St. Thomas Midtown Hospital staff describe terrifying moments with active shooter

Posted at 1:56 PM, Nov 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-28 20:07:55-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Patients and nurses running for their lives after hearing gunshots.

That's what happened this Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Ascension St. Thomas Midtown Hospital

Terrified staffers called Metro police to report an active shooter.

A quick response ended the threat, and no one was hurt.

Now there are exclusive details on the accused shooter, and questions are being asked about the hospital's response.

A cardiac patient — who was here in the ER early Saturday morning — told NewsChannel5 a nurse came into the exam room, told her there was an active shooter and to get out.

The patient tore off her heart monitor and ran from the building with an IV still in her arm.

At that moment — around 1:45 a.m. — many in the hospital heard gunshots and took cover.

Metro police say this man — Nicholas Pere Zaayenga — was in an outer stairwell shooting several rounds from a handgun. A staffer inside the building at the time, who asked to remain anonymous, says they all feared for their lives.

"It's something I felt should never happen in a hospital. It can happen anywhere. But a hospital? Wow," the staffer said.

Police quickly arrived at the scene to find spent shell casings littering the stairwell.

Zaayenga made it to the fourth floor on the outer stairs, but without a card key, he couldn't gain access to the actual hospital. Cornered by officers, he surrendered giving up the gun and several magazines of ammo.

No one was injured.

"It kind of makes you wonder what he was going to use those rounds for. Was it for himself or to hurt others or a patient? Like — what was his intentions?"

Zaayenga, 33, is from Austin, Texas.

Friends say he suffers from mental illness and disappeared last Tuesday, likely driving until he ran out of gas in Nashville.

They think he may have sought to check himself into a hospital. It's not clear if he ever was a patient at St. Thomas.

The shooting itself is one issue. Another is that many in the hospital say they never received an alert or notice about the active shooter, raising questions about security and the response.

Ascension Saint Thomas did issue a brief statement late last night that reads in part:

"Safety is always our highest priority. We are fully cooperating with the Metro police investigation."

Zaayenga is getting a mental evaluation and will be arraigned Tuesday.

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