A prominent trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital who survived being shot as a teen and advocates nationally for gun violence prevention says he recently had a “death threat" placed on the windshield of his car.
Dr. Joseph Sakran posted images of the alleged threat — a sheet of paper featuring a hand pointing a gun straight ahead, with the message “The End is Near" beneath it — on Twitter late Saturday afternoon. It quickly gained notice and retweets within the gun-violence prevention community, including by Parkland, Florida, shooting survivor David Hogg.
Sakran however deleted his thread of tweets about the alleged incident on Monday morning. He said he did so at the advice of law enforcement, who also advised him to stop discussing the matter publicly. He declined to comment further.
Sakran, who operates on gunshot victims in Baltimore, said previously he planned to report the incident to law enforcement, in part at the urging of others who saw his tweets.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, he said he believed the paper was placed on his car, parked near his parents’ home in Northern Virginia, sometime on or before Jan. 20 — which was the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and the same day as a gun rights rally in Richmond, the state’s capital.
The rally spurred Gov. Ralph Northam to declare a temporary state of emergency, citing what he said were credible threats of violence. Extremist groups had posted ominous messages online, and the FBI had arrested three men the week before, two from Maryland, whom it said were white supremacists. The men, the federal authorities alleged, had a machine gun and planned to attend the rally.
Virginia Capitol Police tasked with staffing officers for the rally said they were not aware of any threats against gun control activists.
According to Fairfax County Police records obtained by The Sun through a Virginia public records request, Sakran reported the incident to to police on Monday evening, explaining to the officer his role advocating for gun-related legislation and describing his discovering the paper on his car the week prior.
“Sakran advised he initially did not think much of it, but that members of his support staff recommended he reported the incident,” the officer wrote. He noted that he advised Sakran “to call 911 if he sees someone near his property that causes him concern and to (as always) be aware of his surroundings.”
Sakran, 42, said in his interview with The Sun that he recalls grabbing what he thought was a flier off his windshield on the morning of Jan. 21 as he made his way into work at the U.S. Capitol, where he is serving as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health policy fellow. Sakran took a sabbatical from his position as director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital to take the fellowship.
He said he took no notice of what was on the paper that morning, distracted by thoughts about his new job. But days later, as he was cleaning out his car, he took a closer look and realized what it was with a jolt, he said.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he said. "A lot of emotions went through me, to be honest with you, having been a survivor — and also for my family.”
Sakran was a high school senior in Northern Virginia in 1994 when an errant bullet fired during a fight at a football game struck him in the throat. His experience inspired him to become a trauma surgeon. But his parents had gone through so much, he thought. And now this?
“I just cannot imagine putting them through anything else,” he said. “I’m not sure who did it. I’m not sure how they got my information. But as someone who takes care of [gunshot] patients day in and day out in Baltimore and who has been working at the intersection of health and public safety ... it’s just so concerning.”
Sakran said he couldn’t help but wonder whether his national advocacy work had caused someone to target him.
In 2018, he dove headlong into an online debate around the role of medical doctors in gun policy discussions, after the National Rifle Association tweeted a link to a commentary on that role, writing, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane."
Sakran responded, “As a Trauma Surgeon and survivor of #GunViolence I cannot believe the audacity of the @NRA to make such a divisive statement. We take care of these patients everyday. Where are you when I’m having to tell all those families their loved one has died.”
He also created the @ThisIsOurLane handle, based on the hashtag #ThisIsOurLane that medical professionals were using to respond to the NRA.
Sakran has since testified on Capitol Hill about gun violence and policies he believes should be adopted, including universal background checks for gun owners.
After finding the alleged threat in his car, Sakran said, he took a couple of pictures — placing it back on his windshield for one — and then threw it in the trash, ready to ignore it. On Saturday, he changed his mind.
In a thread of tweets, he talked about partners he has worked with in preventing gun violence, and patients he has cared for.
“We have the opportunity and the responsibility to make communities safer for Americans," he wrote. "For the person who thought they could Silence me by threatening my life, you clearly know nothing about me..... Thank You for showing me that our movement is making a difference.”
This article was updated to reflect that Sakran has since deleted his tweets regarding this alleged incident, and to describe the Fairfax County police report.
Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this report.