By CS Staff · December 15, 2016
Police are praising the quick actions of hospital staff members and security officers who disarmed a man who fired a rifle inside a Florida Veteran Affairs facility Tuesday morning.
No one was injured in the shooting and 60-year-old Stephen Cometa was taken into custody and charged with forcible assault of a federal employee and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
“Thanks to the quick thinking and brave actions of the VA clinic staff and patients to protect themselves and others, a potential tragedy was avoided and lives were saved,” Special Agent Charles P. Spencer of the Jacksonville Division of the FBI said.
The incident began when Cometa, who is an Army veteran, entered The Villages VA Outpatient Clinic in central Florida with an AM-15 rifle and backpack. Cometa bypassed hospital security officers and began banging on the door of an exam room where a doctor was with a patient.
When the doctor opened the door, Cometa pointed the gun at him and said, “Now you’re going to listen to me,” reports news4jax.com.
The gun was discharged once while the doctor and another staff member attempted to disarm and restrain Cometa. Two on-duty VA police officers then joined the struggle and were able to activate the safety of the gun while subduing Cometa.
A second shot was fired after the hospital security officers joined in, although no one was injured during the incident and Cometa was eventually detained.
An ensuing investigation revealed that Cometa was armed with the rifle, several large-capacity magazines holding 26 rounds of ammunition each and a backpack containing a loaded 9mm handgun and a video camera.
Following the incident, all 250 hospital staff members and 150 patients inside the building were evacuated and the clinic was closed for the day as local police worked to determine whether or not there was an ongoing threat.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad searched and cleared the clinic and it reopened Wednesday.
The local FBI division is working with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation.
The hospital is currently reviewing its security procedures and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Todd Donahue praised the institution’s response.
“Our system worked, our protocols worked, what we trained our staff to do worked,” Dr. Donahue said. “We’re not on lockdown, we’re a free society. He had a weapon concealed and took it into the clinic and then we responded appropriately once that was discovered.”
Donahue added that the hospital staff had last completed active shooter training in June.
The hospital had four police officers on duty at the time of the incident.