Seattle shooting suspect treated for mental illness, attorney says

Reporting from Seattle

The suspect in the Thursday shootings at Seattle Pacific University has been treated in recent years for a “long-standing mental illness,” which his attorney said might have prompted the deadly assault inside an engineering building at the small Christian campus.

On Friday, a judge ordered Aaron Ybarra, 26, held without bail on suspicion of first-degree murder and first-degree assault. Prosecutors said he had a propensity for violence and had intended to kill many more people. Public defender Ramona Brandes, who confirmed Ybarra’s mental health issues to the Los Angeles Times, said that her client had no history of violent behavior.

But police records point to troubles in the Ybarra household.


Court documents say that Ybarra admitted his role in Thursday’s shooting. He told detectives he had been planning a mass shooting and wanted to kill as many people as possible before killing himself.

Ybarra called 911 in October 2010 and told authorities 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 was 23 and said he worked at a gun range, was involuntarily committed at a mental health hospital by police.

In July 2012, authorities caught Ybarra driving on a sidewalk and charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol. In October of that year, he was given two years of probation, according to Edmonds Municipal Court administrator Joan Ferebee. Ybarra was told that if he completed a treatment program, the charge would be lowered to reckless endangerment and he would be off probation by Halloween of this year.

In October 2012, neighbors called police because Ybarra was inexplicably lying in the middle of the street “very intoxicated.” A police report says Ybarra told officers that he wanted to die, specifically that “he wanted 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.

Last 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.

Off and on from the fall of 2005 to the summer of 2012, Aaron Ybarra took classes at Edmonds Community College in Lynwood, Wash. He earned a certificate of completion in aerospace manufacturing, college spokeswoman Marisa Pierce said. In between, he attended but did not complete a homeschooling program through Edmonds School District.

Seattle police have said that on Thursday afternoon, Ybarra drove to the Seattle Pacific University campus just north of downtown and walked into Otto Miller Hall. The building was buzzing with students working on final projects and in classes.

Armed with a legally purchased shotgun and a knife, Ybarra shot three people before he was pepper-sprayed by a student and tackled while reloading the firearm. Ybarra has no clear connection to the university, police said. Police also said the motive remained under investigation Friday.

“Cases of this nature take twists and turns throughout the investigation,” Seattle Police Capt. Chris Fowler said.

Students gathered Friday and spent the last day of the school year at a church service, praying for the victims. One student was killed and two were injured in the shooting.

A university official told the hundreds gathered on campus at First Free Methodist Church that the injured, Sarah Williams, 19, and Thomas Fowler, 24, were improving.

Williams, breathing on her own and conscious, was upgraded from critical to serious condition Friday after undergoing five hours of surgery on Thursday, according to Harborview Medical Center.

Fowler’s Facebook page described him as a student of physics and applied mathematics. He was in satisfactory condition Friday.

The slain student was 19-year-old Paul Lee of Portland, Ore. His parents had just flown in from Korea, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Friday afternoon.

In songs, prayers and speeches at the church, university officials and students shared a common resolve to move past the violence.

“In spite of this day, let us not give up hope,” one staff member said. “Let us not give into despair. Let us not think evil or death has the last word.”

Another university official said that she asked that Ybarra be brought to justice, repentance and “spiritual wholeness.”

Ybarra had an affinity for fishing and shooting, according to his now-deleted Facebook page.

The modest Mountlake Terrace neighborhood where police served a search warrant after the shooting was quiet Friday morning, save for the television satellite trucks. No one answered at the gray clapboard home where Ybarra is believed to have lived.

Neighbor Teri Rhan told the Los Angeles Times on Friday morning that it was hard to miss the commotion Thursday night on the normally quiet street.

Rhan, who moved in down the street 18 years ago, said she watched Aaron grow up. Her son often played with Aaron and Aaron’s younger brother and the whole neighborhood would come together for fireworks until such displays were banned in their small city north of Seattle.

She said she was shocked to hear that the 8-year-old she once knew was suspected in a shooting rampage. Aaron Ybarra, Rhan said, was “quiet, sweet, kind, generous.”

“How can you not be affected by someone you watched grow up?” Rhan said. “Everything seemed normal.... I cannot even comprehend the pain those people are going through.... They’re wonderful people. Never any problems.”

Police also once again hailed student Jon Meis, who helped tackle the gunman on Thursday.

Salomon Meza Tapia, a junior who served on an electrical engineering club’s board with Meis, described his friend as a hard-working student who was rarely caught off guard.

“I am not surprised he was cool and collected enough to take action,” Meza Tapia said by email. “I was in the building, and I can say he definitely saved our lives. I am thankful to be alive and thank God for Jon Meis’ courage and actions.”