Former Seattle Pacific University student Jon Meis has been called a hero for ending the shooting rampage that left one student dead and two others wounded in June 2014.
Over and over, witnesses who have testified during Aaron Ybarra’s murder trial have said they thought the gunman’s appearance on the Seattle Pacific University campus was a joke, some end-of-year prank featuring a fake firearm.
But after the horrific reality set in, students have described rushing to warn others away from Otto Miller Hall or helping the wounded.
For 38 minutes on Tuesday, Jon Meis — the former student safety monitor credited with ending the June 2014 shooting rampage — took the stand and detailed how he tackled Ybarra, doused him with pepper spray and disarmed him after Ybarra had shot three students, one fatally.
“I saw the shooter open his shotgun and try to reload, so I got pepper spray from my backpack and sprayed him in the face twice,” Meis testified. “I got the shotgun away from him and put it in the little room.”
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It was the first time Meis had spoken publicly about his actions.
Ybarra, 29, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the death of 19-year-old student Paul Lee, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault.
Ybarra has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His attorney, Ramona Brandes, said during opening statements on Monday that Ybarra is both brain-damaged and mentally ill.
“I kind of thought it was a joke at first … I thought it was a fake gun,” testified Tristan Cooper-Roth, who was in the lobby of Otto Miller Hall when Ybarra walked in and pointed a shotgun at him on June 5, 2014. “He said something along the lines of, ‘Don’t disrespect me because I shot someone outside who disrespected me.’ ”
Ybarra then turned and shot a young woman as she descended a staircase, Cooper-Roth said. “I think she was oblivious” of the danger, he said of the woman, Sarah Williams.
As he watched Ybarra crack open his shotgun, Cooper-Roth said, he ran through a hallway out a back exit, then looped around to the front to warn other students not to go inside.
Hannah Judd and Chris Howard had both been near the machine shop at the rear of the building when two students ran in and said a gunman was shooting people, jurors heard.
Judd, whose videotaped deposition was played for the jury because she now lives in Australia, said instead of fleeing the building, she ran through a hallway to the front lobby, where she saw Williams with a hand pressed to her chest, covered in blood.
On the floor to one side, Judd saw Meis and another student lying on top of Ybarra.
“I wasn’t focused on him,” Judd said of Meis. “I knew that Sarah was alone and needed help.”
Williams collapsed as Judd tried to lead her to a rear exit — so Judd used her raincoat to apply pressure to the gunshot wound in Williams’ chest.
“I prayed with her, asked her who she wanted me to call, kept talking to her to hopefully keep her from going into shock,” said Judd. “She did keep saying, ‘I thought it was a joke.’ That was something she repeated many, many times.”
Meanwhile, back in the machine shop, Howard grabbed a first-aid kit to tend to wounds suffered by another student, Thomas Fowler, who had been struck by bird shot when Lee was killed outside the front entrance of Otto Miller Hall moments earlier.
“At first I thought they were (from) a duck attack or something,” Howard said of the wounds to Fowler’s neck. “We’re next to a canal. You don’t think of a shooting first thing. It’s absurd.”
Howard ran to get help and came across Judd leaning across Williams’ prone body. At Judd’s urging, he lifted Williams’ head into his lap to help her breathe, he testified.
After university security guards arrived to help Williams, Howard went into the lobby, where he saw Meis and student Justin Serra kneeling on top of Ybarra:
“Around them was a halo of shotgun shells on the floor,” said Howard. Ybarra, he said, “seemed calm, defeated almost. He wasn’t trying to resist at all.”
Meis told jurors he was in a small office off the entrance of Otto Miller Hall, where he worked at the student security desk, when he heard someone say loudly, “Nobody move.”
“That got my attention. I looked out and saw a man with a shotgun and several students with their hands up,” Meis said.
Then he heard a gunshot and saw students run.
After he took the shotgun away from Ybarra, Meis said, he “saw him pulling something out so I grabbed him from behind.”
Meis thought Ybarra was reaching for a pistol but it ended up being a knife; Meis yelled to another student to kick the weapon away and help Meis hold Ybarra down until campus security arrived.
Meis said Ybarra told him, “ ‘You shouldn’t have taken the knife away from me — I was going to cut my throat.’ I said, ‘That’s not going to help anything now.’ ”
Meis’ actions on the day of the shooting were captured on surveillance video, which is expected to be played for the jury on Wednesday, when Williams is also expected to testify.