A Seattle Pacific University (SPU) student tackled a gunman who was reloading his shotgun after killing one student and wounding two others inside a campus hall Thursday afternoon.
The shooting unleashed a wave of terror across the school as it went into lockdown and students scrambled for cover.
The suspect was identified by a law-enforcement source as Aaron Ybarra, 26, of Mountlake Terrace.
Police on Thursday night were questioning the suspect. He was booked into the King County Jail for investigation of murder, police said. The bail hearing for Ybarra is scheduled at 1:30 today.
Most Read Local Stories
- You return $10,000 found on Issaquah road: Your reward?
- Seattle man wonders if his childhood friend is the leader of Q-Anon
- Seattle really is 'CRAZYTOWN' — and it will be our salvation after a rough year
- Coronavirus daily news updates, April 13: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Proposal to address homelessness in Seattle city charter met with intrigue, skepticism
No motive was immediately given for the shooting. The suspect carried extra shotgun shells, and also a knife, police said.
A law enforcement source said Friday that Ybarra planned a mass shooting and to kill as many people as possible, then kill himself.
King County Jail Interim Director William Hayes said Friday that Ybarra is being housed in a solitary cell on the seventh floor of the jail. The seventh floor is where the jail houses closely-monitored mentally-ill inmates.
“He was hellbent on a killing a lot of people today,” said a different second law-enforcement source briefed on the investigation.
Jon Meis, a student working as a building monitor, pepper-sprayed the shooter as he stopped to reload, then put him in a chokehold and took him to the ground, according to police and a friend who spoke with Meis after the shooting. Then other students and faculty members rushed to hold the shooter down until police arrived.
But until it was clear that only one shooter was responsible, students barricaded themselves, pulled blinds and waited for word that they were safe. Medics were forced to wait outside until police were sure there was no more danger.
“It was super-terrifying,” SPU sophomore Kharis Lund said of the fear and uncertainty that swept through the campus. “There were a lot of people crying and calling their parents.”
The gunman — wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt, skater sneakers and jeans, witnesses said — walked into the foyer of Otto Miller Hall shortly before 3:30 p.m. and shot three people, said Seattle police Capt. Chris Fowler.
When Meis saw the shooter reloading, he saw an opportunity to stop the attack, said Ryan Salgado, Meis’ roommate for the past four years. Salgado said his friend seemed to be in shock after the shooting.
Shotgun shells littered the floor of the foyer, which was sealed off with police tape.
One of the victims, 19-year-old Paul Lee of Portland, was taken in critical condition to Harborview Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Another, 20-year-old Sarah Williams, was in critical, but stable condition on Friday morning. She underwent a 5-hour surgery Thursday evening.
Student Chris Howard, 22, was in the machine shop when a friend ran in with blood on his neck and yelled, “Close the door behind me!”
Howard got a first-aid kit and put gauze on the friend’s wound. Then he went outside and saw the young woman prone on the ground, her chest covered in blood, being helped by another woman. He put the injured woman’s head on his lap.
Howard said the victim asked to talk with her family. “She thought she was going to die,” he said.
Howard took her phone and dialed the contacts for “mom” and “aunt.” All he got was voice mail.
The other victim, 24-year-old Thomas Fowler Jr., remains in satisfactory condition on Friday.
Seattle police officers were at the Ybarra house in Mountlake Terrace on Thursday night.
Ybarra has had a few minor encounters with police in the past — for drunken driving and operating a vehicle without insurance — but he’s never been arrested for anything violent.
“It makes no sense at all,’’ said Zack McKinley, who described himself as one of Ybarra’s closest friends. “He’s super happy and friendly. He’s an awesome guy, someone who would never let you down.”
McKinley said Ybarra had gotten a new job a few weeks ago, bagging groceries and cleaning up the store. After struggling with a minor reading disability, he was happy to have the job and tried to work as many hours as he could.
Ybarra didn’t do drugs and he didn’t drink, McKinley said. When they went out to celebrate his new job, Ybarra ordered a Dr Pepper, McKinley said.
Ybarra spent his time writing screenplays and novels, mostly adventure stories. Ybarra could get emotionally low, but McKinley said he had a good group of friends and never saw him depressed.
“I’m really good at deciphering if someone’s got bad news or in trouble. I’m blown away by this,’’ he said. “He called me yesterday and asked if I wanted to go fishing.”
On his Facebook page, Ybarra “Liked” a page devoted to “guns and snipers.”
His friend, McKinley, though, said he never talked about guns, and was much more enthusiastic about fishing.
McKinley said he would visit his friend in jail. “Just because somebody does something crazy like that it doesn’t mean you give up on them.”
Edmonds Community College President Jean Hernandez said Friday morning that Ybarra was a former student.
“All of us in higher education grieve together when an event such as this occurs on a college campus,” Hernandez said in a statement. “The fact that the shooter was a former student at our college brings it even closer to home.
“I have reached out to SPU president Daniel Martin since hearing the news and have offered my condolences and any assistance we can provide,” Hernandez said.
News that his son Aaron was the alleged shooter seemed to send the suspect’s father, Ambrose Ybarra, reeling.
“We don’t know anything,’’ he said. “We just hope he’s safe. I’m a family man. I just need to put my arms around my family now. We just need to sit down and talk.”
Ybarra said, “It’s upsetting to have these accusations thrown around. We’re in emergency mode. We are trying to stay calm.”
“Day of tragedy … loss”
The shooting occurred on the second-to-last day of classes at the Free Methodist school on the north end of Queen Anne Hill, where there are 4,270 undergraduate and graduate students.
A prayer service was held Thursday evening at the campus church.
At the scene, a somber Mayor Ed Murray said: “Today should have been a day of celebration at the end of the school year here at Seattle Pacific University. Instead, it’s a day of tragedy and of loss. Once again, the epidemic of gun violence has come to Seattle, an epidemic of gun violence that has haunted this nation.”
He thanked first responders, students and staff.
“Friends, we have been here before: Café Racer, the shootings on Capitol Hill, the shootings at the Jewish Federation,” Murray said. “This is a tragic moment for Seattle, a tragic moment for America once again. Our prayers and our thoughts are with the families, and with the entire family of the Seattle Pacific University community.”
A prayer service is to be held at noon at the First Free Methodist Church alongside campus. Classes have been canceled.
SPU President Daniel J. Martin said the emergency-response system that was activated when the shooting occurred has been in operation for several years.
“Certainly, I think that Virginia Tech heightened the awareness of all campuses to be prepared for an event like this to occur,” he said of the 2007 shooting in which a gunman killed 32 people before taking his own life.
Martin said that students and faculty members have drills in case a shooting occurs, and cited those drills as one reason the shooter was apprehended and first responders arrived so quickly.
The students who helped apprehend the suspect “acted without regard to their own safety on behalf of others,” Martin said near Otto Miller Hall.
“We are a community and we care for others,” Martin said. “Those that were involved did just that.”
Classes were canceled for the rest of Thursday evening and Friday.
“Lockdown” in red
SPU students inside and near Otto Miller Hall heard the first blasts.
Blake Oliveira, 21, was in his physics class. “I heard a loud bang. At first I thought it was a chemistry project. My teacher thought that, too. Then I put my head to the door and I heard shouting. I decided, that was a gunshot, we need to lockdown,” said Oliveira.
After the door was locked and the blinds closed, Oliveira and another student grabbed a couple of metal cylinders they found in the classroom.
In case somebody broke in, they were planning to use the pipes to defend fellow students, no matter what risk to them.
“The Bible tells you that to die for their brothers is the greatest thing a man can do,” said Oliveira.
After some tense minutes, said Oliveira, two Seattle police officers with shotguns walked in from a door to an adjoining classroom, and told the students to leave, “Right now.”
Oliveira took off his sandals so he could run faster. He stepped in a pool of blood on the way out. The students ended up at a bus stop nearby. They formed a circle and prayed.
Michaela Stewart said the classroom clock emitted a “loud, obnoxious beep” and flashed the word “Lockdown” in red letters.
Her teacher locked the door, and they closed the blinds and turned off the lights. Her teacher told them to carry on, but they started hearing noises from the hall.
“We could hear screaming and moaning in the hallway right outside our door for quite a few minutes,’’ she said.
Some students began to pray. Stewart texted her family, telling them she was OK.
Stewart was unclear how much time passed, but said it seemed like about three minutes later when they were evacuated from the classroom.
“That’s when we saw blood on the carpet, and a guy in handcuffs, completely knocked out on the floor.”
The man was face down, she said, and appeared to be unconscious.
Text: I’ve been shot
Elsewhere across campus, students and faculty said they heard sirens and received a mass-emergency notice via text.
“Emergency! A campus lockdown has been initiated. This is not a drill,” the text said.
Tom Lane, who works in the School of Business and Economics, said he got an email and text notification of the lockdown at 3:28 p.m. — right around the time he heard emergency vehicles responding to the scene. At his office across the street and a couple buildings away, the three workers on his floor closed the blinds, locked the doors and gathered in the hallway.
SPU student Gloris Jones, 20, was walking from Otto Miller Hall with her mother, Mary Jones, who is visiting from Michigan.
Gloris Jones received a text message from a friend who said he had been shot. She sent back five or six messages to the SPU senior, but he didn’t reply.
“I don’t even know where he is,” Gloris Jones said as she hugged her mother. “And you want to make sure he’s OK.”
Lund, 19, said she was in her dorm room at Emerson Hall when she heard sirens.
“We thought that’s a lot of sirens, just for something in the neighborhood,” Lund said.
Next, she got a mass text from the school reporting the campus was on lockdown, it was not a drill and that a shooter was on campus.
Lund said she and several other people in the room locked the doors, closed the blinds and got on the floor.
The group in the room remained cautious until they heard a media report that the shooter was apprehended.
Lund said her room is a short distance from Otto Miller Hall and on the same street. But she did not see what happened, she said.
Gunshots next door
SPU student Jordan Heff was in class when he heard gunshots coming from a classroom next door.
“I was in physics and people heard a loud bang — we thought it was a science experiment. We heard crying and yelling outside our door. We walked out and there were bloodstains all over the carpet.”
Max Osgood, a 19-year-old freshman from Anchorage, Alaska, said he and about 25 other students were in a physics class when they heard “something that sounded like a door slam or a desk fall over.”
“And then we heard a lot of screaming that someone had been shot,” Osgood said.
When a classmate poked his head out of the classroom’s door, Osgood said, a voice from the hallway screamed, “Shut the door and lock it!”
For the next four to five minutes, Osgood and his classmates — with the doors locked and blinds pulled shut — listened to muffled screams and moans emanating from the hallway.
“We could hear people yelling about bleeding, stuff like that,” he said.
Finally, there was a bang from a backdoor well. Some classmates screamed. A couple of armed Seattle cops burst through the door, leading the frightened class out of the building. Osgood and other students caught glimpses of the shooting scene as they went.
A bloodied girl was being loaded onto a stretcher. Carpeting was splattered in blood. And two police officers were holding down a man with black hair.
“He wasn’t moving at all,” Osgood said. “ … in handcuffs, with a couple of cops kneeling on his back.”
The students were led across the street and into another building, where they were kept in lockdown for at least 45 minutes, Osgood added.
“It’s pretty rattling,” Osgood said. “And then on top of that, all of this happened right outside of the classroom. It was very scary. A lot of people were freaking out. It’s just really weird. You never think anything like this will happen to you — especially after the shooting that happened at UCSB a couple weeks ago. It’s just bizarre.”
As soon as he could, Osgood said, he called his parents, his brother and his close friends in Alaska to let them know he was safe.
“I made sure I was the first to let them know what happened, so that they didn’t see it on Twitter or something.”
Crime is rare in the SPU area. Over the past four years, Seattle police recorded 14 violent crimes, slightly more than three incidents a year: seven threats, six assaults and one robbery. Of the 252 incidents in the area, about 90 percent were property crimes — car prowls, auto thefts and bike thefts, police records show.
While no Seattle public schools are directly near SPU, buses returned students to some schools because drivers were are unable to get to their homes or after-school programs due to police road closures. Those schools were identified as Blaine, Queen Anne, Coe and John Hay schools.
After a delay, school buses were reloaded and students were taken home.
Lawton Elementary in Magnolia was designated as a shelter-in-place as a precaution.
Staff reporters Steve Miletich, Christine Clarridge, Mike Baker, Paige Cornwell, Jennifer Sullivan, Claudia Rowe, Hal Bernton, Linda Shaw, Lewis Kamb, Erin Heffernan, Colleen Wright, Susan Kelleher, Erik Lacitis, Janet I. Tu, Sara Jean Green, John Higgins and Katherine Long, and news researchers Miyoko Wolf and Gene Balk contributed to this report.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or email@example.com