Family: Patient who held VA nurse hostage is ill

Posted at 5:30 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 19:30:46-05

The family of an armed, elderly patient who took a nurse hostage at Denver's Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Thursday morning says he has dementia and they believe that played a role in what happened.

It happened on the eight floor of the medical center, which is located near Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard.

Police were able to get the patient under control before anyone was hurt and no shots were fired.

The patient's family said 77-year-old Johnie Roth was the man with the gun.

"He's an amazing man, he's my hero, my grandfather is my superman," said Roth's granddaughter Sarah Smiley.

Smiley talked to Denver7 Reporter Jennifer Kovaleski on Skype from her home in Florida.

She said he's a loving grandfather and husband who suffers from diabetes, dementia and depression.

"It's a horrible thing, it really is and I think they may have played a role in it," said Smiley.

When Smiley learned what her grandfather had done, she said she couldn't believe it.

"It's not my grandpa, that's not him, it's not," she said.

Smiley shared a photo of her grandpa in his Navy uniform that was taken on his wedding day back in 1960.

She said he served in the Navy during Vietnam.

"What do you believe happened yesterday," asked Kovaleski.

"I think he just got sick and tired of being sick and tired -- that's the only thing I can think of," the granddaughter said.

She said Roth had an appointment at the VA Thursday morning but, she still can't understand why he brought a gun and held a nurse hostage.

"If he was in his right state of mind the gun would have been at home to protect my grandmother," said Smiley.

She also thinks Roth was upset with the care he was receiving from the VA. Smiley said he went in twice on Thanksgiving with high blood sugar, but each time they sent him home.

"I don't think that was right. They should have helped him," she said.

Denver7 also talked to Roth's wife on the phone. She told us they've been married for 55 years and this is not like him.

On Thursday, Roth was arrested and moved from the hospital where he was receiving medical care.

He is currently in custody at the Denver Downtown Detention Center. 

The U.S. Attorney's office said he will likely face federal charges.

Smiley said she just wants people to know her grandfather is sick and not a dangerous man.

"He would never hurt anybody," she said.