A man wielding a shotgun, armed with a knife and wearing a black hoodie, quickly fired several rounds at a small Christian university in Seattle on Thursday afternoon, killing a 20-year-old man and injuring three others.
A student security guard at a Seattle Pacific University engineering building fired pepper spray at the suspect as he reloaded his shotgun at about 3:20 p.m. The student then pinned down the suspect until police arrived minutes later and took him into custody. Police said that the identity of 26-year-old suspect would not be released until he was formally booked, and that he was not a student at the university.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post reported that the police said the suspect would not be released until he was formally booked. The police said the identity of the suspect would not be released yet.
“This story is not about an evil act, but the people that lived through this scenario and assisted each other when things were very tragic,” Seattle Police Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh said at a nighttime news conference.
Harborview Medical Center said four victims had been brought to the hospital, including the man who died shortly after arrival from gunshot wounds to the upper body.
A 20-year-old woman was in critical condition and undergoing surgery for gunshot wounds to the upper body, police and hospital officials said. They also reported that a 24-year-old man and a 22-year-old man suffered minor injuries and were in satisfactory condition. Police did not identify the victims.
“Today should have been a day of celebration,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said to a crowd of reporters at the university, whose last day of classes was to be Friday. “Instead it’s a day of tragedy and loss. Once again, the epidemic of gun loss has come to Seattle — the epidemic that has been threatening this nation.”
The university president said he was in his office when he learned of the chaos by text message from the school security staff.
“My first reaction was heartbreak, that a senseless act like this could happen on campus,” Dan Martin said as tears started to fall from his eyes. After reading the text, he rushed to a command post to start watching live surveillance footage from Otto Miller Hall.
Many students reported that the gunshots — heard throughout the building — sounded like a science experiment, maybe a helium balloon popping.
But when a student in Otto Miller Hall’s Room 136 went into the hallway to check, she quickly came back and offered a terse statement: “I think someone got shot,” according to Blake Oliveira, who was inside the classroom.
Oliveira, a 21-year-old studying computer science, said he immediately sent a text message to friend who works in the school’s security department.
“Someone got shot,” read the message, sent at 3:38 p.m.
“At first I was kind of afraid. Then I decided I wanted to help my classmates, so I grabbed a pipe and waited next to the door,” Oliveira said. He removed his sandals in case he needed to run.
He heard someone yelling at someone to calm down. Then, within three minutes, he heard school security arrive and radio that they had a victim. Police eventually escorted out Oliveira’s physics class, passing pools of blood, including one Oliveira accidentally stepped in.
“It’s exciting in a scary way,” he said of the shooting, still barefoot, with his sandals in his backpack. “I feared for a minute, then I thought about a quote in the Bible that Jesus died for everyone.”
Chris Howard, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student, was working on a project with classmates when a friend walked into their room at Otto Miller Hall.
“There were two marks on his neck,” Howard said. “They were bleeding too much.”
The students used a first-aid kit to treat the victim, who appeared to be injured by debris and not a gunshot.
Howard left the room and started helping a woman in the hallway who was wounded. As her head lay in Howard’s lap, she cried out that she was dying and asked that someone get her family on the phone.
Howard called the entries for “mommy” and “aunt” on her phone. But no one picked up.
Police later ushered him out, and he said he saw the shooter, a man he didn’t recognize as a student.
Brianna Clarke, 21, said the shooting cut into her finals studying. Clarke described a “loud” gunshot a couple of classrooms away, but said she couldn’t hear what direction it was coming from inside Otto Miller Hall.
Clarke said that she saw a friend running from the back of the building to the front and that some of the victims appeared to be seniors at the university, which has about 4,000 students. The private university is located on a 40-acre campus along the ship canal in the Queen Anne area of Seattle, about 10 minutes north of downtown.
As Clarke left the classroom she and others had locked themselves into, she said, she saw a body and red-and-gold shotgun shells on the building’s red-brick lobby floor.
“It’s hard not to know people here. There are only 4,000 people on campus,” she said. “For this to happen on a Christian campus a week before graduation -- there’s no good time, but this is really hard. This is somewhere I was 9 to 5 every day.”
The entire campus went into lockdown in the wake of the shooting, sending people into hiding inside a library, a gym and other spots on campus. Police activity focused on Otto Miller Hall, which SWAT officials combed through before the declaration that there was no second shooter.
Martin, the university president, credited emergency drills for preparing students well. Upon hearing gunshots, students said, they turned off lights in classrooms, locked themselves in and started checking their phones for emergency alerts via text message and social media.
“I believe it did make an impact,” Martin said of the preparation. He also credited the quick actions of the student security guard, who was posted at an information desk at the entrance. University officials said such posts are used throughout the university, including at Otto Miller Hall because of the expensive science equipment inside.
Asked what message he wanted to send to students, Martin said: “One of hope in our lord and savior Jesus Christ, who can comfort us and provide peace in times like this. It’s an opportunity for all of us to come together as a community.”
Classes scheduled for Thursday night and Friday were canceled, and students gathered at an evening prayer service at the on-campus Free Methodist church.
In a statement, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee celebrated the students who he said “put themselves in real danger to protect classmates from further violence and to aid and comfort the victims.”
“Those selfless and brave acts should remind us of the indomitable spirit of young people,” he said.
The actions, police said, prevented the tragedy from being far worse.
Times staff writer La Ganga reported from Seattle and Dave from Los Angeles. Times staff writer James Queally in Los Angeles contributed to this report.