Aaron Ybarra is testifying in his trial for the deadly 2014 shootings at Seattle Pacific University.
For the first half of Monday afternoon, Seattle Pacific University gunman Aaron Ybarra testified about God, Satan and their secret plan to get him to commit a mass shooting on a university campus.
He talked about hearing the voice of Eric Harris, one of two students responsible for the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.
But on cross-examination later in the afternoon, Ybarra acknowledged his anger at not being taken seriously by the first students he encountered on the small, private campus where one student was killed and two others were wounded on June 5, 2014, before Ybarra was tackled, disarmed and doused with pepper spray.
“I was hearing Eric Harris’ voice, but before that I felt God talking to me and saying something in my heart,” Ybarra said during questioning by defense attorney Ramona Brandes.
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He said God wanted him to be an example of what happens to sinners.
“I have to do destruction in order to go to hell,” Ybarra, 29, said in a halting voice.
Ybarra, of Mountlake Terrace, is charged with premeditated first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault.
Ybarra has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The defense contends Ybarra is mentally ill and couldn’t discern between right and wrong at the time of the shootings.
Ybarra took the stand late Monday morning and during questioning by Brandes, described the voices he heard leading up to the shootings at a time when he said he was drinking heavily. Ybarra said the voices told him he had to go on a mass shooting, specifically at a university.
Ybarra claimed he did not fully comprehend what he had done until he was in the back of a Seattle police car after his arrest.
Still, asked by Brandes if he felt “this plan to kill was wrong,” Ybarra responded: “Yes.”
“So why did you still do it?” she asked. Ybarra replied, “Because God wanted it to get done.”
Asked why he never spoke of God and Satan’s plan during his police interrogation, Ybarra said, “The plan was still going on, even though I got caught … I had to know what people were thinking about it while I tried to find ways to die in jail.”
He testified he’s been on “a lot of medication” while awaiting trial, including Risperdal and Prozac, and said that before his arrest, he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and transient psychosis.
On cross-examination, Ybarra acknowledged that he’d kept secret God’s plan for two years before the shooting and two years after.
“Why are you telling us now?” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kristin Richardson asked.
“Maybe there’s no plan going on,” Ybarra said.
“Or maybe it’s an explanation for something you’ve never had an explanation for before … Right?” she asked.
After a long pause, Ybarra answered, “Yeah.”
Asked why he claimed he was scared after hearing Eric Harris’ voice in his head, Ybarra said: “I didn’t want to hurt people, I didn’t want to kill people, I didn’t want to go to hell.”
He acknowledged he knew that killing people was morally wrong.
Ybarra’s demeanor turned from calm to prickly as he discussed his encounter with student Paul Lee, who ignored Ybarra’s demand that he stop as the 19-year-old walked outside Otto Miller Hall on the Seattle Pacific campus.
“When Paul disobeyed the command, he just kept walking … I don’t know why Paul just walked through me,” Ybarra said. “If he saw that gun in my hand, he should’ve stopped.”
Lee’s actions were disrespectful and Ybarra felt Lee treated him like a joke, Ybarra agreed during questioning.
“He should’ve been careful,” Ybarra said of Lee.
“When he turned his back, I put it to my shoulder,” Ybarra said, demonstrating for the jury how he held his shotgun as he fired at Lee.
He testified that he had decided to usher students into Otto Miller Hall, where Ybarra had planned to shoot students in the lobby and then open fire in one of the nearby classrooms. He said he would have started by shooting “the ones who start laughing and take it as a joke.”
“I wasn’t trying to kill anyone outside … I wasn’t expecting Paul to die,” Ybarra said.
Richardson countered: “When you shoot somebody in the back of the head, that tends to happen.”
Ybarra will resume his testimony Tuesday morning.