COBOURG, Ont. — A place intended for healing became a scene of violence and trauma when two rounds of gunfire erupted in a southern Ontario hospital, killing an elderly married couple and leaving other patients fearing for their lives.
Ontario's Special Investigations Unit said details of the shooting at the Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg, Ont., are still emerging as two separate investigations comb the scene for answers.
Early details from police and witnesses paint a chaotic picture that has left a community reeling.
SIU spokesman Jason Gennaro said a 70-year-old man and 76-year-old woman, who were married to each other and lived within an hour of Cobourg, were both admitted to the hospital's emergency room late Friday night with unknown ailments.
Around 11:00 p.m., Gennaro said police were called to the scene after receiving reports that shots had been fired in the triage room where both the man and the woman were lying side by side on gurneys.
Grace Andrews, 27, was sitting in an adjoining room receiving treatment for a herniated disc when the violence began.
She heard a loud bang and initially believed a nurse had knocked over a table, but soon heard people screaming for help and calling 911.
Moments later, as she observed police storming in, a volley of gunfire that she mistakenly believed came from automatic weapons sent her companions and other patients scurrying for cover.
"We barricaded ourselves in the room," she said. "We were just sitting in this room with gunfire. And because it sounds like automatic weapons, you don't assume that a police officer has something like that. You just assume that there's someone in the hospital just shooting the place up. We were basically just sitting in this little box waiting for someone to come in and shoot us."
Witness recounts hospital shooting
Eventually, Andrews spoke to other patients who she said told her the man had shot the woman in the head.
Officers both fired after interaction with senior
Gennaro, however, would not confirm this account, saying only that the woman suffered from a head wound and that the source of her injury was still under investigation.
"We're not confirming one way or the other whether or not this man had a firearm or whether he discharged a firearm," Gennaro said.
Shortly after arriving on the scene, the SIU said two police officers had an interaction with the man resulting in both firing their weapons.
Their shots hit the man, who was declared dead at the scene.
Gennaro said Ontario Provincial Police is handling inquiries into the woman's death, while the SIU itself probes the death of the man. The watchdog is an arms-length agency that investigates incidents in which someone is killed, injured or accused of sexual assault.
Provincial police declined to offer further comment on its role. Neither force has released the identities of the man or woman.
The shootings temporarily closed the emergency department of the hospital while police combed the scene for evidence. Gennaro said the investigation includes searching for shell casings to determine how many shots were fired.
Emergency patients were directed to neighbouring hospitals for several hours before the facility resumed its regular operations at around 9:30 on Saturday morning.
Of course, people are shaken up, this isn't something that happens in our town ... everybody's shaken up, but they're handling it really well.Hospital Chief of Staff Mukesh Bhargava
Hospital Chief of Staff Mukesh Bhargava said he's spent the day reaching out to those who witnessed the shooting and trying to support the staff.
"Of course, people are shaken up, this isn't something that happens in our town," he said. "Everybody's shaken up, but they're handling it really well."
Andrews, who received a call from Bargava on Saturday, praised the staff's calm and efficient response to the crisis. But she said the event was traumatic for her personally as well as the community as a whole.
"It's not something you'd expect to happen in a hospital,'' she said. "That's a place you go to get help. Everyone who works there, they want to save lives. And then there's people getting shot in the head."
With files from Michelle McQuigge and Nicole Thompson