Michigan family mourns death of doctor killed in mass shooting in Tulsa
SAGINAW, MI — When Paula Phillips-Terrell said goodbye to her brother on the phone on Memorial Day afternoon, she made a request that she knew would honor both her love of the saxophone and history. of their Saginaw-born family in the military.
“I said, ‘I know you’re driving home from work and I know you’re tired – and I want you to lie down when you get home – but before you go to bed I want you to you pull out your saxophone and I want you to play ‘Taps’ for me,” Phillips-Terrell said, referring to the bugle call made at the military funeral.
“That was the last conversation I had with him. I still can’t believe that was the last conversation I had with him.
Two days later, his brother, Dr. Preston Phillips, was killed by a gunman who also shot himself and three others at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, officials report.
Authorities said Phillips was the intended target of Michael Louis, who blamed the 59-year-old orthopedic surgeon for lingering pain after back surgery Phillips performed in May. Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, Louis killed Phillips; Stephanie Husen, 48, another doctor at the hospital; Amanda Dawn Glenn, a 40-year-old medical receptionist there; and William Love, a 73-year-old husband of one of Phillips’ patients.
It was one of the last mass shootings to shock the nation and devastate the families of victims like Phillips, who was the sixth-born of nine siblings raised largely in Saginaw.
Phillips-Terrell, 61, was at her home in Saginaw when a family member called to tell her the news of their brother.
Saginaw’s nurse said she remained “numbed” and in disbelief, even as she watched national media report the death of her younger brother and his remarkable professional legacy.
Phillips-Terrell knows all about his brother’s career accomplishments. When he was a boy, she saw some of the same characteristics that later in life led him to become a beloved doctor in communities around the world.
Her Saginaw home is filled with framed photos of their extended family. Since Wednesday, she’s been more attached to the one portrait that only includes her and Phillips. The image shows the two of them as teenagers in the 1970s, smiling together and dressed to perfection for Sunday morning church.
His grip on the frame has become so tight recently that the display case has split in two.
She still doesn’t let go.
‘Blow Your Horn’
Phillips was born in 1962 at St. Luke’s Hospital in Saginaw, which is now Covenant HealthCare’s Cooper Building.
He grew up in a house still standing in the city’s First Ward neighborhoods and attended the now defunct Jones Elementary School in Saginaw as well as Highland Park Elementary School in Buena Vista Township.
Phillips-Terrell said one of his favorite stories to tell about his brother happened when he was a student at the since-closed Ricker Middle School in Buena Vista.
“He was in the band there and he loved the saxophone so much,” Phillips-Terrell said. “When he wanted to train he had to sign, but Preston didn’t want to have to. He wanted his own horn.
Determined to raise money to buy the instrument, the college student sued and got a job at the K-Mart store in the now-demolished Fort Saginaw Mall in Buena Vista, Phillips-Terrell said.
“The manager knew Preston was probably telling a story about his age, but he saw my brother was determined, so he gave my brother a job collecting shopping carts in the parking lot,” Phillips-Terrell said. “Before you know it, Preston has saved up enough money for his saxophone.”
His love for the instrument earned him a nickname from his sister.
“I always call it ‘Blow Your Horn’,” Phillips-Terrell said.
In 1977, Phillips, Phillips-Terrell, and all but two of their siblings moved from Saginaw to Atlanta with their older brother to complete their K-12 education.
Their ties to Saginaw remained in place, in part because their mother stayed there, battling illnesses for years. Phillips-Terrell said her brother’s desire to practice medicine as a profession likely stemmed from his experience helping his mother cope with illnesses throughout her life. She died in 2005.
“He always wanted to help people, but I really think it was his experience with my mom that sparked it,” Phillips-Terrell said.
Her concern for others extended to all living creatures, her sister said. When the family dog was hit by a vehicle and broke his leg, Phillips spent “every cent he had” on vet bills, she said.
“When he got home, our dog had a cast on his left hind leg,” Phillips-Terrell said. “That’s who Preston was. He cared so much.
Phillips then graduated from Harvard Medical School in Boston in 1990 and completed a fellowship at the university-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Prior to that, he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Emory University in Atlanta.
Phillips-Terrell said her brother started his medical career in Seattle before moving to Tulsa.
Phillips also took part in medical missions to Africa, where colleagues said he helped build clinics and hospitals, practice medicine and bring supplies to the needy. Phillips was due to return to Africa later this month, his sister said.
Her brother returned to Saginaw most recently in November, a week before Thanksgiving.
Phillips-Terrell said Phillips treasured the time spent with his siblings and 19 nieces and nephews.
Phillips-Terrell’s daughter, Ashley Terrell, said Phillips became like a grandfather figure to her after her biological grandfather died. Phillips was tall and built, often towering over other family members.
“He laughed and gave you big hugs,” said Terrell, a 31-year-old former MLive intern with The Saginaw News and The Flint Journal.
“I remember the last time he was here in Saginaw in November, he saw me and his face lit up. He crossed his arms around me, and my head went to his chest because he’s so huge. He kissed my forehead. That’s what he’s always done. »
The family communicated regularly via group text messages on their cell phones. When his niece cooked food and shared it via text, Phillips jokingly texted her that he planned to book the next flight to Saginaw for a taste.
He often offered his medical expertise to members of his family. Weeks before protective masks were needed in offices and public places to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Phillips recommended his family wear them.
“People at work looked at me like I was crazy, but I didn’t care: I listen to what he tells me,” said his niece. “Shortly after, everyone was wearing masks.”
Phillips and his wife, Melody, have raised three children themselves: Jarrett, 35; Erin, 29; and Elise, 27 years old.
“He would have been a great-grandfather,” Terrell said of his uncle.
On Friday, June 3, the family was making plans for a memorial service. Phillips-Terrell said she doesn’t know where her siblings will gather to pay tribute to their brother’s life.
Still deeply grieved, Phillips-Terrell said she will never forget any detail of that last phone conversation she shared with her brother on Memorial Day.
“At exactly 2:11 p.m. I was there cooking when he called,” she said, pointing to her kitchen.
“He said to me, ‘My lovely sister, I’m thinking of you on my way home from work.’ We talked about family, and how important it was that we always stayed together, and how much it meant so much to him to come home for family gatherings. As our mother used to tell us, when it all comes down to it, all we have is each other.
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