Friend describes Issaquah gunman as kind, laidback guy
October 4, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Conversation offered clue to mental turmoil
The reason Ronald W. Ficker engaged in a fatal gun battle against Issaquah police at Clark Elementary School continues to elude detectives, but the gunman’s self-described best friend said the only clue to the incident came less than 48 hours before the Sept. 24 shootout.
Mark Risdon, Ficker’s longtime friend, last spoke to the gunman just after 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 — the night before police said Ficker rented a silver Kia Forte at a Seattle rental car counter.
The vehicle surfaced in Issaquah the next morning after police said the sedan stalled along Interstate 90 and again near a downtown intersection. Police fatally shot Ficker on the Clark Elementary campus at about 11:40 a.m. Sept. 24.
“The content of our conversation gave me a lot of concern,” Risdon said. “He just wasn’t making sense. He was talking, he was saying something about going into outer space.”
Risdon suggested watching a movie the next night, but in the end, decided not to call Ficker after the odd interaction. In the conversation, Ficker did not mention plans to rent a car or travel.
“I was kind of afraid to call him, because the conversation that we had Thursday was, well, alarming,” Risdon said. “I wish I had called him.”
Risdon said he attempted — but failed — to reach Ficker’s physician to discuss the episode. Risdon said Ficker had not said anything similar before the Sept. 22 conversation.
“When I talked to him Thursday, I was asking him questions in kind of a roundabout way — if he had been to his doctor recently, if he was having a bad reaction to any kind of a new medication or something,” he continued. “It just seemed like he was having, maybe, a medication reaction or something.”
‘I had a really bad feeling’
Risdon said he did not know if Ficker had been prescribed medication for mental illness before the incident.
“I had a really bad feeling that something had happened or was going to happen,” he said. “I really should have called him Friday. I was thinking about just driving up to his house that day.”
Risdon said the unstable gunman depicted in the aftermath clashes against the man he knew from camping excursions and movie viewing, a kind and laidback guy.
“I’m still in shock,” Risdon said Sept. 30, a day after he answered detectives’ questions about the incident. “I mean, he was my best friend. It’s just hard to believe that this whole thing occurred. That’s just not the Ron that I know.”
Ficker’s parents live in Concrete, a tiny town in Skagit County. Risdon said Ficker seldom discussed his ex-wife and did not have any children.
Risdon met Ficker, 51, about 21 years ago through a mutual acquaintance.
“I think I might have been his only friend,” Risdon said. “He didn’t speak of anyone else.”
The friendship came to include occasional trips to bars to meet women, and more often, movie viewing at Ficker’s house in rural King County. Ficker enjoyed sci-fi flicks; Risdon prefers history and documentary films.
“He and I used to call ourselves The Last Two Terminal Bachelors on Earth,” Risdon said. “We’d go out clubbing in the past, but we just kind of gave up on trying to meet Ms. Right or whatever, so we’d just hang around his house and watch videos.”
Ficker joined Risdon, a Civil War buff, to camp at a Civil War re-enactment in Ferndale a few years ago. Risdon planned a gold panning expedition for them earlier in the year, but the trip did not occur because Risdon developed dental problems.
‘He wasn’t some maniac’
Risdon said Ficker used to work as a refrigeration technician, but stopped more than a decade ago after he suffered severe burns in a worksite electrical explosion. In the aftermath, Ficker endured skin grafts and relied on medication to manage the pain, Risdon added.
“He was in a lot of pain for a long time,” he said.
Ficker started attending classes to receive a real estate license before the incident, Risdon said.
Ficker maintained a neat house south of downtown Issaquah. (The postal address for the home is Maple Valley.)
“He was very meticulous,” Risdon said. “He was — I don’t know if I’d say a clean freak — but he was meticulous.”
Investigators discovered the house in disarray after the shootout — empty vodka bottles, rotten food and other debris cluttered the space.
Risdon said Ficker did not hunt, but bought a pellet gun in recent months to deter birds from eating berries in his garden.
The investigators’ report about the empty liquor bottles also surprised Risdon. Ficker enjoyed sipping vodka in social settings, but did not abuse alcohol, Risdon said, adding that Ficker often served vodka from the same half-gallon bottle for more than a month.
King County Chief Deputy Steve Strachan said a motive for the shootout could remain unknown.
“I can’t get into the head of somebody else,” he said Sept. 28. “I don’t want to speculate. If somebody carries two rifles and 900-plus rounds of ammunition, whether that would lead one to believe this was a suicide by cop, I guess that’s open to question.”
Risdon disputes the suggestion Ficker set up the incident for suicide by cop — a notion repeated on blogs and social media services in the days after the incident.
“I just wanted to portray Ron. He wasn’t crazy,” Risdon said. “I mean, he was confused. I asked myself today, ‘What were you thinking, Ron?’ He wasn’t some maniac. Something just snapped and I don’t know what.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.