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Doctor became a homegrown success story

Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr. has carved out a huge success story in two careers, rising from the streets of Bailey-Kensington and the halls of Bennett High School to become a highly regarded trauma surgeon after a stint as an Army Special Forces weapons expert.

He also has been described as a quiet, reserved man, not a loner, but a physician who seemed to be almost an outsider among his colleagues.

And in recent months, four sources added, he had been acting rather strangely, avoiding eye contact and basic communication with colleagues and friends. Instead, he threw himself into both his work and bodybuilding, as he lost a lot of weight.

Those are the portraits that have emerged of the 49-year-old Jorden, the Erie County Medical Center trauma surgeon wanted for questioning in the fatal shooting of a woman on the ECMC grounds Wednesday morning.

"I'm wondering to myself, 'What went wrong, and when did it go wrong?' " asked Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant, who watched Jorden grow up as a youth on Parkridge Avenue, south of East Amherst Street.

Jorden has served as a role model in the black community and was one of about two dozen people honored in 2002 with the Black Achievers in Industry Awards in Buffalo.

He's also known as a skilled trauma surgeon who has saved the lives of many gunshot victims.

That's the irony that led Grant to express shock, disbelief, sympathy -- and even anger -- over Wednesday morning's shooting death.

"It's tragic that a doctor who saved countless lives might be accused of taking someone else's life," a clearly shaken Grant said Wednesday afternoon. "It puts a dark cloud over the mission of a hospital that's dedicated to saving lives.

There's another curious twist to Wednesday's shooting.

Dr. Kimbo Chia, who helped train Jorden and other surgical residents, talked with him roughly five years ago about organizing an educational program for Buffalo youths about gun violence.

"He was interested in trying to do something about curtailing gun violence in the city," Chia said. "We talked about taking pictures of the young people we saw in the trauma ICU [intensive care unit] and showing them as a way to make people more aware of the problem.

"But it just never happened," he added. "We both are so busy, and our schedules are so tight."

Chia said he felt terrible that a physician who saved gunshot victims and cared so much about the consequences of gun violence had become embroiled in gun violence.

"It's so hard to believe he was involved in something like this," he said. "I never knew him to be anything less than a very decent man and a very good surgeon."

But at least four colleagues described troubling changes in Jorden's personality over the last few months.

"He used to speak to everybody all the time," said Skip Pritchard, a 25-year employee who works in decontamination. "He was a big guy -- then he lost a lot of weight and began acting like something was wrong. He'd just wave at you, or sometimes just look at you and say nothing."

Michael Carr, who works in the ECMC surgical recovery room, had a similar view.

"All I know is he was a good doctor, really polite," Carr said. "He always had something good to say."

But Carr, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that he could praise the way hospital security handled the crisis, also cited the noticeable change in the doctor's personality over the last two or three months.

"He probably lost 75 pounds, and he became quiet," Carr said. "I think everybody is surprised and shocked at this."

And Chia, the physician who helped train him, said he had not seen Jorden in about three months, but the last time they met he was surprised at how much weight Jorden had lost.

Jorden lives in Idlewood, an upscale Lake View neighborhood, on a private, narrow, gravel road. Computer records show that he bought his West Arnold Drive home in November 2005 for $540,000.

Sandra Petri, a West Arnold Drive neighbor, called Jorden the kindest, gentlest man she had ever met. Three or four months ago, neighbors noticed a drastic change in him, punctuated by the weight loss.

"This is not like him," Petri said of Wednesday's incident. "Something happened. He must have snapped. He's ill."

"You hardly ever see him, a very quiet man," added another neighbor, who asked not to be identified. "He goes to work early in the morning. He's out by 7, and I never see him come in. He's always working."

By any measure -- at least until the last few months -- Jorden was a true success story, described by Grant, the Legislature chairwoman and former neighbor, as one of a few locally raised black doctors from Buffalo's East Side.

A 1996 Buffalo News profile described him as a 1981 Bennett High School graduate who joined the National Guard in high school, went into the Army after graduation and ultimately served with the Army's Special Forces, first as a weapons expert, then as a medic.

In those roles, he was on active duty in the Caribbean, Japan and Korea.

Grant remembered Jorden and his brother, who became a dentist, when they were growing up on Parkridge.

"You saw them mowing their lawn or quietly interacting with other youths on the street," Grant said. "But you didn't see them get in any trouble or become negative [influences] in the neighborhood."

And that's why Grant, among all her other emotions, felt some anger over Wednesday's shooting.

"He got a break in life," she said. "He came from a family that put a premium on education, and he had the discipline to recognize an opportunity when it was given to him. I think Dr. Jorden took advantage of that opportunity and made something of himself."

Following his Army service, Jorden went to Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., where he graduated cum laude, with a bachelor's degree in sociology.

After he earned a scholarship through the Army's Health Professional Scholarship Program, Jorden chose the University at Buffalo over other medical schools, largely because of his Buffalo roots.

In 1996, according to the News profile, he graduated from the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He also was promoted to captain in the U.S. Army.

On May 12 of that year, the day Jorden was the student speaker at his medical school commencement, he posed proudly for a photograph in his Army uniform, with his wife, 8-year-old son and a crowd of well-wishers behind him.

From UB, Jorden went to Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., for two years, before joining the ECMC department of surgery as an attending physician in 2003 and serving as a clinical assistant professor in surgery at UB.

He's certified in advanced-trauma life support and has received numerous awards recognizing his relationships with patients, his teaching skills and his involvement in the community.

News staff reporters Jay Rey and Charity Vogel contributed to this report.

email: gwarner@buffnews.com