Eight people were shot, three of them fatally, over a span of about three hours in four Seattle neighborhoods early Sunday morning, continuing an ongoing uptick in gun violence that’s already wounded or killed more than 200 people in King County so far this year.
“It just saddens me when I think about it,” said Tyrone Henderson, the general manager of the Stage Seattle Nightclub, which is next to a parking lot in Pioneer Square where two of the three homicide victims were shot around 2:30 a.m. “It’s not just the people that got shot but also the people who saw it. There’s a lot of traumatized people.”
He said the rash of unrelated shootings “puts a lot of pressure on the police and they can’t be everywhere at once.”
Interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz expressed a similar sentiment and noted the rise in gun violence comes at a time when the Seattle Police Department is seeing a steady decline in the number of rank-and-file police officers able to respond to crime. About 270 officers had left the department over the past 18 months as of June.
“This isn’t just a staffing crisis. We have a public safety crisis,” Diaz said in an emailed statement. “People armed with guns are preying on our communities and every shooting victim is one victim too many. Families are losing loved ones and their trauma is real.”
Diaz said in the statement that police alone can’t curb increasing gun violence and called upon community members to encourage their friends and family to put down their weapons and find other ways to resolve disputes without resorting to violence.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement that Sunday’s shootings were part of a national epidemic that saw more than 900 shootings in cities across the country just last week.
Durkan and Diaz last week announced the city has allocated $10.4 million in one-time funding to 33 community organizations over 18 months for violence-prevention programs and to increase safety for communities of color. The city also earmarked $2 million to help fund a pilot program called the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective. King County previously announced a $1.47 million funding effort for gun-violence prevention strategies, including money for the regional peacekeepers group.
“Tackling gun violence has no easy solutions,” Durkan said in the statement. “This level of gun violence in Seattle and our country cannot become our new normal, which is why we are moving forward with a multiprong strategy in our region to take guns off the street, invest in community-led solutions, create a comprehensive support system for young people at risk of gun violence and appropriately hold individuals accountable for acts of violence.”
The timeline for Sunday’s shootings in the Belltown, Pioneer Square, Chinatown International District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods was detailed on the Seattle Police Department’s online blotter. This is how police say the shootings unfolded:
At 1:48 a.m., a bar employee called 911 and reported a fight inside a business in the 2200 block of First Avenue. The fight spilled out into the street and parking lot. As police were breaking up the fight, they heard gunfire and found a man who had been shot. He died at the scene.
At 2:32 a.m., officers responded to multiple 911 calls about shootings in Pioneer Square. Officers found multiple shooting scenes and found two men with gunshot wounds: One died at the scene and the second was taken to Harborview Medical Center in critical condition, according to the police blotter. Three other people were driven to hospitals in private vehicles before police or medics arrived. One of the people taken to Harborview later died.
Seattle police also learned of a shooting at 12th Avenue and South Main Street in the Chinatown International District after a woman showed up at a Bellevue hospital just before 3:30 a.m. with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to the abdomen. She reported the shooting had occurred around 1:40 a.m.
At 4:40 a.m., Seattle police responded to multiple reports of a shooting at Cal Anderson Park, on 11th Avenue on Capitol Hill. A man was driven to Harborview, and told police he’d been shot in the park after playing basketball.
Seattle police made two arrests in connection with the Belltown shooting: One man was booked into the King County Jail on investigation of homicide and a second man was booked on investigation of unlawful discharge of a weapon, said Officer Valerie Carson, a department spokesperson. No other arrests had been announced as of Sunday evening.
Anyone with information about any of the shootings is asked to call the Seattle Police Department’s violent crime tip line at 206-233-5000.
“This is what we’ve been talking about, the uptick in gun violence in 2020 into 2021,” Interim Seattle police Chief Adrian Diaz said in a video about Sunday’s shootings that was posted on Twitter. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get the guns off the streets.”
Of the 196 people shot in King County in the first six months of 2021 — a number that does not include suicides or Sunday’s shooting victims — 42 died of their injuries, according to statistics released Thursday by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The fatal shootings represent a 48% increase over the average for the same six-month span in 2017 through 2020. The total number of people shot, not including Sunday’s victims, represents a 61% increase compared with the average semi-annual figures in previous years, the statistics show.
Susan Gregg, a spokesperson for Harborview Medical Center, said three men were treated at the hospital for gunshot wounds, including the person shot at the Pioneer Square scene who died. Two others, a 37-year-old man who was injured at Cal Anderson Park and was transferred to Harborview from Swedish Medical Center, and a male patient who walked into the emergency room, were both in satisfactory condition, she said.
Officers were still at the Pioneer Square scene at 9 a.m. Sunday, with police cars and tape blocking South Washington Street at Second Avenue. An officer kneeled near yellow crime scene evidence markers, sealing items in manila envelopes. A black Nissan Sentra, with its back window shattered and what appeared to be a bullet hole on the right side of the front window, was parked in the middle of Yesler Way, near Second.
The Nissan’s owner, 25-year-old Modou Sowe Jr., said he and four friends were walking back to his car, parked on Occidental Avenue, after spending the evening at a Pioneer Square club.
“We were walking around and heard gunshots behind us and we started running for our lives. We were panicking,” Sowe, of Shoreline, said. “I told my friend, ‘If we were in the car, we would’ve been dead.'”
Sowe, who heard an estimated 20 to 30 shots, said two people were hit in front of his car, which Seattle police took custody of because “the car was considered a crime scene.” He said the damage is extensive.
Guy Godefroy, the longtime general manager and DJ at Trinity Nightclub, went outside around 2 a.m. and saw a large crowd gathered outside the Stage Seattle Nightclub on South Washington Street, about 400 feet to the southeast of Trinity.
“There was a big crowd and it didn’t look good,” Godefroy said in a Sunday phone interview. “There weren’t any cops in the neighborhood because they were responding to an incident in Belltown.”
As he watched, Godefroy said there was a fight in the parking lot across from Trinity and next door to Stage, followed by the sounds of gunfire. He ducked down behind a parked car and saw two people shooting at each other as they ran north on Occidental, then continued firing as they turned onto Yesler.
Godefroy said one of the two people killed died in the alley beneath the sign for the Stage nightclub. There were 300 to 400 people inside Trinity at the time and Godefroy said patrons were kept in the club’s main room until 2:30 a.m., after the gunfire had stopped.
According to a flyer posted on the Stage Seattle Nightclub’s website, the club hosted the BIG City Jump Mega Hip Hop event from 10 p.m. Saturday through 2 a.m. Sunday.
There weren’t any fights at Stage during the event, said Henderson, the club’s general manager. If anything, he said the vibe inside the club felt like a joyous family reunion.
Though the club has capacity for 487 patrons, Henderson said he limits the crowd to 297 people, makes sure that at least 60% of those let in are women and doesn’t allow re-entry into the club after midnight — measures which are meant to enable security to better manage the crowd, reduce the potential for fights and stop people from coming into the club after going to their cars to smoke marijuana or drink alcohol.
The club has three exits to ensure people don’t leave en masse and Henderson said he slows the music down at the club’s 1:30 a.m. last call.
A little after 2 a.m. Sunday, he said the smell of burning rubber permeated the club and he saw two cars “doing donuts” in the middle of Second Avenue South, with people watching from both sides of the street. Then around 2:20 a.m., he heard more than a dozen gunshots coming from a double-decker parking garage on Yesler Way, but said no one was running and so he assumed someone had been shooting into the air.
By 2:30 a.m., there were only 25 people left in the club, including Henderson and his staff. That’s when one of the club’s security officers ran down the stairs from the exit that lets out into the adjacent parking lot and yelled, “They’re shooting, they’re shooting, they’re shooting!” Henderson said. The security officer’s car was one of the vehicles that got shot up in the chaos.
“I didn’t let anyone go upstairs till I saw police vehicles,” he said. “People were running from that parking lot and the police immediately started taping off so many areas.”
He said parking lots in Pioneer Square, including the one next to Stage, are places where people tend to loiter. The lots aren’t owned by any one club, making it difficult — and even dangerous — for club security officers to attempt to get people to move along, he said.
“I just want the city and Pioneer Square [to be places] where people can go out, have a good time and feel safe,” Henderson said. “I just hope the City of Seattle can get it together” so nightclub patrons can return home without experiencing “any life-changing events.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Jade Yamakazi Stewart contributed to this report.