One young man was lauded for heroism, credited for stopping a shooting rampage before it went from horrible to worse. Another, cut down by bullets at a Christian university here, was mourned. And a third made his first appearance Friday in court, handcuffed and wearing a green suicide-prevention smock.
A King County judge ordered Aaron R. Ybarra, 26, held without bail on suspicion of premeditated first-degree murder and first-degree assault in a shooting rampage at Seattle Pacific University on Thursday afternoon that left one dead, several injured and a campus reeling.
Prosecutors on Friday described Ybarra as having a propensity for violence and said he intended to kill many more people. His public defender argued that her client had no history of violent behavior. If Ybarra is charged and convicted, he faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Ybarra admitted to SPD Homicide detectives that he was the one that had shot the victims at the school,” according to court documents. “He further told detectives that he had been planning a mass shooting and wanted to kill as many people as possible before killing himself.”
Before heading into court, public defender Ramona Brandes said in an email that Ybarra’s actions may have been sparked by “long-standing mental illness for which he has been treated in the past.”
Ybarra was not a student at the 40-acre campus, and this city struggled to figure out why the young man, who lived in a suburb north of Seattle, armed himself with a shotgun, a knife and extra rounds of ammunition and went on a shooting rampage. He had purchased the shotgun legally a few years ago.
His neighbors in Mountlake Terrace said they were shocked that Ybarra could be implicated as an armed assailant and never expected police to swoop down on their street Thursday night, serving a search warrant as news helicopters hovered overhead.
Teri Rhan, who lives a few doors down from the Ybarras, described the suspect as “quiet, sweet, kind, generous,” and said the family are “wonderful people. ... I cannot even comprehend the pain those people are going through.”
But the quiet facade hid a deeply troubled family, according to police records.
Ybarra called 911 in October 2010 and told authorities that he wanted to “hurt himself and others” because he “had a rage inside him,” according to a Mountlake Terrace Police Department incident report. Ybarra, who said he worked at a gun range at the time, was involuntarily committed at a mental health hospital by police.
Two years later, neighbors called police because Ybarra was lying in the middle of the street, “very intoxicated,” about 1 a.m. A police report says Ybarra told officers that he wanted to die, specifically that “he wanted [a] SWAT team to get him and make him famous” because “no one cares about him.” Again, he was taken temporarily to a mental health facility.
In August, Aaron Ybarra found his brother, Ambrose, lying in bed with slits in his neck and near his ear. An open pocket knife was next to Ambrose, who had spoken to his brother about wanting to kill himself, according to a police report. Aaron Ybarra called Ambrose’s daughter, who in turn called police. Ambrose later explained to investigators that his wife had recently left him.
At a noon prayer service, the assistant director of the university’s worship center spoke to the community of 4,000 or so students: “We now walk on a difficult path ahead,” Bob Zurinsky told those assembled at First Free Methodist Church. “For this time, we carry our pain. We carry our anger and confusion. We require one another. Stand with each other in the days to come.”
A university official told the prayer service that the two students who remained hospitalized after the assault on Otto Miller Hall were improving. Sarah Williams, 19, was upgraded from critical to serious condition and was breathing on her own and conscious at Harborview Medical Center. She had undergone five hours of surgery.
Thomas Fowler, 24, was in satisfactory condition Friday, a hospital spokeswoman said. Fowler’s Facebook page described him as a physics and applied mathematics student.
Mayor Ed Murray identified the slain 19-year-old as Paul Lee of Portland, Ore. During a news conference held to decry what he calls the “epidemic of gun violence” that had hit his city once again, Murray said Lee’s parents had just arrived from South Korea.
On Thursday, shortly before 3:30 p.m., a lone gunman who was later identified as Ybarra entered the lobby of Otto Miller Hall and began shooting. As the gunman stopped to reload, a student security monitor at the science building’s reception desk sprang into action, police said.
Jon Meis, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, pepper-sprayed the gunman and pinned him to the floor. Authorities say that others joined Meis in subduing the man, but they described Meis’ actions as key to stopping the rampage.
On Thursday night, Seattle Police Capt. Chris Fowler called those who stepped up to stop the gunman “heroes.”
That’s a description with which Roman Kukhotskiy, Meis’ friend and a fellow member of the campus chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, would heartily agree.
“I am amazed that Jon did what he did,” Kukhotskiy said Friday in an email. “I too have worked at the security desk last year, but I don’t know if I would have been able to make a split-second decision that fast.
“Jon had everything lined up perfectly for him after graduation,” Kukhotskiy continued. “He has a loving family, a position at Boeing and is getting married soon. That fact that he was willing to risk all of that for the rest of the students in that building, including myself, is beyond words.”
La Ganga reported from Seattle, Dave from Los Angeles.