VA shooting suspect to doctor: 'Now you're going to have to listen to me'

Stephen Cometa was armed with AM15, several loaded magazines

SUMMERFIELD, Fla. – A man is in custody after his rifle went off during a struggle inside an exam room at a Veterans Affairs facility in Marion County, FBI officials said. 

No one was injured during the shooting, which happened around 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Villages VA Outpatient Clinic in Summerfield.

Officials said 60-year-old Stephen Cometa walked into an exam room where a doctor was examining a patient and started banging on the door. When the doctor opened the door, Cometa pointed the gun at him and said "Now you're going to have to listen to me," according to a criminal complaint.

As the doctor and another staff member who was in the room struggled to get the firearm from Cometa, the gun went off, officials said. 

Nearby VA officers, two of  the four on duty at the hospital at the time, were able to activate the safety on the gun while helping to subdue the shooter, the spokesman said. Another shot was fired during this struggle. 

No one was shot, according to the criminal complaint.

"Thanks to the quick thinking and brave actions of the VA clinic staff and patients to protect themselves and others, a potential tragedy was avoided and lives were saved," said Charles P. Spencer, special agent in charge of the FBI Jacksonville Division.  "The FBI remains committed to this investigation, and we appreciate the assistance of our law enforcement partners, including the Marion County Sheriff's Office, Veterans Affairs Police, Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives."


Cometa had with him an AM-15 rifle that is "capable of accepting large-capacity magazines," according to the complaint.


Each magazine contained 26 rounds of ammo and "the magazines were taped together to facilitate faster reloading of the rifle," the complaint read. 


The 250 staff members and 150 patients were evacuated from the hospital, and the facility was closed for the day. 


The Marion County Sheriff's Office Bomb Squad searched the clinic and determined that there is no ongoing threat to clinic staff, patients or the public. The clinic will reopen Wednesday morning.


The complaint said Cometa dropped a backpack in the exam room containing a loaded 9 mm handgun, additional rifle magazines and a video camera.


Chief Medical Officer Dr. Todd Donahoe said the clinic will examine its security protocols to see if improvements can be made.


"We do active shooter training, just did one in June, very realistic. We treated it as if it were an emergency, taught the staff how to respond and everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do," Donahoe said. "Our system worked, our protocols worked, what we trained our staff to do worked. We're not on lock down, we're a free society. He had a weapon concealed and took it into the clinic and then we responded appropriately once that was discovered." 


Donahoe said the clinic has never had a problem in its 10 years of operation.


"Never had anything like this happen," said Daniel Rust, a patient at the VA clinic. "Stuns me something like that would happen in a place like this, with so much peace and people trying to help one another."


The Marion County Sheriff's Office is working with the FBI Jacksonville Division to investigate the shooting.


Cometa is federally charged with forcible assault of a federal employee and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. A clinic spokesman said investigators are looking into why Cometa may have targeted the doctor.


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