Friend: Marital woes drove Neb. hospital gunman
OMAHA, Neb. – The man who opened fire on police inside an Omaha hospital told relatives shortly beforehand that he no longer wanted to live because of his marital problems, according to a friend.
Police are still working to answer the many remaining questions about Jeff Layten's final hours between a domestic assault on his estranged wife Tuesday night and Wednesday morning's fatal confrontation at Creighton University Medical Center. Layten wounded two officers before being gunned down.
Family and friends were struggling to reconcile Layten's final hours with the friendly, easygoing owner of a hunting club they knew before his life started to unravel Tuesday.
But Layten's friend, Omaha attorney James Martin Davis, said the 39-year-old father of two girls simply couldn't bear the thought of his marriage ending.
"He went over the brink because of intense domestic and psychological concerns," said Davis, who has spoken with several of Layten's family members since the shooting. Davis is not representing the family.
Layten's father-in-law, Bill Ulrich, described Layten as a good businessman, marksman, loving father and "a hell of a man." That's part of why Layten's final actions are hard to comprehend. Ulrich, who lives in the Omaha suburb of La Vista, said his family is doing well but he asked for privacy as they mourn.
Several of Layten's relatives did not respond to messages left Wednesday and Thursday, and other family members declined to comment. Layten's funeral is scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Ulrich said he doesn't think Layten's decision to go to Creighton University Medical Center Wednesday had anything to do with his wife's work for the nearby Boys Town National Research Hospital, because Ulrich's wife floats around to different clinics and rarely works at that downtown facility.
Davis said the family told him Layten went to the hospital so his organs could be donated. Layten made a series of despondent phone calls to relatives from a pay phone at the hospital between the time he arrived around 8 a.m. and the encounter with police around 9:30 a.m. It was one of those calls that allowed police to track Layten to the hospital after a concerned relative called 911.
Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes had said investigators don't know why Layten went to the hospital or exactly what he was doing between an early morning high-speed chase in the suburbs and the hospital shootout. At some point, he left a rifle at a pay phone in south Omaha that police later recovered, Hayes said.
At the hospital, Layten pointed a .45-caliber handgun at a team of four officers when they confronted him in a hospital lobby, Hayes said. Hayes said Layten fired, wounding two officers, around the same time one officer was firing a Taser at Layten. Police then returned fire, striking Layten in the upper chest several times, Hayes said.
The two officers who were hurt sustained minor injuries.
Earlier, La Vista police had pursued Layten at high speeds before abandoning the chase over security concerns because he had reportedly threatened to kill his mother-in-law and sister in La Vista.
And Burt County Sheriff Robert Pickell said Layten assaulted his estranged wife Tuesday night at the family's home in Tekamah, about 40 miles north of Omaha.
The events of the last day of Layten's life just don't make sense to Judy Modlin, who has known him for about six years and considered him like a second father to her own son, who learned to hunt with Layten.
Modlin, who runs the Liberty Inn tavern near Layten's hunting club, said Thursday that he had a smile that glowed and a knack for making people comfortable. Modlin said she knew that the Laytens had been having marital issues, but she didn't think they were serious.
"They were just having some problems, but they would have worked it out," Modlin said. "They loved each other."
Layten owned the 360-acre Upland Fields Hunt Club near Tekamah, where he hosted prominent public officials and business leaders, including at least one congressman and senator. He also had at least four years of Army training.
Layten had minor run-ins with the law for a hunting violation and writing a bad check, but no other criminal cases involving Layten appear in online court records from the past decade.
Associated Press writers Margery A. Beck and Nelson Lampe contributed to this report.
Creighton University Medical Center: http://www.creightonhospital.com
Omaha Police: http://www.opd.ci.omaha.ne.us