1 Official Killed, 2 Shot in Costa Mesa Hospital : Gunman: A painter with problems at work is arrested after the bloody outburst at state’s Fairview Developmental Center.
A state hospital employee, mired in disputes with his bosses over his mental stability and his complaints of on-the-job racism, shot to death one of his supervisors Tuesday and wounded two others, including the hospital director, police said.
The gunman, a painter, allegedly opened fire on his two supervisors with a .32-caliber revolver, killing one, while they were in the break room at the paint shop of the Fairview Developmental Center on Harbor Boulevard.
Then, police said, he drove to the campus administration building and, after a fierce struggle, wounded the top administrator at the 1,100-patient hospital as a secretary hid under a desk.
Costa Mesa Police SWAT team members, carrying bulletproof shields, arrived within minutes of receiving a 9:42 a.m. call for help and closed off the 513-acre site, only to discover that the suspect had been spotted fleeing in a white Toyota pickup truck.
Less than an hour later, around 10:30 a.m., Michael Rahming, 37, of Long Beach, quietly surrendered to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Nondice Mason after she got a message to check on the painter’s address in Long Beach.
As the deputy drove by the apartment, Rahming walked out and motioned to her. “ ‘Officer, officer, I am the one you’re looking for,’ ” Mason recalled Rahming saying.
Police said they recovered the suspected murder weapon from the glove box of Rahming’s truck.
The calm capture belied the events of earlier that morning at the residential hospital for the developmentally disabled, founded in 1959 to care for the critically retarded and others mentally unable to care for themselves.
Immediately after the shooting started, dozens of frantic employees were evacuated from the administration building, while others were warned to stay in their offices.
Physicians broke from treating patients to respond to the emergency. And while most residents were apparently unaffected by the crisis, some were sealed off temporarily in activity areas with volunteer aides.
Killed in the attack was Allen Motis, 53, of Garden Grove, who worked as the hospital’s building and trades supervisor. He was shot three times, once in the head and twice in the back, police said.
Listed in fair condition at UCI Medical Center in Orange with gunshot wounds to their heads were James Herbert Pichon, 36, a painting supervisor from El Toro, and Hugh Kohler, 43, of Costa Mesa, the facility’s popular executive director. Each had been shot once, police said.
After being taken to a sheriff’s station in Lakewood, Rahming was transported to the Costa Mesa Jail. He was being held on $250,000 bail.
There were conflicting theories about the primary target of the attack.
Lou Sarrao, clinical director at the hospital, said he believed that both Motis and Pichon--as the suspect’s immediate supervisors--were targets. And he noted that Kohler, as the top administrator, had been the ultimate decision-maker at the hospital in grievances brought by Rahming.
But Capt. Tom Lazar of the Costa Mesa Police Department suggested that Rahming was out to get another employee as well. Rahming “had a history of not getting along with a particular (co-worker) and that person was not there” at the facilities plant at the time of the shootings, Lazar said.
However, it is clear is that Rahming had a troubled tenure at Fairview since arriving in 1988.
Carole Hood, state deputy director for development centers, said: “Clearly, he was not always happy with his employment and we were not always happy with him as an employee.”
According to Fairview records, hospital administrators had been concerned about Rahming’s mental health for at least a year, and had sought a psychiatric evaluation last July when his behavior became “erratic.”
An evaluation on file noted that “no one can predict with certainty he will act in a destructive manner,” but it concluded that Rahming was fit to continue work.
The alleged gunman had also been disciplined by supervisors for tardiness, frequent absences and other unspecified work-performance problems, officials said.
In a dispute that had simmered for more than a year, Rahming had in turn claimed that he was the victim of discrimination and harassment on the job and had been denied promotion because he was black. He had filed several grievances, including one that his local union had begun investigating just this week. Pichon was the union’s shop steward.
Gilda Garcia, area business agent for the Alliance of Trades and Maintenance, the employee union that had represented Rahming’s work unit until May, said she believed he had been the victim of systematic discrimination and harassment by white superiors.
“I knew Michael and was afraid something was going to happen because they were driving him insane,” Garcia said. “He kept saying, ‘Gilda, I don’t know what to do.’ I worried about it, but I didn’t think it would go this far.”
Garcia said Rahming had brought grievances through the union over attempts by supervisors to discipline him by reducing his pay for three months. He also complained of having been written up for things he didn’t do, and of being assigned impossible tasks, such has having to paint rooms with cracked walls, she said.
But several other employees said Rahming was not a victim of discrimination but rather was just unpopular and difficult to work with.
“If you ever criticized him for his work,” said Mike Thomas, who runs the hospital warehouse and is white, “he’d get in your face and bring up affirmative action every time.”
The workplace tensions apparently reached a climax around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, police allege, when Rahming started his shooting spree.
Dressed in his white painter’s garb, Rahming first walked into a break room at the hospital’s painting facility and shot Pichon and Motis, seated around a table with several other men, according to witnesses and Costa Mesa police.
According to a witness, hospital transportation employee Marvin Pass, Pichon screamed, “I’m shot! I’m shot!” as he staggered from the building, then sat on the ground until medical help arrived.
Another witness, who was having coffee in the break room at the time but asked not to be identified, said the gunman “just flipped his lid and started shooting . . .”
“I ducked under a table. . . . That was as close as I wanted to get to something like this. It was horrifying,” he said.
Pichon staggered from the building with a towel or some other object pressed against his head wound.
The witness said the second shooting victim, though wounded, ran from the break room. But the assailant chased him down the hallway and fired several more shots before the victim staggered and fell, the witness said.
That victim appears to have been Motis, who was found a few yards away from the scene of the shooting and was pronounced dead at Western Medical Center-Santa Ana, police said.
Moments later, officials in the hospital’s administration building got word by phone from someone in the facilities division that there had been gunfire.
After entering the administration building, Rahming fired several shots in the lobby, apparently into the air, police said. At some point, he stopped to reload his revolver, and he also stopped by to see secretary Pam Bruns. He told her, “I can’t take it anymore.”
Then, the suspect headed to the office of Hal Britt, the hospital’s former personnel director. Kohler had gone to Britt’s office to see if he had heard about the shootings, and as the two administrators turned to leave the office they found Rahming standing in the door.
“Hugh said to him in a very friendly way, ‘Hi Michael,’ Britt recalled. “Then he saw the gun and said, ‘Oh no, Michael, no!’ ”
The three men wrestled as Britt and Kohler tried to get the gun away from Rahming, Britt said. Britt then tried to close the door on Rahming but he pushed his way into the office, randomly firing three or four shots. Britt fell backward and rolled over his desk, while a secretary who had been standing nearby dove under the desk, he said.
“There was a long pause, then there was one more shot,” Britt said. “I thought he was still in there and had shot himself. The only thing you could hear was breathing.” The breathing turned out to be Kohler’s. The gunman had fled through a side door.
Ann Misel, a nurse at the hospital who attended to the injured Kohler, said: “It could have been one bullet, it was hard to tell. There was a lot of blood.”
She said that while on the gurney being taken from the scene, Kohler told another employee “that he fought with the guy to keep from being shot more.”
“He was of course very shaken,” Misel said. “But he was conscious and talking. . . . He got on the gurney under his own power.”
Kohler’s wife rushed onto the hospital campus to find her husband gone, and was then escorted by police to UCI Medical Center. Pichon had also been taken to UCI. Both were listed in fair condition.
As shots rang out, the usually calm, tree-lined hospital grounds--surrounded by a city golf course on three sides, with a petting zoo inside--erupted into near-chaos, witnesses said.
Police arrived within minutes of the second shooting, and employees in some sections of the hospital were told--by public address system and word of mouth--to get out. Elsewhere in the complex, volunteers working with the disabled were sealed off in their rooms.
“I’ve been here 22 years, and nothing like this has ever happened,” said Delia Almazan of Santa Ana, a psychiatric technician who had come to the hospital to pick up her paycheck.
Dr. Iman Zahran was putting hot packs on the back of a patient with muscle spasms when the emergency erupted.
“I was really scared,” I had a patient with me, so I just told her to put her clothes on and said, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ ”
Other employees reported locking themselves in offices at the sound of gunshots and fleeing out of restrooms during the panic.
In the minutes and hours that followed, as word circulated among the employees about what had happened, some workers cried. Others speculated over how the suspect was able to flee the scene and elude police. And still others remarked on the lack of security at the hospital campus, since an employee had managed to bring a weapon to work.
Sarrao, the hospital clinical director, said the attacker’s ability to bring a gun onto the facility is a reflection of the “openness” that is sought on campus. He said there are no checks or searches at the institution, although there are unarmed security guards.
No matter what the explanation, Sarrao said the shootings were “a tragic event. It’s never occurred before on our campus. (It has been) a very painful day at our center.”
Times staff writers Tammerlin Drummond, Sonni Efron, Catherine Gewertz, Ted Johnson, Matt Lait, John Needham, Jim Newton, Carla Rivera, Lynn Smith and Dan Weikel contributed to this report.
How Shooting Unfolded
A. 9:30 a.m.: According to witnesses, Michael Rahming, a painter who works for Fairview Developmental Center, enters the paint shop break room brandishing a .32-caliber handgun. James H. Pichon, painting supervisor, is shot in the head. Building and Trades Supervisor Allen Motis also is shot.
B. Motis runs from the break room to an office next door. Rahming allegedly follows him and shoots him again, killing him.
C. Gunman crosses to center’s administration building.
D. Entering the building’s lobby, gunman fires several shots, hitting no one.
E. Hospital Director Hugh Kohler and another administrator struggle with gunman as shots are fired. Kohler hit one in the head.
F. 9:43 a.m.: Costa Mesa police, responding to report of shots fired, arrive at center. Gunman has already fled.
Suspects Surrenders 10:25 a.m.: A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy arrests Rahming at his Long Beach home.
Sources: Witnesses, Costa Mesa Police Dept.
Fairview’s Makeup, Mission
* Opened in 1959
* Second-largest developmental center in California
* Ninety-seven percent of its patients are diagnosed as mentally retarded; nearly all of them have been assessed as “severely or profoundly retarded.”
* Licensed for 1,228 patients, called “clients” by the center, it currently has 1,093.
* Average age of patients is about 29, though their average mental development is about 18 months. Chronological ages range from a toddler about 1 year old to a few patients in their early 80s.
* Among other “rights,” patients are allowed to have visitors, receive mail, practice their religion, participate in community activities.
* Staff of 1,650 includes nurses, teachers, administrators, social workers and others.
* Philosophy: “All people have value as human beings and as members of the human family. People do not lose their inherent value simply because of a disability.”
Sources: Center officials and brochure.