Rather than being targeted, community leader Donnie Chin “drove into” gunfire in the Chinatown International District when he was fatally shot, Seattle police say.
Hearing gunfire blasting through his neighborhood on July 23, Donnie Chin responded like he did to reports of violence in the Chinatown International District — he sped toward the scene. Moments later Chin was fatally shot.
Seattle police Assistant Chief Robert Merner said Friday that investigators are unsure whether Chin had heard the gunfire while on his regular nighttime patrols of the neighborhood, or if he heard the reports of people shooting at each other near Eighth Avenue South and South Weller Street on his portable police scanner just before 3 a.m.
“He was either caught in crossfire or someone thought he was an enemy combatant by mistake. Nobody was targeting him,” Merner said. “People were shooting at each other and he drove into it.”
Three weeks after Chin’s slaying and with no suspect in custody, police say homicide detectives have been trying to track down witnesses.
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Investigators say they have spoken with two men believed to have been at the shooting scene. The men, who were questioned and released, offered investigators little about why two groups were shooting at each other, police said.
“They may have had some involvement,” Merner said, adding that investigators are unsure whether the two men were armed and shooting that morning.
Police believe the men they spoke with were at two different neighborhood hookah lounges before Chin’s slaying. It’s unclear whether the men were at the shooting scene because of some sort of dispute that erupted at a hookah lounge or because of a continuing gang beef, Merner said.
“At this point we’re still trying to identify other individuals involved in the gunfire,” Merner said.
In their search for witnesses, police are looking for a man they’re calling “a well-intentioned good Samaritan” who was seen picking up evidence near the site where Chin was killed. Investigators want to eliminate the man as a suspect in the slaying, police say.
The good Samaritan is described as an African American about 6 feet tall and with a thin build. He was wearing a white brim hat, glasses and a green argyle shirt, according to police.
Chin was the unofficial security force for Chinatown International District for almost 50 years. Armed with a police scanner, he would regularly beat officers and firefighters to emergency calls — sometimes jumping in to administer CPR and first aid until formal help arrived.
He started International District Emergency Center (IDEC) almost single-handedly without any financial compensation when he was in junior high because he felt police and medics had slow response times to the neighborhood.
The center, which was Chin’s only place of employment, survived over the years on donations and grants.
A memorial for Chin will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Chong Wa Benevolent Association Playfield, 522 Seventh Ave. S.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Seattle Police Department Homicide Unit at 206-684-5550.