When Russell Horowitz bought a grand lakefront house in Madison Park five years ago, neighbors were thrilled. Some had known him ever since...

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When Russell Horowitz bought a grand lakefront house in Madison Park five years ago, neighbors were thrilled. Some had known him ever since he played soccer on their front lawns with their children.


Soon, however, things soured. A constant parade of workmen disrupted the quiet Seattle neighborhood. Then a 6-foot-high fence went up around the property, along with security cameras and floodlights. This didn’t fit in with the neighborhood, neighbors said.


One night late last month, life on the lakefront took on a more disturbing turn: Horowitz confronted a man in front of his house and fired a gunshot into the air. According to police, Horowitz told them the man was pulling up dead flowers out by the curb. Horowitz is the CEO of a publicly traded company, Marchex, which provides online marketing and search services. Several years ago he was the president of InfoSpace, another dot-com, which made Horowitz millions, although some investors did not fare well. Before that he was CEO of Go2Net, which attracted investments from Paul Allen and later merged with InfoSpace.


Horowitz, 39, declined to speak with a reporter. In a written statement explaining why he fired the gun, he wrote, “I took this precautionary step to discourage the man from trying to assault me or my security guard with the weapon I believed he was trying to get from his backpack.”


No one was injured by the bullet. Among those who called the police was the man who prompted Horowitz to open fire and a neighbor who saw part of the incident. The man’s name was blacked out in the police report. Several neighbors agreed it’s not the sort of thing that happens in this particular corner of Madison Park.


Horowitz lives in a house he bought five years ago for $20 million, according to property records. Sprawling over 100,000 square feet, the property backs up to Lake Washington and has views of the Cascades. The previous owner, Furman C. Moseley, had been president of Simpson Investment, one of the largest privately-held corporations in the state. Within a few doors lives the founder of a local investment firm and a local law firm, stockbrokers and doctors. Just down the road is former Sonics owner Barry Ackerly.


Many residents have lived there for decades


“It was a very open place,” said one longtime resident who asked not to be identified. “Children ran across each other’s lawns, skated in the driveways. It was a very old-fashioned, traditional neighborhood.”


Horowitz, who didn’t live in the neighborhood as a youth, played with a number of the children, whom he knew from Lakeside School.


Longtime residents were happy the property’s new owner “knew the neighborhood.” But soon, disputes erupted over property lines.


Then the construction began. “Suddenly you wake up and men are putting fences along the [property] lines and lights and so forth,” another neighbor who asked not to be identified said.


Since October 2000, Horowitz has obtained 11 permits from the city for improvements, including lights for the yard, security cameras, burglar and fire alarms, and a natural-gas generator. To an outsider, the front fence — a solid 6-foot structure that blocks any view of the house itself — is perhaps the most striking. Security cameras are pointed at the street and are hooked into video monitors in a guard booth and inside the house. The bright outdoor lights shine into neighbors’ homes at all hours. One said that she could “skim a book” in her yard by Horowitz’s lights.


On Sept. 24, a Saturday night around 9 p.m., Horowitz saw a man digging up the plants outside the fence and along his front curb on one of his video monitors. According to the police report, he went outside, past the front fence, taking his gun as a precaution.


Horowitz “later explained that he has had two death threats in the last six months and he was fearful that perhaps this incident might somehow be related to the threats,” the police report states. A spokesman for Horowitz said they were less specific than death threats but a cause for concern nonetheless. The Seattle Police were unaware of any threats.


Horowitz and a security guard confronted the man, later telling police the man reached into his backpack. Fearing he might be reaching for a gun, Horowitz fired one round into the air, “hoping to de-escalate the situation,” the police report states.


The man ran away and later called 911, saying he was “convinced [Horowitz] had been shooting at him,” the report said. Horowitz called 911, too.


Police are trying to determine whether any laws may have been broken when Horowitz discharged the gun. It is unlawful to discharge a firearm in Seattle if there is a likelihood that someone will be harmed.


Times researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.


Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com