‘You could smell the gunpowder right away’: Temple students, doctors describe lockdown during Tioga-Nicetown standoff

The standoff left six officers with non-life threatening gunshot wounds.

An ambulance speeds past Temple University Hospital on Broad Street near Ontario Street in April. | DYLAN LONG / FILE PHOTO

Mark Lee was practicing a medical procedure when he received a text alert from Temple notifying students of a shooting in the area late Wednesday afternoon.

“I didn’t pay attention, because it happens all the time. We figured we’d wait for them to wrap up the crime scene and leave,” Lee, a second-year student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, said.

But as soon as he walked out of the hospital, Lee saw dozens police cars in the area. 

“You could smell the gunpowder right away in the air when you walked out,” he said.

Lee was among hundreds of students, employees of the hospital and nearby residents who were forced into lockdown for hours as a tense shootout and then standoff erupted between Philadelphia Police and a gunman in Nicetown.

The shooting, which began around 4:30 p.m. near the intersection of Erie Avenue and 15th Street, sent six officers to area hospitals with non-life threatening gunshot wounds before alleged shooter Maurice Hill, 36, surrendered to police just after midnight.

The length of the standoff, colossal police presence near the Health Sciences Campus and the at the time uncertain fate of the wounded officers led to a sense of tension and fear among students and faculty during the lockdown.

Tristan Marcelis, a first-year medical student, was sitting by the second-floor windows when he heard sirens and saw a flood of police cars driving down the street, he said. 

“Everyone just stood up out of their seats, we couldn’t focus at all … We were all kind of terrified,” he said.

Temple issued a lockdown for the Health Sciences Campus shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday before lifting it two hours later. Students were advised to stay quiet, be still and stay away from windows.

Lars Sjoholm, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at Temple University Hospital, said he often sees police escort gunshot victims into the hospital but was stunned to see officers themselves injured.

“Most police don’t come in with walkie-talkies where you could just hear gunshots going off through their walkie-talkies. I have been here for 30 years, and it was for me a time of great intensity,” Gary Cohen, the chair of the radiology department at the hospital, said.

Despite the stress of the situation, however, medical employees and law enforcement were able to calm those inside the hospital and direct them toward safety during the lockdown, some students said.

Brooke Lipton, a first-year medical student, liked that library staff in the hospital immediately took control of the situation, she said.

“Everyone around me made me feel safe because I knew the rules are being followed,” Lipton said.

“For as serious of a situation as it was, and what it could have been, I’ve never felt safer in my life,” said Erin Jarvis, another first-year student. 

Cohen said that the university’s coordinated response with law enforcement, including their relaying of information to patients about the ongoing situation, played a crucial role in allowing those on lockdown to remain calm.

Sjoholm said he hopes the situation could be seen as a learning experience for students who will, in their line of work, help gunshot victims. 

“The experience was obviously a terrible situation, but in terms of patient care, it was a good experience,” Sjoholm said.

“The longer you do this, the more emotional you get,” he added. “No matter who it is. Obviously, you learn as much as possible from that situation. These students are very smart and we can learn from it.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Lars Sjoholm. It has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of his name.

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