Two and a half years after he opened fire at a crowded Veterans Affairs hospital in Chicago, forcing patients and doctors to dive for cover, a 43-year-old man pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal gun charge.
Bernard Harvey was charged only with the fact that he was a felon in possession of a weapon during the terrifying scene which erupted at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in August 2019, as police radios crackled with warnings of an active shooter.
"He got in the street and started shooting at the building," eyewitness Michael Watkins told NBC 5 that day. "When he started shooting at the building, he shot all of the windows out."
Indeed, in the criminal complaint, federal agents said they recovered six shell casings outside the building and one from inside, where Harvey was arrested after surrendering to hospital security.
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"When he went past, he was as close as we are," witness Oliver Robinson recalled. "I said, 'Hey man, you don't have to do that!'"
The rifle Harvey carried that day, a Ruger 9mm carbine, was one of 33 firearms reported stolen in a spectacular smash-and-grab burglary of a suburban Indianapolis gun store just a few weeks prior to the VA assault. Authorities have been unable to establish how Harvey came to be in possession of the rifle, with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives saying only that it remains an "active investigation."
Police in New Whiteland, Indiana, where the gun heist occurred, said surveillance video indicated juveniles had perpetrated the burglary. Eighteen of the 33 weapons stolen that day have since been recovered.
Harvey has been in and out of prison mental treatment facilities since his arrest, in an effort to bring him to a level of competency where he could understand and take part in his own defense. At one point last year, prosecutors asked a federal judge to return him to the care of doctors after it was determined he had "decompensated" from previous improvements.
"The only other option to an additional round of restoration treatment," they wrote, "would be to seek defendant's civil commitment due to his manifest dangerousness."
Despite that rather grim assessment, the charge to which Harvey pleaded guilty on Tuesday carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Prosecutor Corey Rubenstein said the government had calculated a guideline range for the defendant of 51 to 63 months.
With time already served, if the judge follows those guidelines, that would mean Harvey would be eligible for release in as little as two and a half years.
Judge Robert Dow set Harvey's sentencing for May 5.