Ian Stawicki's history is dotted with failure, rejection, delusions, violence and a strong interest in guns. His family now regrets they did not push harder to get him mental-health treatment before Wednesday's massacre.
Ian Stawicki woke up Wednesday morning in a good mood, with plans to help his girlfriend’s mother move into a new home in Tacoma.
But first, he was going to stop for coffee, said Stawicki’s father, Walter Stawicki.
Stawicki’s sunny mood was a welcome change for his family. The 40-year-old had been erratic, argumentative and full of rage for years, but especially so recently, according to his father.
Stawicki stopped just before 11 a.m. at Cafe Racer, an artistic, quintessentially Seattle coffee shop in the University District. But the barista asked him to leave, apparently because of Stawicki’s belligerent behavior in front of a group of elderly customers just last week.
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Stawicki sat down momentarily, then, as one customer was leaving, stood up and suddenly opened fire, shooting several people in the head.
Stawicki’s bloody spree — five killed (and one injured), including a second shooting on First Hill as he was on the run — didn’t end until nearly five hours later when, confronted by police in West Seattle, he dropped to his knees and shot himself in the head.
His family is struggling to make sense of the violence. But those who knew Stawicki say his history is dotted with clues, including failures, social rejection, episodes of apparent delusions, spasms of violence and a strong interest in guns.
Walter Stawicki, 65, believes that his son grew more and more lucid in the hours following the shootings, realizing what he had done, and killed himself to take responsibility.
Walter Stawicki said that his son was “a gentleman,” but regrets he didn’t act to have his son committed for mental-health care.
“I recognized the patterns. I saw him as being manic-depressive.”
Ian Lee Stawicki was born in Santa Barbara, Calif., the first of Walter and Carol Stawicki’s three children. The Stawicki family settled on Seattle’s Beacon Hill to be close to Carol Stawicki’s family, Walter Stawicki said.
Ian Stawicki showed signs of autism and had learning disorders. He struggled to read, write and focus his attention, his father said.
Stawicki went to alternative schools before obtaining a GED diploma. He joined the Army at 17, Walter Stawicki said.
Walter Stawicki, a self-admitted draft dodger in the 1960s, said his son was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., and did training in Panama. But Ian Stawicki suffered a head injury from a grenade concussion during a training exercise and was discharged two years later, his father said.
The Army has no record of his ever serving in the Army, spokeswoman Lt. Col Laurel Devine said Thursday.
At 19 and jobless, Ian Stawicki began a string of odd jobs — commercial fishing in Alaska and working as a roadie for local bands.
The Stawicki family moved to Ellensburg in the 1990s, settling into a ramshackle property north of the Central Washington University campus. Ian Stawicki joined them sporadically but also lived for periods in Portland and Seattle.
Stawicki was a big fan of Seattle’s punk-rock music scene, said his brother Andrew Stawicki.
Jamie Pflughoeft dated Ian Stawicki in the early 1990s, when both were in the punk scene, and remembers him as both charming and paranoid, “a little off.” He slept with a gun under his pillow and was a skilled marksman, she said.
“I felt like he would protect me. I never felt like he would hurt me in any way,” said Pflughoeft, who said she hadn’t seen Stawicki nearly two decades.
Despite odd behavior, he didn’t get in serious trouble until 2008. By then he was well-armed.
He bought six .45-caliber or 9-mm handguns since 1993, including .45-caliber handguns in 2006 and 2008 from Lynnwood and Bothell gun shops.
It is unclear if any of these guns was used in Wednesday’s shootings, but Jim Pugel, assistant Seattle police chief, said the guns Stawicki used were not stolen.
Seattle and Kittitas County police issued him gun permits, including one that was good through 2015, according to records released Thursday by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.
He did not appear to have any felony convictions, which would disqualify him from gun ownership, and the state Department of Social and Health Services has no record of Stawicki receiving public mental-health care, including being committed to a state psychiatric hospital, said spokesman Thomas Shapley.
One of Stawicki’s ex-girlfriends, who he dated for three years, noticed his personality “suddenly changed” in late 2007, when he began flying into a violent rages, according to a domestic-violence court filing. In February 2008, she came home to find Stawicki smashing more than $1,000 worth of belongings, including her computer monitor and vinyl-record collection.
When she tried to call 911, “All of a sudden I was on the ground and my nose was bleeding,” she told police.
He grabbed his .45-caliber handgun and fled into nearby Discovery Park before a police K9 unit tracked him down.
He was charged with four domestic violence-related misdemeanors, but the charges were dismissed when the woman filed a sworn statement to Stawicki’s attorney, Michael Kolker of Seattle, disputing the police report. Kolker declined to comment.
Two years later, in March 2010, Stawicki displayed similar rage when, according to police report, he attacked his brother, Andrew, at their family’s Ellensburg home. Stawicki said he “was blind” because of his younger brother, and began punching him in front of their mother.
Andrew Stawicki said the incident is the reason he stopped talking to his brother.
Ian Stawicki was again charged with misdemeanor assault, and represented by Kolker. This time it was his mother disputing the police report, describing it as a verbal, not physical, confrontation, and prosecutors dropped the charges.
“A real loud mouth”
Stawicki, who adopted the nickname “Spider Wolf,” tried to fall in with a crowd of musicians and artistic regulars at Cafe Racer, including Joe Albanese and Drew Keriakedes, two of the shooting victims. “They socialized with him on a couple of occasions,” said Albanese’s brother-in-law, Brian Paterik of Buckley.
But the two men distanced themselves as they learned more about Stawicki’s strange and potentially dangerous behavior. Cafe Racer owner Kurt Geissel saw it too, as did other nearby businesses.
“Everybody has their own personality and their own quirks and we don’t try to fault people for who they are,” Geissel said. “Everyone has a bad day. But he was consistently not all there.”
Stawicki was asked to leave Cafe Racer last Friday after making a scene in front of several retired University of Washington professors, Geissel said.
“He was a real loud mouth. Just super negative. Swearing and cussing really loud,” he said.
The motive for Wednesday’s massacre is unknown. Pugel called it “senseless.” Paterik believes it might be revenge directed at Albanese and Keriakedes. Whatever the reason, Stawicki “apparently came back purposefully,” Paterik said.
Walter Stawicki also had seen his son’s behavior recently devolve. He told his girlfriend that he was actually married and the father of six, and told others that he was on a CIA death squad, his father said.
Though his son had long battled mental illnesses, his father didn’t think there was anything they could do to get him help. Andrew Stawicki said that his brother didn’t want to talk about his delusions.
His family never pushed to have Stawicki committed because they’d never heard him threaten to hurt himself, Walter Stawicki said.
Now, Walter Stawicki regrets he didn’t force a mental-health intervention, even if it meant lying to say his son posed an imminent risk.
“We let him down and we let a lot of other people down, too, by not effectively being able to intervene,” Walter Stawicki said.
“I’m grieving for him, I’m grieving for his mother, I’m grieving for his brother. I’m grieving for six other families.”
Seattle Times staff reporters Jack Broom, Hal Bernton, Mike Carter, Susan Kelleher, Jayme Fraser and Lynn Thompson, and news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jmartin206