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Gunman Terrorizes Anaheim Hospital, Kills 3 Employees

MEDICAL CENTER RAMPAGE

Rampage: Witnesses praise victim Ronald Robertson, whose effort to disarm assailant leads to his subdual. Suspect Dung Trinh's mother had died Tuesday morning.

September 15, 1999|JACK LEONARD and JEFF GOTTLIEB and THAO HUA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A gunman distressed over the death of his mother went on a shooting spree inside an Orange County hospital Tuesday morning, killing three employees and sending patients diving for cover during a terrifying chase through hospital corridors.

The gunman repeatedly shouted, "You killed my mother!" during the deadly rampage at West Anaheim Medical Center, apparently driven by the death of his 72-year-old mother less than an hour earlier at a nearby hospital.

Two men, including a patient awaiting surgery, subdued the suspect--identified by authorities as Dung Trinh--moments after he burst into the main lobby, shooting at his third victim. Before he died, the last victim turned and grabbed the gunman, ultimately leading to his capture.

"He was shot right in front of me. I'll never forget it," said Faith Perry, who watched from the lobby with her 3- and 7-year-old children. "I was just trying to get my kids out of the way."

Perry and other witnesses praised the slain man, Ronald Robertson, saying his efforts to disarm Trinh prevented more bloodshed. "God bless the man that did save our lives," Perry said.

Robertson, 51, of Fullerton, heard the gunfire and rushed to prevent the assailant from reaching the lobby and eventually grabbed for the gun, said Dr. Robert McCauley, a hospital internist and former chief of staff.

The gunman apparently was targeting a nurse who had once cared for his mother. But the nurse ducked out of the way, and the bullet struck Marlene Mustaffa, a 60-year-old certified nursing assistant. Also killed was Vincent Rosetti, 51, of Seal Beach, who was director of the hospital's pharmacy.

The shooting is the worst instance of hospital violence in Orange County history and is one of the worst in the nation.

Detectives arrested Trinh, 43, shortly after the shooting, which they say was triggered by the death of his mother, Mot Trinh. The Trinhs shared a one-bedroom apartment in Anaheim and were described by neighbors as having an inseparable bond.

The mother suffered from diabetes and relied on a wheelchair, neighbors said. She was hurt in a fall three months ago, and Trinh either quit his job or took a leave of absence to care for her full-time, they said.

"He always said that he had to take care of his mother," a neighbor said.

In June, Trinh's mother was treated for an unknown illness at West Anaheim Medical Center and released, Anaheim Police Lt. Steve Walker said. About 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, paramedics took his mother to Anaheim Memorial West Hospital, where she died shortly after 10 a.m., authorities said.

After her death, Trinh drove to West Anaheim Medical Center, armed with a .357 magnum and a pouch of bullets, according to police, hospital officials and witnesses.

Police arrested Trinh on suspicion of murder. He is being held at Anaheim City Jail.

Administrators at the private, 219-bed hospital had recently installed bulletproof glass in their emergency room after another man entered the facility about a year ago waving a pistol, McCauley said. The hospital administrator said he will now push for the hiring of armed guards.

Patients and visitors recalled their terror as they listened to the sound of gunfire inside the hospital Tuesday. They said the shooting began on the second floor.

"Nurses were screaming and crying. Everybody was looking for a place to hide," said Angelina Trinidad of Stanton, who had been visiting her fiance in the coronary care unit when she heard the shots. She closed the door to her fiance's room and waited, hoping the gunfire would subside. "It was horrible," she said.

Paula Wagner said her mother, who was in Room 212 awaiting surgery, called her at home during the shooting. In the background, Wagner could hear shots and screams as her mother became increasingly frantic.

"She was screaming, 'Paula, come and help me! I'm gonna die,' and she was crying. And I was telling her to close the door, and in the end I had to hang up." Wagner recalled. "All I could think about was getting out there."

Her mother later told her that she had gotten out of bed and saw a body sprawled outside her door, Wagner said.

Gail Anderson was in Room 203 with her 78-year-old mother, who was about to undergo bypass surgery, when she heard three shots down the corridor. "We closed the door," Anderson said. "And after 10 minutes we glanced out the door and saw a man lying on the ground."

'He Was Going There to Help'

Worried that the gunman might return, Anderson shut the door and waited.

But the gunman did not return. Instead, he continued, shooting Rosetti between the stairwell and the elevator, McCauley said.

Rosetti was answering a call for assistance put over the hospital's public announcement system just moments before the shooting, McCauley said. A nurse in the progressive care unit put out the call after noticing the gunman acting suspiciously.

"[Rosetti] was not just a guy who happened by at the wrong time," McCauley said, "he was going there to help."

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