Worker kills doctor and herself at MGH

  1. Worker kills doctor and herself at MGH

    By Douglas Belkin and Francie Latour, Globe Staff, 4/9/2003

    A woman who worked with a prominent cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital fatally shot the doctor and then killed herself yesterday in his office near the hospital's main lobby, police said.

    Police and hospital officials said Dr. Brian A. McGovern, 47, of Boxford, was inside his small first-floor office when the shooting occurred about 10 a.m.

    Police last night identified the woman who shot McGovern as 51-year-old Colleen P. Mitchell, who lived on Beacon Hill.

    Boston police spokeswoman Mariellen Burns said that a handgun was recovered inside the office and that McGovern and Mitchell were the only people in the office when the shots were fired. Police offered no motive.

    A woman who identified herself as Mitchell's younger sister said she could not make sense of the news that Mitchell could have killed a co-worker and turned the gun on herself.

    ''We are so stunned by this,'' said the Connecticut woman, who did not want to be named. ''It's hard to talk right now. We would have never expected her to do anything like this. She didn't have this in her. It's a terrible tragedy for our family and for the doctor's family. There was nothing like this in her background, and in a million years we never thought she would be capable of something like this.''

    McGovern's colleagues said Mitchell worked in the lab near McGovern's office for about a year, but that she was not his personal assistant. They said Mitchell had worked for several doctors in the department and performed intake duties for heart patients, as well as secretarial work.

    The shooting unfolded at the hospital's Electrophysiology Laboratory, where McGovern diagnosed disturbances in heart rhythms. His office was near the chapel and gift shop and steps away from a coffee stand crowded with employees and visitors.

    A distraught hospital employee yesterday said she saw one person on a gurney covered in blood, as medical personnel furiously performed CPR and wheeled the victim down the lobby corridor towards the emergency room.

    ''Nobody understands the motive for what happened,'' said Dr. Dennis Ausiello, the hospital's physician in chief, who said he knew McGovern well. ''Everyone I've talked to here, including the people who worked in his division, is stunned and perplexed. At the moment, it's not clear in any way what happened and why. Everyone is clueless as to why.''

    Last night, friends gathered in Boxford at the house where McGovern, a native of Ireland, lived with his wife, Dr. Anne Jennings, and two daughters. ''It's very difficult right now,'' said a woman who answered the phone.

    Jennings, a physician specializing in kidney disease who practices at The Medical Group in Beverly, left work yesterday morning. ''I was told that she had some bad news and had to go into Boston,'' said Dr. David Lebwohl, a colleague.

    Lebwohl said Jennings had worked in the practice for 15 years. ''This is as much a shock to us as I'm sure it was to her. She's a terrific person, a terrific mother, and a wonderful physician.''

    A woman who worked in 1989 for the couple as a live-in nanny for one of their children, said news of McGovern's murder stunned her.

    ''How could this have happened?'' asked Deborah J. Schandemeier. ''They had a strong marriage. They were a strong family unit.''

    ''Brian was awesome,'' she added. ''He was the most intelligent person I have ever heard. He had the best sense of humor.''

    She said McGovern was an outdoorsman who loved gardening and said she couldn't imagine why anyone would ever want to kill him. ''Some people you might say that about maybe, that they might have enemies, but not with Brian. He's just not that type,'' Schandemeier said.

    Mitchell's sister said that prior to working in the cardiology unit, Mitchell had worked as a pediatric social worker for 20 years.

    ''She was a wonderful person,'' she said. ''Everyone loved her. We don't know why. We don't know anything. We're stunned. We're completely sad.''

    At Mitchell's parents' home in Virginia, relatives were so devastated they could barely speak into the phone. Mitchell moved to the area about four years ago to help another sister, Maura Mitchell, take care of her two children, according to Sharon L. Smith, who bought Maura Mitchell's Beacon Hill home in 1998. ''This is just horrible,'' Smith said. ''She seemed very nice.''

    Chris McDonough, a friend of Mitchell's from Cranford, N.J., where she lived for more than 10 years, said Mitchell moved to Boston because she wanted a change.

    McDonough said he didn't think Mitchell ever married, but that she never seemed lonely.

    ''She was a beautiful Irish girl, blonde, never looked her age,'' said McDonough, who visited her in Boston four years ago. ''She was probably one of the nicest people I ever met in my own life. She was always out and about, visiting her nieces and her nephews.''

    Records show her social worker's license expired in New Jersey in 1998.

    Dr. G. William Dec, a cardiologist and colleague of McGovern's, said last night that Mitchell had no known problems with any of the cardiology staff. When co-workers saw Mitchell at work the day before the shooting, Dec said, she seemed ''completely normal.''

    ''As best as I can tell talking to the people who worked with her every day, there's really been no evidence that she was unhappy, that she was angry, that there was any major crisis in her life,'' Dec said. ''Nobody had any sense that there was a problem brewing here. Certainly there was no dissatisfaction with her performance as far as the hospital was concerned. So it's a complete mystery.''

    Dec said he was seeing outpatients in a nearby building yesterday morning when one of his first patients, an emergency technician, arrived for an appointment at 10:10 a.m. Police had been called to the scene at 10:09 a.m.

    ''He asked me how the people who were shot in the Gray Building were doing, and I said, `I don't know what you're talking about,'''Dec said.

    Then, a stream of messages came in to his pager from co-workers, offering sketchy details: Trauma units responded to the shots; McGovern and Mitchell were rushed to the emergency room; neither had made it up to surgery.

    ''I have no idea if she just snapped or if there was something else that was going on for a while,'' Dec said. ''But people are just shaking their heads thinking, `Was there any warning sign that we could have seen coming that this was going to happen?'''

    The shooting caused chaos at the world-renowned hospital, as state and local police cruisers choked the area outside the main entrance. Police soon determined that there were no other suspects and the hospital remained open throughout the day.

    Last night, neighbors in the historic Beacon Hill building where Mitchell lived offered fond memories of a woman who smoked Marlboro Lights on the stoop.

    ''We're all kind of in shock about it because she was such a nice person,'' said one upstairs neighbor on Champney Street who did not want to be identified. ''She was quiet and warm, not a bad thing you could say about her.''

    At a news conference yesterday, Peter Slavin, president of MGH, said, ''The MGH community is deeply shocked about the loss of two employees who died earlier today.''

    David Torchiana, a cardiac surgeon and chairman of the Mass General Physicians Organization, described McGovern as an international authority in his field and an ''outgoing and friendly person'' who had ''a nice Irish brogue and a twinkle in his eye.''

    ''He was a terrific doctor, attentive and caring to his patients, and an international expert in his field,'' Torchiana said.

    Colleagues at Harvard Medical School, where McGovern became an assistant professor in 1989, released a statement yesterday saying they were ''deeply saddened by the loss.''

    ''Brian shared his medical expertise with colleagues around the world,'' the statement said. ''Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and colleagues.''

    Inside the tiny chapel down the hall from the flower shop, at least one visitor mourned the two deaths yesterday, logging in an entry in the guest book that read: ''Please remember the two souls who lost their lives in this act of aggression in the hospital today.''

    David Abel, Alice Dembner, Liz Kowalczyk, Michael Rosenwald, and Farah Stockman of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

    This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2003.
    Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

    How tragic.
  2. 3 Comments

  3. by   Chiaramonte
    Oh my gosh!! How awful!!!
  4. by   Zee_RN
    Have you heard any updates on this? Any possible motive yet?

    Stunning story.
  5. by   passing thru
    What would motivate homicide & suicide?
    Sounds like a made-for-t.v.-movie.

    The doc "done her wrong."