Issaquah police encountered gunman in days, hours before shooting

September 28, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

King County Chief Deputy Steve Strachan points to a picture of the ditch on the east side of Clark Elementary from where Ronald W. Ficker fired at Issaquah police officers Sept. 24. By Greg Farrar

UPDATED — 5:15 p.m. Sept. 28, 2011

Issaquah police officers contacted the Sept. 24 gunman in the days and hours before the lethal shootout at Clark Elementary School, but did not have reason to detain Ronald W. Ficker before the incident.

In the days before the shootout, Ficker told people he had been “communicating with the devil” and said, “Something big is going to happen.”

King County Sheriff’s Office investigators released the information Wednesday alongside other details about the case.

“Issaquah officers stopped a tragedy in this incident,” Chief Deputy Steve Strachan said.

Detectives discovered 952 rounds of ammunition on Ficker’s body after he died from wounds from five gunshots fired by four Issaquah police officers. The shootout occurred near downtown homes and a youth football game at Issaquah High School next door.

Ficker, 51, rented the silver Kia Forte sedan at 11. a.m. from a Seattle car rental counter the day before the shootout and put about 450 miles on the vehicle before he abandoned the sedan at a downtown Issaquah intersection. (The vehicle has California license plates.)

Investigators said a similar vehicle, a silver Hyundai Accent, is registered to Ficker. Police do not know the whereabouts of the vehicle and continue to search for the Hyundai, Strachan said during a briefing at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. Police said the vehicle has Washington license plate 945ZRB.

Police do not yet know how Ficker spent the hours between the rental and the shootout, but a city police officer contacted him alongside the stalled Kia on Interstate 90 near the Issaquah Highlands exit hours before the shootout.

Ficker told police the vehicle had run put of gas, and he intended to get gas to refuel.

During a Sept. 28 media briefing, police displayed a photo of the weapons and ammunition belonging to Ronald W. Ficker. King County Sheriff's Office

In another strange episode preceding the Clark Elementary incident, investigators said Ficker walked into Issaquah City Hall at 11:31 p.m. Sept. 15 and asked police for assistance, investigators said Wednesday.

Ficker had a handgun tucked in his waistband. After the responding officer asked him to hand the weapon over, he agreed. Because he had done nothing against the law and was legally allowed to own a gun, officers did not detain him.

“He said that he was in danger,” Strachan said. “He also said that he had an invention that would save the planet.”

Ficker turned the firearm over to police. Strachan said he did not know if Issaquah police later returned the weapon to Ficker.

“He had nothing against the law,” Strachan said. “He had asked for some advice. There was no indication or ability for the officer to involuntarily place him on a mental health hold according to our current system and processes.”

MORE COVERAGE

• King County authorities identify Issaquah gunman

‘It was like being in a war zone’ amid shootout

• Clark Elementary students return to school, a crime scene

• Investigation, absences challenge police

• Police roadblocks create traffic headaches

Issaquah police encountered Ficker again at 9:39 a.m. Sept. 24, after a city officer came upon the rented Kia parked unoccupied along the interstate. Ficker, carrying a gas can, approached the vehicle as the officer examined the car.

“He said that he would fill his car up and get moving,” Strachan said. “There was no reason for police action. There was nothing unusual about the interaction.”

The officer cleared the call at 9:43 a.m. and logged the incident, and then left the scene.

Investigators said the Kia ran out of gas again at 11:11 a.m. on Front Street South at Newport Way Southwest in front of the Julius Boehm Pool. Ficker abandoned the vehicle, and set off across downtown Issaquah, carrying a pair of rifles — a .22-caliber rifle and a .30-30 rifle. Police said he also left a crossbow outside a vehicle door and a gas can by the rear of the car.

In the moments after Ficker abandoned the vehicle, Issaquah police dispatchers started receiving 911 and nonemergency calls about an armed man downtown. Callers provided detailed descriptions about the suspect’s description and movements.

Police said Ficker headed east on foot to Issaquah Middle School, a short jaunt uphill from the stalled vehicle.

“As they broadcast this, the earlier officer that had contacted this same car and this same person on the freeway indicated over the radio that they recognized this person from the earlier contact,” Strachan said.

Officers mobilized downtown, as calls continued to pour in about Ficker.

The suspect fired at least one shot from a .30-30 rifle on the middle school campus and then continued to head down Second Avenue Southeast. How Ficker spent several moments between the shot at Issaquah Middle School and the shootout at nearby Clark Elementary School remain unknown for certain, Strachan said.

The initial 911 call came in to dispatchers at 11:11 a.m. and police encountered Ficker on the elementary school campus at 11:38 a.m. In the ensuing 27 minutes after the initial call, officers from at least 10 police agencies raced to Issaquah to respond to the incident.

Police received another 911 call from a person reporting Ficker in a backhoe on the campus. Though investigators did not know the identity of the caller Wednesday, Liberty High School’s cross country team, coach and athletes’ parents encountered Ficker on campus and called 911.

Issaquah police took positions on campus not long after the 911 call. Strachan said three officers took a position near a portable classroom, and two officers took a position near a concrete staircase connecting the Clark Elementary campus to the Issaquah High School parking lot.

The officers carried AR-15 rifles, standard equipment for Issaquah police in patrol cruisers.

Investigators said Ficker fired in the officers’ direction at least 11 shots from a .30-30 rifle. Police said he had hunkered down in a drainage ditch behind Clark Elementary.

“It provided very good cover,” Strachan said. “It was a tactical approach, so that he could lay down and deliver fire toward the officers in a way that was tactical and safer for him.”

The shooting behind the school started at 11:39 a.m. and lasted for several minutes.


Then, as the shootout neared its coda, Ficker headed to the backhoe and attempted to reach a fence. The fence and a berm separated the campus from homes.

Investigators believe four of the five Issaquah officers on the scene fired at Ficker. The distance between officers and the gunman amounted to 120 to 150 yards — longer than a football field.

Investigators recovered 952 rounds of ammunition on Ficker’s body and in the pockets of his camouflage cargo pants. Officers also recovered both rifles near Ficker.

Police later recovered ammunition and additional weapons from the trunk of the abandoned Kia.

Police also obtained a warrant to search Ficker’s home in rural King County south of Issaquah. Witnesses told police Ficker usually maintained a tidy residence. Instead, officers discovered a mess inside — rotten food, debris and papers strewn about, plus at least 10 empty, half-gallon vodka bottles. Investigators also found a .22-caliber rifle beneath a bed.

Witnesses said in the days leading up to the incident “that he made comments such as, ‘Watch the news,’ ‘Something big is going to happen’ and that he is communicating with the devil and that he wants to save the world,” Strachan said.

Ficker posted a link on his Facebook page Sept. 18 to a New Zealand-based support group called the Hearing Voices Network.

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