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Police: Suspect admitted hospital shootings

The man who police say killed three people Thursday at Doctors Hospital confessed to the shootings hours later while being treated for a gunshot wound.

Charles Johnston, 63, was rolled Monday in a wheelchair into Columbus Recorder's Court, where Columbus Police Detective Katina Williams testified that the man who once taught at Muscogee County schools told her he shot Peter David Wright, 44, Leslie A. Harris, 44, and John Baker, 76.

The three men died Thursday when Johnston used a 9 mm pistol to kill Wright, whom he believed was the nurse responsible for his mother's death in 2004, Williams said. Harris, an administrative assistant with the hospital, was shot as Johnston stepped onto an elevator. Baker was shot as he sat in his pickup truck next to Johnston's tan station wagon.

"He stated that he blamed him for her death," Williams testified about Johnston's feelings toward Wright. "He stated that he shot the other people because he thought they were trying to stop him."

Lt. Charles Kennedy said medical records show no one named Peter Wright treated Johnston's mother in 2004, adding it appears Johnston assumed Wright was the nurse against whom he held a grudge.

Johnston -- who pleaded not guilty to all his charges and whose case was bound over to Muscogee County Superior Court with no bond -- woke up Thursday morning tired of thinking for months about his mother's death on Sept. 15, 2004, Detective Joby Duncan said. He stepped inside the hospital about an hour before the shootings, looking for someone named "Pete." That person wasn't there at the time, but Johnston returned an hour later with a .32-caliber revolver, a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol and a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.

When asked why he had the weapons, Johnston said he didn't know what to expect and wanted to be prepared if something bad happened, Duncan said.

Karen Pridgen, a nurse on the fifth floor during the shootings, testified she saw Johnston shoot Wright as he told him, " '... You killed my mom.' "

Johnston then stepped toward the elevator, and believing that Harris was trying to stop him from leaving, shot him.

As Johnston stepped onto the first floor, Sherry Wilkerson, who was checking her aunt into the hospital, didn't think he was a threat until he raised one hand holding a gun followed by his second hand.

"It was so quick," Wilkerson said after the hearing. "When he pulled the first gun on me, I was like a deer in headlights. When he pulled the second gun out there, I knew it was time to get out of there. I got out of his way. I did. I don't know why he did not shoot me."

Police said Johnston left the building through the emergency room doors. Wilkerson said that as he left, she grabbed a security guard and told him Johnston was the one with the guns. He asked if she was sure, and she said she was.

Johnston thought Baker, whose feet were hanging out of his pickup truck, was also trying to stop him, Duncan testified. He shot him before trying to drive away in his car, shooting at several law enforcement officers before he was struck in the shoulder by a bullet.

Johnston's case now proceeds from Recorder's Court Judge Mary Buckner's courtroom to a Muscogee County grand jury, which is expected to hear the case before the fall, District Attorney Gray Conger said.

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