BUFFALO, Minn. – The suspect in the fatal shooting at a Minnesota medical clinic was able to enter the building despite threatening violence there two years earlier, posting a sign near his home about a doctor he disliked and frightening a nurse at a nearby hospital so much that a colleague hit a panic button for help.
Despite these red flags, Gregory Paul Ulrich entered an Allina medical clinic northwest of Minneapolis on Tuesday and opened fire, killing one staff member and injuring four others before he was arrested, authorities said. Authorities also found a suspicious device at the clinic and other devices at a hotel where Ulrich, 67, had been staying.
While police have said they had multiple run-ins with Ulrich, one security expert says it’s not clear whether police could have done more to prevent Tuesday’s attack.
Ulrich is expected to be charged Thursday with murder and possession of explosive devices, prosecutors said. Ulrich, who remained jailed Wednesday, did not return a phone message left at the jail by The Associated Press.
Allina identified the person who died as Lindsay Overbay, a 37-year-old medical assistant whom family and friends said had two young children. Allina also identified one of the injured as Sherry Curtis, a licensed practical nurse, but didn’t give her condition and said it was not identifying the others because of their families’ wishes. Three people remained hospitalized Wednesday, with one in critical condition, one in fair condition and the other in good condition.
Authorities released few new details Wednesday, but court documents and interviews with people who know Ulrich paint a picture of a man who appeared volatile, had a problem with abusing painkillers, and was confrontational with medical care workers who treated him in Buffalo, a community of about 15,000 people roughly 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis.
Police Chief Pat Budke said Tuesday that Ulrich has a long history of conflict with medical clinics in the area. Requests to talk with Budke about what steps were taken to protect the clinic were not returned Wednesday.
Rich Stanek, a former Hennepin County sheriff who now runs a public safety consulting firm, said although Ulrich was well-known to law enforcement, it’s not clear what more police could have done.
“When their deputies responded to calls with him, they were probably already on guard,” Stanek said. “But tracking him day to day? Not so much. The courts are going to have to figure out what happened. When he got arrested, if he suffered from mental illness, did they just make a referral and let it go?”
Stanek said another issue is what the clinic did to protect its employees and patients: “There’s no question the clinic had an obligation to protect, especially if there were recent threats.”
The health system said in a statement that while Tuesday's shooting appears to be isolated, it has increased security at its facilities.
According to a police report, Ulrich threatened to carry out a mass shooting at the clinic Oct. 13, 2018, and a doctor told investigators that Ulrich had talked about “shooting, blowing things up, and practicing different scenarios of how to get revenge.” The doctor said Ulrich told him he dreamed about getting revenge on the people who “tortured” him, referring to issues he had with back surgeries and medication he was prescribed.
Ulrich told police he had been talking about his dreams and that he wouldn’t actually do anything, and police took him for a mental health evaluation at a facility in Monticello, the report says.
But Allina medical staff believed Ulrich might act on the threats and took legal action to bar him from the company’s property. A restraining order prohibited Ulrich from having contact with the doctor or going into the clinic and the nearby Allina-run Buffalo Hospital.
The application for the restraining order included a statement from a nurse at the hospital who said Ulrich had gone to the front desk in October 2018, seeking his medical records. She said he was “unfocused and disoriented,” and started yelling. She became fearful and a colleague pushed a panic alarm, she said, and Ulrich left when security approached.
Court records show Ulrich denied the allegations but did not object to the restraining order, which was due to expire Dec. 13, 2020.
It wasn’t known Wednesday if the doctor was among the victims of Tuesday’s attack; calls to his home rang unanswered.
Ulrich violated the restraining order and tried to plead guilty in May 2019, but the court didn’t approve his plea and ordered an investigation. A court services agent found that Ulrich applied for a permit to buy a gun, and the court agreed with the agent's recommendation that he be barred from having one.
The court ordered a psychological evaluation that June, but court filings show Ulrich was unwilling to leave his home, claiming he was in too much pain. The charge of violating the restraining order was dismissed April 15, 2020, when the prosecutor said Ulrich was found “mentally incompetent to proceed.”
Raymond Zandstra, who lived with Ulrich in a mobile home park in Buffalo from February 2019 until last July, said Ulrich had mental health issues but never sought treatment.
Zandstra said he moved out after a dispute that ended in a restraining order. He said he saw Ulrich abuse prescription pills, use marijuana and alcohol and sniff glue. Ulrich told him he used to be a union carpenter but hurt his back, which was why he didn’t work, Zandstra said.
Zandstra said Ulrich’s animosity toward local health care workers started when Ulrich’s doctor stopped prescribing him painkillers. He said Ulrich called his doctor “no good,” and put a sign attacking him by name on a shed facing the road that led to the Buffalo Hospital.
“He didn’t like the doctor, he didn’t like the hospital, he didn’t like the clinic because nobody would bend over to give him his painkillers anymore," Zandstra said.
Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski and Doug Glass in Minneapolis and Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.