Court documents say that Arcan Cetin, in an interview after his arrest, told detectives that he had committed the killings Friday evening. But authorities have not offered a possible motive.

Share story

After nearly a year of increasingly troubling and inexplicable behavior, Arcan Cetin offered his family a glimmer of hope in April when a counselor wrote: “Arcan is in the Preparation stage of change, he now realizes that he has a problem and wants to make a change.”

The counselor, in a court memo, noted that Cetin had two jobs, worked out regularly at a gym and claimed he had not used alcohol or marijuana in three months. “Arcan is living alone at this time and needs support,” the counselor wrote.

Five months later, Cetin, 20, stood in a Skagit County courtroom Monday, where he learned he faced five counts of first-degree premeditated murder in connection with the fatal shootings of five people at the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Skagit County.

Cascade Mall shooting

A criminal complaint filed in Skagit County District Court accused the 20-year-old Oak Harbor man of walking into the Macy’s department store Friday night and killing five people in about one minute. The documents say he used a Ruger .22-caliber rifle with a 25-round magazine.

After his arrest, Cetin told detectives he had committed the killings, according to the documents, which do not offer a motive.

During the brief court appearance, Cetin’s only words were “Yes, your honor” when asked by a judge if he understood his rights. Judge David Svaren ordered Cetin held in lieu of $2 million bail.

Seated in the crowded courtroom were Cetin’s mother and stepfather, as well as family and friends of the victims.

Afterward, Cetin’s stepfather, David Marshall, of Oak Harbor, said, “We’re both totally devastated,” noting his stepson has battled mental-health issues.

“We’re torn up. We’re hurt. And that’s all I can say,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich, during a brief news conference, said he did not know a motive for the shootings.

The documents say Cetin had dinner with his stepfather at 4:30 p.m. Friday, about 2½ hours before the shootings. The two men had had a recent falling-out, but the documents don’t indicate when, nor the nature of the disagreement.

Cetin left after dinner, telling his stepfather he was going to work.

According to the documents, an apparently unarmed Cetin was seen on surveillance video walking into a mall entrance near the Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant just before 7 p.m. A short time later, he left the mall through the west entrance of Macy’s, moved his car closer to the department store and removed a rifle from the trunk, the documents say.

He then walked back into Macy’s through the same entrance. The documents say he walked up to a 16-year-old girl, identified by relatives as Sarai Lara, and shot her as she was looking at clothing on racks.

Sixteen-year-old Sarai Lara, reported victim of Cascade Mall shooting in Burlington on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016.  (Courtesy of Lara family)
Sixteen-year-old Sarai Lara, reported victim of Cascade Mall shooting in Burlington on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (Courtesy of Lara family)

Cetin then walked to the cosmetics department and shot the sole male victim, Chuck Eagan, and three women who have been identified as Macy’s makeup artist Shayla Martin, 52, Beatrice Dotson, 95, and her daughter, Belinda Galde, 64.

He left the rifle on a counter in the cosmetics department and walked out of the store, the documents allege.

Cetin was identified as a suspect from tips and after police examined surveillance video from the mall and linked him to a vehicle seen in the parking lot, police said. He was arrested about 6:30 p.m. Saturday while walking near his Oak Harbor apartment.

Cetin came to the U.S. from Turkey when he was 6, having never met his biological father, according to court documents, and was described by police as a permanent legal resident. He said his mother’s family was abusive while he lived in Turkey, but reported a good transition to the U.S., the documents say.

But people who knew him in Oak Harbor and as a student at Oak Harbor High School described him as socially awkward and say he was shunned for vulgar behavior.

In spring 2015, Cetin was accused of sexually touching two female classmates during a math class at Oak Harbor High. A month later, he was arrested for misdemeanor domestic-violence assault after an argument with his stepfather over his marijuana use, according to court records filed in Island County District Court.

By that September, Cetin was looking for work, getting ready to register for classes at Skagit Valley College and living in an apartment on his own, even though his mother and stepfather were paying all his bills, the records say. He was even thinking about pursuing a career as an anesthesiologist — all part of an effort to put his legal problems behind him and comply with his court-ordered mental-health treatment.

Then in November, he attempted suicide by ingesting his medication and was involuntarily committed at Fairfax Hospital, an inpatient psychiatric facility in Kirkland, the court records say. Though he was considered at risk for serious self-harm, at that point an evaluator did not tick a box indicating Cetin was also at risk for inflicting physical harm on others.

Still, mental-health professionals noted his problems with impulse control and warned of his high recidivism risk if he failed to continue treatment, say the court records.

HalieAnna Myers, now 18, was one of the girls who reported being sexually harassed by Cetin during her sixth-period math class.

Cetin’s harassment and unwanted touching had been ongoing throughout the year, she said Monday. She recalled Cetin once followed her across the classroom when she attempted to get away from him, and another time, “I stood up and screamed at him” to stop, Myers said.

“We’d talked to him before. I literally got up and yelled at him, but he just wasn’t getting it,” said Myers. “He’s always said sexist things and really degrading things about women.”

Weeks before he was to graduate in 2015, Cetin used his foot to rub the girls’ legs and thighs, then took off his shoes and tried to wiggle his toes between their legs, according to Myers and the girls’ written accounts included in the court record. The girls, who also accused Cetin of staring at them in a sexual way and touching himself, left class and reported Cetin to school officials.

Included in Cetin’s court file is a letter from Oak Harbor Public Schools barring him from coming onto school grounds for one year.

Conor Laffey, a spokesman for Oak Harbor Public Schools, confirmed that Cetin graduated from Oak Harbor High School in 2015. Laffey said that because student records are protected, he could not provide further information about any discipline Cetin faced.

But according to Myers, Cetin wasn’t allowed to attend graduation ceremonies as a result of his arrest on two counts of fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. It appears the charges were later amended to a single count of third-degree malicious mischief.

About three weeks after the incident in his math class, Cetin was arrested for misdemeanor assault on David Marshall, his stepfather, the records say.

According to sheriff’s deputies, Marshall was in bed and heard Cetin yelling and “freaking out” in the backyard. After his parents calmed him and got him inside, Marshall confronted his stepson about lying about his marijuana use, and during the ensuing argument, Cetin kissed Marshall twice on the lips, the records say. Marshall pushed Cetin away, then Cetin punched Marshall twice in the mouth, they say.

A no-contact order was issued, barring Cetin coming from within 300 feet of his parents’ residence. In December, Marshall went to court to have the order lifted:

“Arcan needs all the support he can get. As his father, it is my responsibility to help him as much as possible. With this no-contact order, I am unable to help,” Marshall wrote in his petition to have the order rescinded, which a judge granted.

The two cases — the one involving Cetin’s former classmates and the incident with his stepfather — were consolidated by the court in March.

In April, Cetin was granted a deferred prosecution. He was to be under the care of a psychiatrist and his case was to be reviewed by the court in May 2018.

Cetin was diagnosed with a disruptive disorder, depression, anxiety and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and was prescribed Prozac and Guanfacine, a medication to treat ADHD, say the court records. He was to be evaluated for autism but it is unclear in the court record whether that happened.

In the April report to Cetin’s defense attorney, another counselor wrote that Cetin was working at an Oak Harbor restaurant and at a collision-repair shop in Coupeville, Island County, and between “his two jobs, Mr. Cetin likes to spend time at the gym,” the court records say. He claimed he last used alcohol and marijuana in January.

That’s when the counselor noted Cetin was ready to “make a change” in his life.

Meanwhile, the Cascade Mall reopened Monday for the first time since the shootings, although the Macy’s store remained closed. Among those at the mall was Sylvia Vasquez, of Mount Vernon, who came with a friend and live-streamed her visit on Facebook.

“This is our mall — it’s the only one we have,” she said. “This is our town, and I’m not going to let someone take that away from me.”