A woman fatally shot three family members before killing herself Thursday afternoon at a house in a West Seattle neighborhood.
The grandmother told one relative to lock herself in her room. She then went downstairs Thursday afternoon and killed her son-in-law, as her panicked grandchildren began fleeing their West Seattle home, screaming and crying.
Next she went into her daughter’s bedroom, where two of her granddaughters were hiding, and shot them, too. As her daughter fled, Chhouy Harm took aim and fired into her back.
“Grandma just shot them for no reason,” said 17-year-old Tony Sun, a member of the family who arrived home shortly after the shootings to see police lining his street.
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Next thing he knew, he and his surviving family members were gathered in a police bus. His relatives told him about the carnage they had witnessed.
In the end, four people were dead, including Harm, who shot herself as police massed outside the home. Her daughter survived her bullet wounds, frantically telling officers outside the home, “My mom has gone crazy,” police said.
Updated, 10:10 a.m., Sept. 24: Sun said the wounded woman is Thyda Harm, who was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where she was listed in satisfactory condition on Friday morning. She is also known as Thyda Luellen. Killed were Thyda’s husband and two of their daughters, Jennifer Harm, 17, and Melina Harm, 14. Thyda Harm’s son, Kevin, 16, grabbed his other sister, Neveah, 6, and ran out of the house as the gunfire erupted, Sun said.
The motive is unknown. It is the deadliest shooting in Seattle since Kyle Huff killed six people on Capitol Hill before killing himself in March 2006.
A relative said tempers had flared in the family’s crowded West Seattle home on Wednesday night, although she could provide no details.
Family members said Chhouy Harm, a Cambodian immigrant in her 50s or 60s, was the family matriarch. But several relatives also said the woman was mentally ill and had been in and out of institutions or hospitals.
Still, the rampage came out of the blue.
“No one knows why,” Tony Sun said. He said he knew the woman he knew as “Grandma” had a gun, but he had never seen it.
Authorities had not released the identities of any of the family members on Thursday, but Sun and other relatives confirmed the names.
The house, in the 9400 block of 14th Avenue Southwest, is in the Highland Park section of West Seattle, an ethnically diverse neighborhood where signs for businesses are written in Vietnamese and Cambodian, as well as English.
Quarters were cramped. The property records indicate there are three bedrooms, but Sun said they had been partitioned into seven separate sleeping quarters. Eleven people from two families were under one roof, trying to make ends meet, family members said.
They had all moved in last month.
Chean Harm Phan, the son-in-law, was a landscaper, and Thyda Harm worked at Magic Lanes Bowling & Casino just down the street, and together they supported the three generations, Sun said. In their time off, the whole clan went down to Spokane Street, underneath the West Seattle Bridge, where they caught crab and salmon.
Police say that at about 1:30 p.m., someone in the home called 911 and reported that his grandmother had opened fire. Police arrived a short time later, as did the shooter’s husband, who charged past police and ran into the house, according to Travis Rowland, who was about a block away when the gunfire erupted.
There were more gunshots from inside the house, according to Seattle police spokesman Sean Whitcomb. The husband came back out; he had not been shot. He told police his wife had shot herself.
When medics got inside, they were unable to save any of the gunshot victims.
According to Tony Sun, his aunt, Lisa Sun, 28, was upstairs when Chhouy Harm told her to go into her room and shut the door. She did, but waited at the door. Then she heard gunshots and ran downstairs and out of the house. She was followed by Thyda Harm’s son, Kevin, 16, who scooped up his 6-year-old sister, Neveah, and fled, Sun said.
Thyda Harm had been sick for the past couple of weeks, and several of her kids had just come down with a similar ailment. That’s why so many people were home on a school day.
Two handguns were found at the residence, Whitcomb said.
Thyda Harm, 40, was taken to Harborview and is expected to survive, according to hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg-Hanson. Gregg-Hanson said Thyda Harm was awake and alert when she arrived.
“She’s going to be OK,” Gregg-Hanson said.
Whitcomb said detectives expect to be working at the scene of the shooting into the night. He did not expect to release additional information until Friday.
Loren Nguyen, 18, a friend of the slain teenagers, said news of the shootings “connected some dots” for her.
Nguyen had attended Denny International Middle School with Jennifer Harm and her younger brother Kevin. Nguyen said Jennifer was loud and funny — the talkative one when they’d go out with friends.
Kevin Harm sometimes mentioned family problems, but never went into detail. He did say his grandmother had recently moved in with them and mentioned not wanting her there.
“I always knew something wrong was going on with his family, but didn’t want to ask,” Nguyen said.
Seattle Times staff reporters Christine Clarridge, Maureen O’Hagan, Jonathan Martin, Steve Miletich, Jennifer Sullivan, Sean Collins Walsh, Carly Flandro and Nancy Bartley and news researchers Miyoko Wolf, Gene Balk and David Turim contributed to this report.