Gunman dies in shootout near Issaquah High School
September 24, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
UPDATED — 8:45 a.m. Sept. 26, 2011
Issaquah police shot and killed a gunman Saturday after police said the man opened fire near downtown Issaquah schools as children and spectators gathered for sporting events.
The man parked a car on Front Street South at Newport Way Southwest and then headed on foot, carrying two rifles — including a bolt-action hunting rifle — to the area near Clark Elementary and Issaquah High schools at about 11:15 a.m. on a muggy fall day.
Police said the man menacingly pointed firearms at passers-by as he headed about a half-mile to Clark Elementary School.
Witnesses said the man attempted to break into a parked, unoccupied car in the school parking lot.
The man fired the initial shot at about the same time.
The man continued moving across campus and attempted to break into the cab of a back-hoe parked at the school. He failed, and more shots rang out.
Issaquah police officers converged on the campus. Investigators said the man then dropped to the ground on a service road and started firing at officers.
In response, four officers returned fire and hit the gunman several times. He died at the scene.
King County Sheriff Office’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said no other injuries occurred as a result of the incident. People sought refuge beneath the bleachers at Issaquah High School.
“We don’t know why he was doing it. We don’t know who he is for sure,” he said.
The man, a 51-year-old Maple Valley resident, is believed to have acted alone. (The man’s name is due to be released by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office on Monday.)
Urquhart said investigators do not yet know a motive for the gunman.
“Because he was on the move, we were getting reports from everybody, so it was hard to tell exactly how many people were involved,” Urquhart said. “As far as we know at this point, just him, just the one man.”
Police investigated the man’s abandoned car near a downtown intersection for several hours after the shooting.
The sheriff’s office is leading the investigation of the officer-involved shooting. Issaquah Police Chief Paul Ayers asked the sheriff’s office to conduct the investigation into the incident and the shooting death.
The sheriff’s office Major Crimes Unit is leading the investigation. The team also includes detectives from the Bellevue Police Department and a liaison from Issaquah Police Department.
Officials placed the officers involved in the shooting death on paid administrative leave — a standard procedure in situations such as the shooting death.
The incident occurred during a club football game for youth players at the high school. Liberty High School’s cross country team had just completed a practice run and stopped in the Clark Elementary School parking lot to rest.
The gunman fired shots near the events but no one at the events came into the line of fire, Urquhart said.
“Lots of people up there, lots of kids,” Urquhart said. “This could have been a lot worse.”
Issaquah resident Jason Gerth said shots from the gunman narrowly missed he and his friends as they walked near Clark Elementary School. Gerth said they could not see the shooter, but felt a bullet slice through the air.
“I could feel it going past my head,” he said.
They found refuge in a middle-aged couple’s garage near the schools.
“I’m guessing they had already heard about the situation because they were waiting outside,” Gerth said. “When they heard the shots, my friend Tony asked, ‘Can I come in your garage?’ They looked at all of us and said, ‘Yeah, get your asses in our garage.’ We got in, they closed the door and we just hung out in there and called up all of our friends.”
Issaquah resident Henry Honig said his wife and stepson hid beneath the high school bleachers. Honig’s wife called as he headed to the football game.
“Don’t come,” she told him. “There’s a gunman.”
Cyrus Krohn, a downtown resident, heard the shots late Saturday morning as he walked home from Fischer Meats along Front Street North.
“I heard eight or 10 pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” he said as he directed traffic at Second Avenue Southeast and Southeast Bush Street near Issaquah High School.
Initially, Krohn thought the gunshots came from the Issaquah Sportsmen’s Club behind the high school, but the swift police response changed his mind.
“I’ve seen SWAT vehicles, I’ve seen guys in armored gear and helmets,” he said.
Issaquah Middle School student Abby Jones, 11, and a friend had been playing on a street near the schools. They heard gunshots and watched police vehicles barrel down Second Avenue Southeast.
“We started counting police cars — at 25, we got bored,” she said.
Then, she called her mother to let her know what had happened.
“‘That’s a lot of excitement. Are you sure?’” Abby recounted her mother telling her. “‘I’m dead serious,’” she told her mother.
The incident and ensuing investigation caused traffic to slow through a crawl through downtown Issaquah and along streets leading to the city from the south.
A sheriff’s office investigator said a robot inspected the abandoned car near the 400 block of Front Street South. The vehicle is a 2011 silver Kia sedan with California license plates.
Investigators located some ammunition in the vehicle, and some shell casings and a gas can nearby. Police also discovered three guns in the trunk, including a pellet gun and antique rifle.
Officers limited motorists traveling to downtown Issaquah and restricted traffic to residents.
Police closed Second Avenue Southeast from Front Street South to East Sunset Way, and Front Street South from Second Avenue Southeast to Newport Way Northwest, for several hours Saturday afternoon and evening. The city reopened the routes to traffic by 7:25 p.m.
Sara Niegowski, spokeswoman for the Issaquah School District, said police asked administrators to cancel weekend events at Clark Elementary, Issaquah High and Tiger Mountain Community High schools — another campus near the shooting scene. The incident is not expected to impact the schools’ schedules Monday, she added.
Reporter Christina Lords and Managing Editor Kathleen R. Merrill contributed to this report.