The death of the Chinatown International District’s Donnie Chin is shocking. But with the level of gunfire in this city, something like it was inevitable.
On the street where Donnie Chin died, bullet holes pock the walls and windows near where his car came to a final rest. The small crowd that gathered the other night gaped at these holes, trying to read them like tea leaves.
It’s shocking, people said. It’s the worst thing to happen in Seattle this year. A bolt out of the blue.
A man showed cellphone pictures of Chin’s damaged car. It looked to have been riddled by multiple bullets.
“He didn’t have a damn enemy in the world,” the man said.
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The death of an innocent bystander in a hail of gunfire is deeply unsettling. But in this city, at the rate people are shooting off guns this summer, what happened in the Chinatown International District was not out of the blue. It was inevitable.
From the archives
More on Donnie Chin
- Donald Chin spent life protecting, serving the Chinatown International District
- Police check witness tips, video for clues (Anyone with tips can call the homicide line at 206-233-5000.)
Gifts in Chin’s memoryDonations may be made on Chin’s behalf to the International District Emergency Center, via the Seattle Foundation’s IDEC page.
“Someone finally got hit,” was how one police officer put it.
There have been 227 shootings so far this year in the city, through Monday, July 20. That’s more than one per day.
It’s up 24 percent over last year and 40 percent over 2013. It’s also up 20 percent from the horrific 2012, when the city was gripped by fear from a mass shooting at Café Racer and the random killings of two bystanders — a father out driving with his family in Madrona and a young woman new to town walking in Pioneer Square.
Yet this year there’s been scant public attention to all the gunfire.
A neighbor near Powell Barnett Park, in Seattle’s Central Area, wrote a few weeks ago to say there had been a Wild West gunbattle, with more than 50 shots fired at 9 o’clock one evening. Police found that bullets randomly struck the car of a family of four driving past the park. Nobody in the car was hit.
The neighbor asked: How could this not make the news?
With a shooting every day in the city, on average, it has become part of the background noise, like traffic. It’s only news when something catastrophic happens.
Police say they get so many shots-fired calls that they don’t even report most of them on their public-outreach site, the SPD Blotter.
In the two weeks ending July 20, Seattle had 23 shootings. The SPD Blotter highlighted 10 of them. Very few of those made the news because nobody, fortunately, was killed.
But five times recently the bullets have hit, or just barely missed, innocent bystanders. The worst result before Chin’s death was to a man who was behind the wheel of his car at a traffic light in the Rainier Valley when he was struck twice in the head by shots from the other side of the light-rail tracks.
“He was a completely innocent victim with not so much as a traffic ticket to his name,” says Pat Murakami, who runs the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council. The man survived but for a time was in critical condition at Harborview.
Police say they were also especially alarmed by a shooting on July Fourth, on Massachusetts near the Interstate 90 bridge. A mom driving three kids home from the fireworks stopped to make a cell call when a man across the street inexplicably started shooting at them. Five bullets strafed the car — three making an arc around the driver, and another lodging in a rear seat headrest.
Bystanders sometimes get hit by shots meant for someone else. But police say it’s almost unheard of for a gunman to target a car with a family in it.
“To have indiscriminate shots fired like that is very unusual,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb of Seattle police. “It’s frightening.”
The father of one of the boys wrote on the website Nextdoor that he’s questioning his native city in the face of such randomness.
“What could have been done differently to avoid this,” he wrote. “Don’t drive down Massachusetts? Don’t drive at night? Don’t go out on the Fourth of July?”
Police later figured out the shots came from a Luger pistol, a German World War II-style gun. They linked that gun to seven shootings this summer, including three of the five involving bystanders.
This serial shooter with a Nazi gun is still on the loose.
Every case is different. But it’s a minor miracle that what took Donnie Chin hadn’t already taken somebody else.
I met Chin years ago, when for a story I was out making rounds with a homeless-outreach group. He was roaming the ID at 1 o’clock in the morning, helping people. They called him “Mr. Chin,” and deferred to his authority as if he was a police officer.
His goodness was all the badge he needed. That he was the one to fall to this gun madness really is the worst thing to happen in Seattle this year.
It’s only by sheer luck that it hasn’t been one worst thing among many.