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Prosecution: Just before ambush, Minnesota clinic shooter recorded his intent ‘to inflict damage’

  • Author: Paul Walsh, Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 11
  • Published February 11

Law enforcement personnel walk toward the Allina Health clinic, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, Minn. Authorities say multiple people were shot at the Minnesota health clinic on Tuesday and someone was taken into custody afterward. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — The man charged Thursday with shooting up a health clinic in Buffalo and setting off explosives inside recorded a rambling message shortly before the ambush that hinted at grievances with his medical care there and revealed “his intent to go to that clinic to inflict damage,” according to the prosecution.

The murder and other charges accuse longtime Buffalo resident Gregory Ulrich of fatally shooting an Allina Health Clinic staffer and wounding four other employees Tuesday. He is charged with second-degree intentional murder, four counts of attempted first-degree attempted murder, possession of an explosive or incendiary device and carrying a pistol without a permit.

A court bailiff pushed the 67-year-old Ulrich in a wheelchair into a room at the jail for his virtual hearing late Thursday morning before Wright County District Judge Michele Davis. He only spoke when asked by the judge how to pronounce his name and whether he wanted to say anything. He declined.

Davis granted County Attorney Brian Lutes’ request for bail of $10 million without conditions and $5 million with conditions. His defense attorney raised no objection to either amount.

In support of his bail demands, Lutes pointed out to the judge that “the behavior of Mr. Ulrich implicated the safety of the public in the highest regard. He went to the Allina clinic with a loaded 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun. He went to the Allina clinic with some improvised explosive devices equipped with gunpowder with a fuse ignition. He went to the clinic knowing that he was going to shoot that clinic up. He went to the clinic knowing he was going to ignite those bombs, and that’s just what he did.”

Sheriff Sean Deringer, at a news conference after the hearing, noted the demands on health care workers in the midst of the yearlong coronavirus pandemic and what they confronted Tuesday as they treated their wounded colleagues in the midst of life-threatening chaos.

“Probably like no other time in our nation’s history have we celebrated our health care workers,” Deringer said. “They’ve been on the front line every day when they come to work. ... If you can imagine the health care workers in that clinic, doctors and nurses caring for their own workers in that clinic after they’ve been shot. I can’t imagine what that looked like for them.”

Addressing the number of threats Ulrich allegedly has made over the years that law enforcement and the courts knew about, the sheriff said, “While I know that we have had previous threats by Mr. Ulrich, I also want you to know that there has been nothing recent in the past several months or even a year that we would have taken immediate action, or try to circumvent or prevent what happened Tuesday morning.

“If we are going to push blame I ask that people push blame where blame is due, and that’s on the suspect that decided to go into a Buffalo clinic to victimize people who are truly trying to help their communities every day when they go to work.”

Deringer also fielded several questions about how Ulrich acquired the gun and responded, “We are still working on those tracing dynamics. So that part of the investigation is still very ongoing.”

He said his office and prosecutors went to a court this week for permission to release Ulrich’s gun-related records, but that request was denied. “In Minnesota, gun permit data is very private,” Deringer said. “So we have to be very careful about what we release. I can’t even tell you that he made an application. ... I can’t even tell you that we don’t have data or we do have data.”

The criminal complaint spells out in detail how Ulrich went about shooting his victims and setting off multiple explosives in the entrance to the clinic and near a desk inside that caused “significant damage.”

Police said Ulrich, who has an extensive history with police, also was the subject of a 2018 restraining order after he threatened to shoot or plant explosives in the hospital as revenge for a back surgery. The document did say authorities examined his cellphone, which was recovered in the clinic, and it contained “a recording made by (Ulrich) consisting of a rambling video message that alluded to an incident at the clinic.”

County Attorney Lutes elaborated to reporters that Ulrich “talked about his own injuries. It certainly shows his premeditation and his intent to go to that clinic to inflict damage. My understanding it was record shortly before he went to the clinic.”

A man who roomed with Ulrich as recently as July told the Star Tribune that the alleged gunman had binged on painkillers and was irate at a doctor at the clinic because he refused to prescribe more.

According to the complaint:

Calls to 911 at 10:54 a.m. reported an “active shooter” at the clinic. Officers arrived at 10:57 a.m., and Ulrich also called 911 at 10:58 a.m. and directed police to “back away and he would surrender.” He said he was in the clinic entry and wearing a blue shirt.

Two of the victims were shot while in the reception area. From there, Ulrich went further inside and “continued firing his handgun at additional victims.” He shot one victim twice in the back of the leg and she ran from him.

Officers arrived and located Ulrich lying down with his arms out. He was arrested, and a search found dozens of rounds of ammunition on him. He said he left his cellphone in the clinic and “there is evidence” on it, evidently referring to the video message.

The five gunshot victims received immediate attention from officers. Three were rushed away by air ambulance, and two were transported in ground vehicles to hospitals.

Investigators determined a “cylinder-shaped object” ripped a large hole through the lower part of the exterior sliding door leading to the lobby, where they recovered a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, ammunition, a briefcase Ulrich brought with him and an “undetonated improvised explosive device.”

Exterior windows were shattered, apparently from the blast. There also was damage to a hallway “consistent with an explosion” that left “an odor of gunpowder” in the clinic.

A law enforcement search of the home where he had lived until recently turned up a pound of gunpowder in the shed. Another search, this one at his new home in the Super 8 Motel in town, yielded an empty box of 9mm ammunition.

Ulrich had “multiple contacts” with law enforcement dating back to 2003, Police Chief Pat Budke said a few hours after the shooting, and had a history of being unhappy with the health care he had received from the Allina’s clinic and hospital in Buffalo.

The gunfire killed 37-year-old Lindsay Overbay, a clinic medical assistant. One victim was shot in the back, one in the abdomen and one in the chest, back, abdomen and arm, according to the charges. All three remain in North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale. One is in fair condition, and two are in good condition, a hospital spokeswoman said late Thursday morning.

The victim shot in the upper leg and was released from the hospital but will require further surgery for removal of the bullets, the charges read.

Allina late Wednesday afternoon identified one of the wounded as Sherry Curtis, a licensed practical nurse. Allina has not disclosed the seriousness of her injuries. Allina officials have declined to identify three other clinic staff members who were wounded, citing their family’s wishes.