Off the Press

September 27, 2011

By Kathleen R. Merrill

It can’t happen here; yes, it can

Kathleen R. Merrill Press managing editor

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen here,” people always say when some tragedy, especially one involving violence, occurs in a community.

I heard the phrase again and again Sept. 24, because that kind of thing doesn’t happen in Issaquah either. Until it did.

I was shopping in Maple Valley when a friend called to tell me there was a gunman on the loose in Issaquah and she couldn’t get into town because of all of the police officers blocking the streets.

Despite the fact that her voice was crystal clear, I immediately said, “What? Can you say that again?”

Same thing — gunman, downtown Issaquah, cops everywhere with guns drawn, helicopter flying overhead. She then asked if I was OK. (I live downtown.) I felt stunned for a moment. Were my pets OK at home? Could I even get there? Did I want to go there? How would I know if the gunman was inside the house or hiding on the property?

I next called Reporter Warren Kagarise, who was at the office amid a flurry of phone calls, emails and text messages working to get the story. Reporter Christina Lords, recently hired to cover Newcastle for Newcastle News, had called him from the office (also downtown).

The two of them continued to work while I texted and called anyone I could think of who would know something concrete. And I headed for town.

The backup on Issaquah-Hobart Road Southeast was unbelievably long. The first police block was at May Valley Road. Nearly everyone was instructed to turn on May Valley. I was allowed through after explaining that I live downtown; I was told I might not be able to get all the way home.

“Another block at Sixth and Front. Made it through that one,” I texted to Warren. “It’s like an obstacle course. Another block coming up.

“They’re turning most people around. Case by case basis. Has to be determined by an officer.

“Block at Sycamore and Front next. Covington officer there.”

One of the officers told me the gunman was no longer on the loose, and that he was dead, shot by police. I did finally get home and the pets were fine. But that end of town was eerily quiet. No people were outside; no traffic was on the streets. It felt like something from an end-of-the-world movie.

I then tried to drive to the newspaper office. Not a chance. Front Street was blocked by the investigation and search of the gunman’s car. The search included a robot going through the trunk looking for explosives.

I hiked on foot as far as police would let me and talked with every officer I encountered. All of the officers from the first roadblock on were professional and helpful, although some were a little frayed around the edges. I felt edgy, too, though.

Warren, Christina and I worked through the afternoon and into the evening to get everything that we could for our website story, so our readers would be informed.

Issaquah officers regularly train for various situations including what is called active shooter training, which they did in April at Snoqualmie Middle School.

Issaquah Police Department Officer Paul Fairbanks said then that the training happens at a school because many shootings have occurred at one. (This one was close to one.) Because of that, school districts often let police departments train on their property, and such trainings happen at least once a year, Fairbanks said at the time.

I remembered that training at some point on Saturday and felt grateful for it, although I felt deeply sad that another human being’s life had come to a violent end.

You see, this kind of thing doesn’t happen here.

Kathleen R. Merrill: 392-6434, ext. 227, or editor@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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