Deadly Resentment: The Grudge Motive and Murder of Medical Professionals

Dr. Mark Hausknecht, a prestigious surgeon and cardiologist in who cared for former President George H.W. Bush, was fatally gunned down as he rode his bike to work on July 20, 2018 in Houston. Although no suspects have been formally charged yet, there is a “high probability” that the doctor was specifically targeted – perhaps by a man named Joseph James Pappas.

Pappas’ mother died on the operating table under Dr. Hausknecht’s knife in 1997; authorities suspect that Pappas had planned the murder and probably held a grudge against Hausknecht for his mother’s death. According to Police Chief Art Acevedo, “There was a lot of planning that went into this. There was a lot of planning and sadly, some skill.”

Hausknecht’s death isn’t the only shooting attack on a medical professional because of a grudge against them: In 2010, in Baltimore, MD, a 50-year-old man drew a concealed handgun and fired on a surgeon in a hospital hallway after he became distraught over hearing an unfavorable prognosis following surgery on his terminally ill mother. The man had barricaded himself and his mother in her hospital room and shot himself to death, but not before he also fatally shot his mother. The surgeon survived. 1

Sadly, the list of similar stories continues: Dr. Michael Davidson was shot outside of his office in Boston in 2015 by a man whose mother he treated but died from complications two months prior to the shooting. And in August of 2017, Stanwood Elkus, 79, was found guilty of murdering Dr. Ronald Gilbert, a urologist who allegedly botched an operation and left Elkus with erectile dysfunction. These are just a few cases involving the grudge motive and shootings of medical professionals.

How Prevalent is Homicide with a Grudge Motive of Medical Staff?

It can be hard to imagine anyone taking the life of someone who has dedicated their lives to helping others – just how often does something like this happen, though? While events like these garner a huge amount of media coverage, they are fairly rare in the United States, says Dr. James Phillips in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, the rate of workplace violence in healthcare settings is higher than that of other settings: According to the Annals of Emergency Medicine, homicide is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths in the United States, and the rate of assaults on healthcare workers is 8 of 10,000 compared with 2 of 10,000 for private-sector industries.

But what about shootings involving a grudge motive?

Johns Hopkins University performed in-depth research on workplace violence relating to health care and found that there were 154 shootings resulting in injury from 2000 through 2011.2 Analyzing all hospital-based shootings with at least one injured victim during that time and including incidents both inside of hospitals and outside of them, the study found that most events involved a determined shooter with a strong motive – and 27% of the time, that motive was a grudge.2

Furthermore, the study found that the emergency department was the location of such incidents with a grudge as the motive 3% of the time. 27% of grudge-based shootings occurred inside hospitals at non-ER sites, and 38% of shootings involving grudges against medical personnel took place outside of hospitals (Kelen et al).

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