Before she was shot and killed outside the Chicago hospital where she worked, Dr. Tamara O’Neal was an endlessly persistent physician who was devoted to making sure her patients felt cared for, her colleagues said.
O’Neal, an emergency room physician at Mercy Hospital, south of Chicago’s downtown, sometimes had trouble disconnecting herself from work when she was off duty, said Dr. Adele Cobbs, the hospital’s assistant director for the Emergency Department. O’Neal would often call during her free time just to check that her patients were healthy, she said.
“She felt very strongly about serving the underserved,” Cobbs said. “Being an emergency room physician was a way to reach the masses.”
On Monday afternoon, when O’Neal left the hospital, she encountered a man who colleagues say was her former fiancé, and the two got into an argument. When someone in the hospital parking lot intervened, the man lifted his shirt and showed a handgun, police said. Then he opened fire, they said, killing O’Neal.
As he exchanged gunfire with police officers, he ran into the building, prompting a frenzy of hospital workers and visitors running for cover. In addition to shooting O’Neal, the gunman killed Samuel Jimenez, a father of three who had joined the Chicago Police Department last year, and Dayna Less, 25, a first-year pharmacy resident.
The gunman also died, but officials were uncertain whether the fatal shot had come from police or by his own gun.
O’Neal had worked at Mercy for about a year and a half, colleagues said. Before that, she received residency training at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. During her undergraduate education at Purdue University, she studied psychology, volunteering as a mentor for at-risk teenagers.
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, her father, Tom O’Neal, remembered his daughter telling him that a professor at Purdue said she would not be able to become a doctor.
“That drove her,” Tom O’Neal said. “She proved him wrong.”
O’Neal’s father, who lives in northwest Indiana, called his daughter a “stronghold” in their family.
She had worked out a deal with her supervisors to make sure she did not work on Sundays so she could attend church with her family, said Dr. Patrick Connor, the director of the hospital’s Emergency Department. Connor said Tamara O’Neal was a devoted Christian who loved her church community and directed its choir.
She was also close with her team members at the hospital, Cobbs said. Once, when Cobbs’ father was a patient at Mercy, O’Neal visited him, sitting at his bedside and holding his hands while comforting her colleague.
Team members were so close that they would go on weekend outings — often organized by O’Neal, Cobbs said. She often brought along her fiancé, colleagues said.
The police have not released the name of the gunman, but O’Neal’s family and colleagues have identified him as Juan Lopez.
To many, O’Neal’s killing was a stark reminder of the mortal danger that intimate partners can pose. Several notorious shootings — including the one in Sutherland Springs, Texas — have been rooted in domestic disputes.
Connor said none of O’Neal’s colleagues had seen any red flags in their relationship, but after the shooting, they found themselves wishing they had asked more questions.
Hospital employees recalled that O’Neal was in good spirits on the day she was shot, Cobbs said.
“It was comforting to know that on her last day of service as a physician, people described her as extremely happy,” she said. “Though it comforts us, it saddens us that someone could take that away from her.”
The New York Times
Julia Jacobs © 2018 The New York Times