The fatal Central Area shooting of one Madrona dad forces another Madrona dad to do some grim math.

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The sign in a window was tender and defiant, echoing the feeling after countless shootings in Seattle’s Central Area over the years.

“Hugging our daughter extra tight tonight,” it read. “This neighborhood is better and stronger than this.”

Is it?

At one time, I would have answered yes without qualification. But when an utterly blameless father driving his kids and parents is randomly shot — and nobody who knows the killer bothers to come forward — well, you start to wonder why you live where you live.

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I can’t recall any crime in Seattle that was more “it could have been me” than the slaying last week of Justin Ferrari. Like him, I’m a Madrona dad. Like him, I spend my free time ferrying two kids to school and activities and back. We even went to the same college.

I pass through the intersection where he was killed probably a thousand times a year — hauling my son to school or the Garfield baseball diamonds, my daughter to art classes or the track.

Police said an argument broke out and someone started shooting across East Cherry Street, near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Ferrari’s van was passing by and a bullet hit him in the head. He slumped over, the van drifted to the curb and he was gone — his kids now fatherless, his father there cradling his dead son.

The impulse is to rationalize. Oh that couldn’t happen to me. Or: That was a fluke.

But a look at the record suggests it’s lucky something like this hasn’t happened in this area before now.

According to police records, there is a shooting in the blocks around Garfield nearly once a month. In the past year, there have been 10, including some in broad daylight with people around. The only difference this time is that a bystander was hit.

Just last weekend, a pot deal next to the Garfield baseball fields went bad, ending with one man running down East Cherry Street blasting four rounds from a 9-mm Luger at a known gang member who goes by the nickname “Loco.” This didn’t make the news.

I looked back at a year’s worth of crime reports involving violence for the area surrounding Garfield, arguably Seattle’s premier high school.

In February, three men were arrested for firing guns across the Garfield grounds. In January, a woman was carjacked at gunpoint, and in a separate incident, the driver of a green Suburban fired shots into another car. Last fall, a Chevy Tahoe pulled up to the same corner where Ferrari died and sprayed bullets at a group of kids. That crowd was heading home from a memorial for former Garfield student Quincy Coleman, who was shot dead on the steps down to the baseball fields in 2008.

In October, a woman was robbed at gunpoint at 27th and East Cherry. In September, a man was beaten to death a block from the baseball fields. Also that month, a man shot a .45 at six teens — hitting none — and gangsters had what police called a “rolling gunbattle” at 10:30 p.m., with shots volleyed back and forth between two cars headed down East Cherry Street.

I could go on. But we get the idea.

Or do we? That there is regular gunfire isn’t news to people in Madrona and the Central Area, or some other neighborhoods. Still, many of us who live there greet it with a shrug. We still send our kids traipsing through these same intersections, as if the violence only occurs in some alternate, parallel universe.

Partly that’s because if you live in fear you might as well move. But part is a form of denial. The shootings are both constant and incomprehensible, so you compartmentalize them as background noise of the city. It’s stuff happening somewhere to somebody else.

Now a bullet has pierced that delusion.

I don’t have answers for how to change this. A police officer wrote to say to expect more violence as long as the force has one arm tied behind its back by the feds and the media. A counselor called to say it’s the worst time for the schools to lay off counselors. A neighborhood anti-crime activist wrote to blame the “no snitching” ethic.

But living a few blocks and worlds away, just like Justin Ferrari did, I can’t help but think that part of the problem is that it registers only when it gets someone who reminds you of you.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

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