FORT OGLETHORPE, Ga. — A 59-year-old Tennessee man told his estranged wife and her mother “they’d be sorry” before he pulled a handgun from his coat pocket and fatally shot both women at a Georgia hospital while people watched in the waiting room, police said.
“He shot the mother-in-law first and then shot his wife,” Fort Oglethorpe Police Chief David Eubanks said Saturday, a day after the shooting. “There was a crowd of the folks in the waiting room, but he just exacted his revenge on his two targets and left them alone.”
The slayings happened at Hutcheson Medical Center in north Georgia, about 10 miles from the Tennessee state line. Police identified the suspect as James Benson, a security guard from nearby Chattanooga, Tenn. Investigators said he drove to the police station and turned himself in shortly afterward.
Police say the suspect had been separated from his wife, 56-year-old Mary Benson of Rossville, Ga., and their marital problems apparently prompted the shootings. She was killed alongside her mother, 76-year-old Charlotte Johnson of Chattanooga, as they visited a relative being treated in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
Benson said nothing Saturday as he appeared before a Walker County Magistrate Court judge, who formally charged him with two counts of felony murder. He will have a bond hearing at a later date.
Eubanks said Benson had no criminal history and was licensed to carry a firearm. He said the suspect was seen arguing with his wife at the hospital earlier in the week and that employees asked him to leave. At that point, they didn’t find him threatening enough to call police.
“There was an exchange between him and his wife about her coming back home,” Eubanks said. “Apparently he got a little loud and the hospital staff asked him to leave.”
Benson returned to the hospital Friday and witnesses told police he again confronted his wife and mother-in-law.
“He told them they’d be sorry, walked to the car and came back with a gun in his pocket,” Eubanks said.
It was unknown Saturday whether Benson had retained an attorney.
The hospital’s board chairman, Corky Jewel, said at a news conference Saturday that the hospital augmented security after the shooting by adding extra, unarmed guards around the clock.