An argument between two groups erupted into a barrage of gunfire at Lake Sammamish State Park late Saturday, killing two men and wounding four other people.
From outward appearances, the two groups were celebrating a warm summer Saturday in typical Northwest fashion: grilling food along a picturesque lakefront as children played. One group was gathered around a birthday cake on a picnic table.
Though separated by 50 to 75 feet at crowded Lake Sammamish State Park, several members of one group walked over and taunted members of the second group, King County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said. The reason is unclear, though Urquhart said members of each group had gang affiliations. And many had firearms.
A fistfight erupted around 9 p.m., and someone from one group apparently fired a gun into the air as a warning. After that, “it sounds to me like everybody pulled out guns,” Urquhart said.
Gunfire between the two groups sent their members and other park visitors scrambling for cover, some ducking into restrooms as up to 20 shots filled the air. When the gunfire stopped, two men had fatal wounds and four more were injured.
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“There were lots of guns and lots of gunfire,” Urquhart said Sunday. “It boggles the mind how dangerous this was.”
Urquhart said it’s unclear whether the motive for the shootings stemmed from a gang rivalry, though investigators are looking into that. He said the groups were made up of people of mainly Asian descent.
The two men killed — one from each group — have not been identified. One is a 33-year-old of Asian descent from Kent, and the other is 30, white and from Seattle, Urquhart said. At least one of them is believed to have fired gunshots, he said.
All of the dead and wounded were with the two picnicking groups, a law-enforcement source said.
Alcohol may have played a role in the shootings, authorities said.
The two large groups totaled about 40 people and included families with children. One group had a birthday cake, squirt guns and other toys, chicken sizzling on the grill and coolers with beer when the gunfire erupted, the source said.
The groups are from South Seattle, the source said.
One of the wounded was shot in the chest and underwent surgery Sunday at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, Urquhart said. Two others had leg wounds and were in Harborview. The fourth victim was treated for minor injuries at Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue and released.
While the Sheriff’s Office took six people into custody Saturday night, nobody had been arrested in connection with the slayings as of Sunday afternoon, Urquhart said. Five were released and the sixth was held on an unrelated warrant, he said.
Authorities hope ballistics tests will lead detectives to those responsible for the shootings, the source said.
Sheriff’s deputies, search-and-rescue personnel and volunteers were scouring the picnic area Sunday in search of firearms that may have been stashed after the shootings, along with other evidence. Four guns were recovered, and investigators found about 20 spent bullet casings, Urquhart said.
Lake Sammamish State Park remained closed as of Sunday evening. Sandy Mealing, spokeswoman with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, said it hopes to reopen the park Monday but that depends on the investigation.
Mealing said two park rangers and two park aides were on duty at the time of the shootings. They were in the vicinity, but she didn’t know how close.
The park, at the south end of Lake Sammamish in Issaquah, is a popular place for boating and watersport activities. The park closes nightly at dusk, around 10 p.m. during summer.
Visitors can bring handguns into state parks if they have a concealed-weapons permit, said Mealing. The Sheriff’s Office has not said whether the two men killed or the others who were armed had legal permits.
Hunting and target shooting are not allowed in state parks, Mealing said.
Alcohol is permitted in most state parks, but only in campsites and picnic areas. The two groups were in such an area, Mealing said.
The large, rugged outdoor area of about 3 acres where the shooting occurred makes for a complex investigation scene, authorities said. Deputies have interviewed dozens of people in the area, members of the two large groups as well as other people who were at the park around the same time.
Dawn Hilliker said she watched police lead away at least 10 people in handcuffs, and take at least a dozen witnesses to the park’s visitor center to be interviewed. Most appeared to be in their late teens and 20s, she said.
Hilliker and her two teenage sons spent the day in the park celebrating a friend’s high-school graduation. Another group was celebrating a wedding.
Hilliker said her family waited two hours to leave because police stopped every vehicle on the way out.
Gang-related incidents in King County are rising.
At a briefing last week before the Metropolitan King County Council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee, sheriff’s Detective Joe Gagliardi said 1,084 gang-related incidents were recorded in 2009, slightly fewer than in 2008. But he said the 280 incidents reported in the first quarter of 2010 put this year on track to exceed 2009.
Gang investigators counted 122 criminal street gangs in King County last year, with an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 members, Gagliardi said. Of those, roughly 5,500 gang members live within Seattle city limits, he said.
“Gang members here commute” to other areas to commit crimes, he said. “Most gangs are in SPD [Seattle Police Department] jurisdiction, but these problems are not just related to Seattle.”
The Seattle police gang unit is investigating the Friday night shooting of a bystander during a fight at a Central District restaurant.
Police reported a street fight in the 1200 block of East Jefferson Street. Some people involved entered a restaurant, and when one man in the fight tried to leave, someone from outside fired a gun at him, hitting the bystander, 41, in the calf.
The bystander’s injury was not life-threatening.
Seattle Times staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.