CHICAGO — Dr. Tamara O’Neal spent her final few hours listening to Christmas music and laughing with colleagues at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center.
She was one of three people gunned down by her former fiancé at the South Side hospital Monday afternoon. The gunman was also killed; he shot himself after being shot by police.
Nurse practitioner Nichelle Bush said the day started like any other — and was going exceptionally well. She and O’Neal worked side-by-side during the doctor’s last shift.
“We joked a lot. We laughed a lot,” Bush said. “I remember saying to myself and the charge nurse, ‘I haven’t laughed this much in so long!’ So she had a good day.”
And there was Christmas music. Lots of Christmas music.
“Every day, she’d have this Christmas music just blasting,” Bush said. “And I’d be like, ‘Ugh! Do we have to listen to this Christmas music every day?’”
O’Neal was supposed to get off work at 2 p.m. Monday but stayed late to attend to patients. When she finally did leave, she was met by ex-fiancé Juan Lopez in the parking lot.
The two had recently broken off an engagement, and he demanded she give back the ring. Bush said O’Neal was wearing it Monday: “It was very visible on her hand.”
Lopez shot O’Neal multiple times before going inside the hospital. He also claimed the lives of Chicago Police Officer Samuel Jimenez and pharmacy resident Dr. Dayna Less.
After O’Neal was shot, the terror moved inside the emergency room, where Bush heard gunshots. She hid inside an exam room with patients and hospital staff. She called her husband for what she thought would be their last call.
“It was the worst experience of my life,” Bush said.
Her husband could hear the shots on the other end of the line.
“I knew from the sound of those bullets — it was loud like a cannon — it was nearby,” Bush said. “And I didn’t want to take the chance on whomever was shooting, of them finding us.”
Once the smoke cleared, several Mercy staffers jumped into action to try to save O’Neal’s life, as well as the lives of Jimenez and Less.
Bush said SWAT officers came into the hospital: “We were actually asked to run out the door, just run keep running.”
She said there was blood everywhere.
Bush is haunted by the memories of that day.
“I know it will be difficult walking back through those doors, the same doors I ran out of 30 hours ago,” she said.
As Bush looks ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday, she said she has a lot for which to be thankful: “My life, number one. The lives of my coworkers.”
For more on the shooting and victims, click here.
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This may be the last picture Dr. Tamara O’Neal ever took. It was taken with my Sorority Sister and Nurse Practitioner, @paynebush , Monday about an hour before Dr. O’Neal attempted to leave work— about an hour before she was gunned down by her ex fiancé outside Mercy Hospital. My Soror tells me she and Dr. O’Neal worked closely together and yesterday they had a particularly good time laughing and listening to Christmas music. Dr. O’Neal was so excited about Christmas, her tree has been up since October! Monday the two worked side by side for hours, up until about 5 minutes prior to the shooting. Nichelle says when she heard the gunfire, she barricaded herself in an ER patient room with about 7 other people (patients and hospital staff). As the gunfire sounded right outside their door, the group prayed and some even called their loved ones to say what they thought would be their final goodbyes. By the grace of God, my friend made it out of that room alive— and so did everyone with her. She’s learned of colleagues who worked desperately to save and stabilize Dr. O’Neal, Dayna Less and Ofc. Samuel Jimenez before they were rushed to trauma centers. Tonight I’m not only praying for those who lost loved ones yesterday, I’m also praying for those who survived to tell their stories. 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾