Valley News Staff Writer
Lebanon Brenda Thibault and her daughter Alexis were in line to catch the elevator to the sixth floor when a doctor urged them not to.
Their confusion lasted mere seconds.
We heard receptionists screaming to go out of the building; everybody was running all down the hallway, recalled Alexis, who was at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for an appointment when a code silver, an alert for an active shooter, sounded over the PA system.
The Thibaults followed those in front of them and scurried toward the nearest exit, first funneling into a parking lot near the Emergency Department and then into Parking Lot 20, a few hundred feet away.
The chaos continued, the Burlington residents said, with doctors, nurses and other hospital employees urging patients and their guests to move farther and farther away from the main campus and seek shelter at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Administrative Offices at Colburn Hill, across Mount Support Road.
Some people were crying, but many remained calm, said Nancy Liston, of Plainfield, who was prepped and ready for a procedure when the technologist jumped up and told her they needed to leave the building.
With no time to change, Liston put her shoes on and left the building in her hospital gown. She boarded a shuttle with other patients, some with newborn babies in hand, others with mobility issues, and a driver took them to Colburn Hill.
I think people didnt know what was going on, including the staff, other than they realized it was real, Liston said.
Just how real became clear several hours later when the state Attorney General's Office said that 49-year-old Travis Frink, of Warwick, R.I., had been apprehended and would be charged in connection with the shooting and killing of his 70-year-old mother in the intensive care unit of the hospital.
But that announcement wasnt made until Tuesday night, leaving thousands of people on the Dartmouth-Hitchcock campus, and those in the Upper Valley who had heard about the incident via social media or email, with questions about what had happened.
As employees and patients poured out of the hospital, more than 100 police officers, including members of both New Hampshire and Vermont state police and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, converged on the scene around 1:45 p.m. Two armored police vehicles also arrived.
Law enforcement officers roamed the halls inside the hospital and canvassed the parking lots, seemingly peering in every car's windows as if they were looking for someone or something.
They set up a roadblock near the intersection of Mount Support Road and Lahaye Drive, and witnesses said they spoke with several drivers before letting them leave the hospital's campus.
Kathy Jacobs, a nurse practitioner, evacuated the hospital as requested and was near the intersection when a man driving a silver Ford Escape with Rhode Island plates was stopped around 3 p.m.
Stop! Put your hands up! she heard an officer yell to the driver.
I just ran, Jacobs said, recalling seeing a half-dozen officers with their guns drawn.
Manuel Bermudez, a surgical technician, was near Jacobs at the time.
Stop the (expletive) car! he said an officer shouted at the driver, before police took the man into custody without incident.
I was thinking, Take cover, Bermudez said. I got behind a motorcycle; just trying to avoid fire.
He added: (Police) controlled it really well.
Immediately after, police cordoned off a section of the intersection and put caution tape around the Ford SUV.
Meanwhile, in the heart of the campus, hospital employees helped patients stay comfortable during what would prove to be a four-hour wait before they could return inside. Employees handed out bottles of water and offered blankets and seats to anyone in need.
The staff has been fabulous, said Lynnford Henry, of Randolph.
Not only were they attentive to patients needs, they got everyone out (of the building) very quickly and efficiently, Henry said. They kept control of everyone.
He wasnt the only one to commend hospital staff.
I must have been asked if I was OK and if I needed water 20 times, Liston said.
They have been over with water, pretzels, chocolate ... , said Dinah Yessne, of Calais, Vt., while patiently waiting to go back inside with Jim Keeney, who was seated in a wheelchair in front of her.
Dartmouth's CEO and President Joanne Conroy also praised her staff in a statement tweeted out by the health system around 10 p.m. on Tuesday night.
You became very creative over the hours, she said. One team set up a MASH unit in the parking lot and saw over 40 patients, removed stitches, changed dressings and scheduled those patients to return later this week for a follow-up.
As time passed and some of the initial intensity of the situation waned, many of those who were standing sat, and many who first passed up a bottle of water took one. Everyone seemingly focused on the person in front of them, waiting for the time a signal would arrive that it was safe to go back inside.
Around 5 p.m., hospital staff were let back in, and around 5:45 p.m., the doors opened to everyone else. By then, the daytime staff's shifts had ended, so they grabbed their belongings and left the hospital. The halls stayed quiet and calm throughout the process.
By the time Greg Blanchette was let back in, it had been several hours since he had seen his mother, who was in the operating room when the shooting occurred.
He hadnt completely lost contact with her, however. After most everybody else had been evacuated from the hospital, an anesthesiologist loaned her a cellphone. All people involved in his mother's surgery had been locked in a space in the hospital together.
She wasnt allowed to leave, Blanchette, of Keene, said with a smile. She's been yucking it up with the surgeon. Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248