilty of seeing any patients. I did get to meet with a couple of victims. They were in good spirits. The people that were in surgery, I met with their families."
If you witnessed the shooting or know someone who was there, call the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newsroom at 412-320-7829.