A murder-suicide at a children's medical center in Austin has left the community reeling with shock and grief over the death of a beloved pediatrician, Katherine Lindley Dodson.
Bharat Narumanchi, a pediatrician who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, fatally shot Dodson, 43, and then killed himself during a hostage situation on Tuesday afternoon, police said. Narumanchi did not work at the medical offices and had recently been turned down when he sought to volunteer there.
Austin police responded to a report of a man entering the offices of the Children's Medical Group with a gun and holding hostages inside at 4:30 p.m. local time.
There were five adult employees inside the offices, Lt. Jeff Greenwalt with the Austin Police Department said at a briefing Wednesday. No children or patients were present at the time.
Narumanchi, 43, took all five employees hostage and told them to tie themselves up, police said. Over the course of the evening, some of the hostages managed to escape while some were allowed to leave — except Dodson.
Hostages told officers that Narumanchi was armed with a pistol and what appeared to be a shotgun and was carrying two duffel bags.
"He pointed his gun at my coworker and told her to go get the doctor ... and then he points the gun at me and tells me to go lock the front door," Victoria Ishaak, who works at the front desk at Children Medical's Group, told the Austin American-Statesman. Ishaak said she managed to escape from a side door, called 911, and ran to a business next door.
Ishaak told the Statesman that Narumanchi released the other hostages because they were not doctors.
"This guy did not want anything to do with someone who was not a doctor," she said.
Police called the SWAT unit, but hostage negotiators were unable to establish contact with the suspect inside despite multiple attempts. Several hours later, authorities entered the building and found both Dodson and Narumanchi dead from apparent gunshot wounds.
Police said that Dodson died at the hands of Narumanchi, who then died by suicide. The case is being investigated as a murder-suicide.
Narumanchi had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer and was given only weeks to live, according to Greenwalt. His family had been considering hospice care for him, he said.
A week or so before the shooting, Narumanchi had visited the Children's Medical Group office to apply for a volunteer position, but he was turned down, Greenwalt said.
A staff member told the Austin American-Statesman that Narumanchi told them he had stage 4 metastatic cancer and wanted to volunteer during the final months of his life.
Police do not know of any contact between Narumanchi and Dodson, except their brief interaction when he was at the office to apply for the position.
While authorities have not established a motive, Greenwalt said that Narumanchi's "terminal cancer probably played a large part" in what happened.
He said that Narumanchi's family were shocked by his actions and had expressed interest in reaching out to the victim's family.
Narumanchi appeared to be last practicing at a facility in Southern California and had lived in several states, online records show.
A domestic abuse charge against him in Hawaii in 2012 was later dismissed, and he was also involved in a contentious child custody battle with his ex-wife, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Authorities are urging the suspect's family and friends to provide answers about Narumanchi's actions to give closure to Dodson's family.
Dodson's family released a statement to KUVE, saying, "We are beyond devastated at the tragic, sudden and senseless loss of our beloved Lindley. As a dedicated mom, wife, daughter, friend and pediatrician, she radiated light, love and joy in everything she did and with everyone she touched. She developed immediate rapport with her patients and had the unique ability to make you feel like the only person in the room. She brightened our lives and lifted us up with her laughter, which was like magic."
Dodson was affiliated with Dell Children's Medical Center for more than 10 years and left for private practice in 2017, a spokesperson for Dell Children's said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. She joined the medical group that year and was from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
After the news of her death, several of her coworkers, peers, and her patients' parents shared touching tributes, remembering her as a compassionate, skilled, and hardworking doctor as well as a devoted and caring mother of three children.
Dr. Lauren Gambill, who knew Dodson, said she was "magnificent in innumerable ways."
Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett said Dodson, who provided care to his two youngest grandchildren, was "one of our most skilled, compassionate pediatricians."
"At 43, her life has been cut terribly short," Doggett said. "She leaves behind her husband Drew and three children. What a tragic, tragic loss."
"It is so hard to fathom how to fill the void left by her death," the Texas Pediatric Society said in a statement. "We have lost a caring and devoted mother, wife, colleague, and friend, who will be forever missed."
A GoFundMe campaign to support the Children's Medical Group has raised more than $72,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, where Dodson was a faculty member, said that she was a "consummate advocate for children, a beloved pediatrician and a dear friend to many."
"The entire pediatric community is shocked and heartbroken over the shooting of Dr. Katherine Lindley Dodson," Dr. Lee Beers, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said in a statement. "At a time when we would normally gather with friends and loved ones to seek comfort, we cannot do so in the same way," Beers said.
In a touching Twitter tribute, Karen Vladeck, an Austin lawyer whose daughters were Dodson's patients, described her as "an absolute shining light" who always walked into the exam room with a "broad but sympathetic smile on her face every time you were there."
"She made you feel like your child's illness was the only one that mattered in that moment, even though you knew there was a line of other kids and parents waiting anxiously to see her," Vladeck said. "She always made you feel important and heard."
Dodson would start her rounds at the hospital to visit the new babies in her practice at 6:45 a.m. in the morning, which she said was the "highlight of her day," Vladeck recalled.
She said that she often saw Dodson running around in the neighborhood, taking her three children to the park and other activities.
"Even though she had 100s of patients, she would always ask 'How is Syd's ear? How is Maddie feeling after that vaccine?'" Vladeck tweeted.
She said her kids loved to play "Dr. Dodson," dressing up as the pediatrician and giving shots and check-ups.
"The idea that she was killed while doing what she loved most in this world, taking care of children, is beyond comprehension," Vladeck said.
Her Twitter thread prompted several other parents to share their memories of Dodson's care and compassion for their children.