A man and a woman died Monday morning at Valley Hospital and Medical Center in what Las Vegas police are investigating as a homicide-suicide.
Las Vegas police Sgt. Matthew Sanford said a woman shot her husband, a patient at the hospital, before turning the gun on herself. Both were in their 50s.
Police said the man had been in the hospital since Aug. 3 for a deteriorating, unknown mental condition. The woman had stayed overnight with her husband in a private room in the hospital. It was not clear why she shot her husband or whether his condition played a factor in the decision.
"There's no indication right now they had preplanned anything," Sanford said.
The incident was reported at 4:51 a.m. on the fourth floor of the hospital, which is at 620 Shadow Lane, near Martin Luther King Boulevard and Alta Drive, police said.
A hospital staff member heard the gunshots and called police. The hospital was not evacuated because other patients were not in danger, Sanford said. The man was pronounced dead immediately after the incident. The woman died at 6:10 a.m., he said.
Sgt. John Sheahan, a police spokesman, said he would hesitate to call this incident a "mercy killing" without more information.
It is not uncommon for family members to make suicide pacts when someone becomes terminally ill, he said.
"Those are such intensely personal things between family members, and we have to insert ourselves into them because of their violent nature," Sheahan said.
Other times, psychological issues such as extreme depression can eventually lead to violence, he said.
"Sometimes, you get someone so despondent, they feel like they don't want to leave their family members behind and end up killing their family before themselves," he said.
"It's always a bad deal and a very sad situation. We run into these things once in a while, and with no warning ahead of time, it's next to impossible to prevent."
Any underlying medical conditions the woman might have been suffering from will be investigated by the county coroner's office, he said.
In a statement, Valley Hospital wrote it "would like to acknowledge that all appropriate actions were immediately taken and no other patients, visitors or staff members were injured."
Valley Hospital has a no-weapons policy that is marked on signs outside the hospital, according to the statement.
Police said shootings at hospitals are rare.
Ruben Gurrola, director of public safety at University Medical Center, said hospitals are brimming with a mixture of emotions, some of which could lead to self-inflicted violence and attacks against a patient or staff member.
A strong prevention program can be the difference between a headline-grabbing tragedy or an incident that's defused, he said.
"We've had situations where people have said, because of a loss of a loved one, that they're going to come back and shoot people," Gurrola said. "We take them all seriously."
Gurrola said UMC has its fair share of incidents involving patients with serious medical conditions and upset family members. Potential for those incidents is even greater at UMC because of patient volume and the range of clientele, he said.
Any indication of hopelessness or a rapid change in mood is a telltale sign that something might be wrong with a distressed patient or family member, he said.
"Signals or signs may present themselves for somebody who knows what to be looking for, and more importantly, stops and does something with the information," Gurrola said.
Even with all the best prevention methods, Gurrola said, hospitals don't have unlimited resources. Sometimes, events are unpredictable.
"We've been pretty lucky, but I like to think being proactive has helped us," he said.
In March 2009, Henderson police shot and killed a man who pointed a gun at officers at St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus. The man had entered the hospital with a gun and intended to commit suicide, witnesses testified at a Clark County coroner's inquest.
In 1999, a 68-year-old man shot and killed his wife, a patient at Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center, after a stroke worsened her condition. He then shot and killed himself.
The coroner's office will release the identities of the two involved in the Valley Hospital shooting after family members have been notified.
Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@review journal.com or 702-383-0283.