John T. Williams had the word "love" tattooed across the fingers of his left hand, and a big smile for everyone he met, say social workers who knew him.

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John T. Williams had the word “love” tattooed across the fingers of his left hand, and a big smile for everyone he met, say social workers who knew him.

A member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth first nations in British Columbia, Williams was well known to staff and members of the Chief Seattle Club, a nonprofit service organization in Pioneer Square that serves hot meals and provides social services for Native Americans and First Nations people of Canada.

Williams had been a regular at the club going back to at least 1992, remembered Sister Julie Codd, who directed the club back when it shared space with the Lazarus Day Center. The club has since moved to its own larger quarters nearby.

“He was just a wonderful carver, and a wonderful person,” Codd said. “He had a buoyant personality and always had a lot of friends, a following.”

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Williams, 50, was fatally shot Monday afternoon by a Seattle police officer who saw him on a downtown street holding a folding knife and carrying a piece of wood. Police say Williams ignored several orders to drop the knife before the officer opened fire.

Police are investigating the shooting.

Williams was no stranger to police. A chronic inebriate who was homeless much of the time, he had a decades-long history of misdemeanor and gross-misdemeanor violations.

He also had one felony conviction, for indecent exposure in Seattle in May 2009. According to a police report, Williams was at a housing facility for chronic drinkers run by the Downtown Emergency Services Center when he demanded a beer, exposed himself and threatened to urinate on a staff member and her grave.

Codd, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, said she found it hard to believe that Williams could have been threatening Monday.

“He wasn’t feisty, that just wasn’t him at all. He would have been the last kind of guy that would have caused any problem,” she said.

Williams was from a carving family at his reservation, back in British Columbia and his talent showed in the figures he sold on the street, Codd said. Williams often carved miniature totem poles and sold them for far less than they were worth, Codd said. “It was fine work, nothing rough about it.”

He used the money from selling his artwork not only for himself, but to buy food for his friends or anyone who needed it.

“John was somebody who looked after people. He took care of people with his carvings, he made sure they were fed,” Codd said. “He had that compassion. I think people that have a piece of his work must be really blessed, it was done with such love; he was a man of great heart.”

The shooting of a First Nations man with a carving knife and block of wood is disturbing to the staff and especially members of the Chief Seattle Club, many of whom are carvers, said Jenine Grey, executive director of the organization.

“We have several self-taught carvers and that is what they do,” Grey said. “They spend their afternoons and days very harmlessly, innocently carving, not harming anyone, doing what they had been taught, what brings satisfaction and healing, because that is who they are.”

Williams was born at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, according to his 1996 application for the club. Grey said when he registered at the Chief Seattle Club he declared his middle initial T. stood for “Trouble” — but that it was his given name and not a nickname.

“He was a good guy, that was just a funny little thing. I have no way to know if that was really what they named him,” Grey said.

According to court records and police, it was.

On his application, Williams said he had children, but he did not declare how many, or their names. He declared his parents were deceased. His tribe is attempting to identify his family in British Columbia, she said.

The club is planning a memorial for Williams in mid-September, and Grey said she expects a big turnout.

“It’s really sad; here is another native man who died too soon.”

Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or

Seattle Times staff reporter Carly Flandro and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

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