Issaquah gunman: ‘Something big is going to happen’
October 4, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Investigators recovered 952 rounds of ammunition from shooter’s body
Just before midnight on a Thursday last month, a man stopped at Issaquah City Hall and asked for assistance from a police officer.
The man, slender and balding, carried a handgun tucked into his waistband — unusual, perhaps, but not illegal. The responding officer approached and asked the man to turn over the weapon.
The man — later identified as Ronald W. Ficker, the man responsible for a downtown Issaquah shootout Sept. 24 — agreed, and handed the firearm to the officer. Then, he launched into a story.
“He said that he was in danger,” King County Chief Deputy Steve Strachan said Sept. 28, days after Ficker died in a shootout on the Clark Elementary School campus. “He also said that he had an invention that would save the planet.”
The episode at 11:31 p.m. Sept. 15 started a series of strange interactions between Issaquah police and Ficker. Officers ended up fatally shooting him in a gun battle at the downtown Issaquah school as terrified residents and spectators at a youth football game at Issaquah High School scrambled for cover.
Issaquah officers were in contact with Ficker in the days and hours before the lethal shootout at the school, but lacked a reason to detain him before the incident, King County Sheriff’s Office investigators said.
In the late-night trip to City Hall, “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.”
Strachan said he did not know if Issaquah police later returned the handgun to Ficker.
Meanwhile, in the days before the shootout, the rural King County resident told people some outlandish tales.
In the days leading up to the incident, witnesses said “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.
‘Nothing unusual about the interaction’
Ficker, 51, rented a silver Kia Forte sedan with California license plates at 11 a.m. from a Seattle car rental counter the day before the shootout and put about 450 miles on the vehicle before abandoning the sedan at a downtown Issaquah intersection.
Investigators said a similar vehicle, a silver Hyundai Accent, was registered to Ficker. Port of Seattle police located the abandoned car in a Seattle-Tacoma International Airport parking garage Sept. 30, ending a six-day search for the missing vehicle.
How Ficker spent the hours between the rental and the shootout remains a mystery, investigators said. The next interaction police had with him occurred hours before the incident at Clark Elementary.
Issaquah police encountered Ficker again at 9:39 a.m. Sept. 24, alongside the stalled Kia on Interstate 90 near the Issaquah Highlands exit. Police came upon the rented sedan parked unoccupied along the interstate. Ficker, carrying a gas can, approached the vehicle as a police 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.
Callers offer important clues to police
In the moments after Ficker abandoned the vehicle, Issaquah and King County police dispatchers started receiving 911 and nonemergency calls about a gun-toting 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.
Issaquah police officers encountered gunman Ronald W. Ficker in a series of strange incidents before the fatal shootout at Clark Elementary School.
He fired at least one shot from the .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 remain unknown, 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, more than 70 law enforcement officers from at least 10 police agencies raced to Issaquah to respond to the incident.
Police received another 911 call from Liberty High School cross country coach Michael Smith. The team and Smith spotted Ficker attempting to break into a driver’s education car on the Clark Elementary campus; he then climbed in a backhoe behind the school.
Issaquah police deployed on campus not long after that 911 call. Strachan said three officers set up a position near a portable classroom, and two officers settled into 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.
‘Issaquah officers stopped a tragedy’
Investigators said Ficker fired in the officers’ direction at least 11 shots from the .30-30 rifle as he 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 as officers and Ficker fired off more than 100 shots.
Then, as the shootout neared its coda, Ficker headed to the backhoe and attempted to reach a fence. The fence and a berm separate the campus from homes.
Investigators said 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.
“Issaquah officers stopped a tragedy in this incident,” Strachan said.
(The police department placed the officers involved in the fatal shooting on paid administrative leave, per standard procedure.)
Police later recovered 952 rounds of ammunition — mostly for .22-caliber firearms — on Ficker’s body and in the pockets of his camouflage cargo pants. The .22-caliber ammunition is light and small.
Officers also recovered both rifles near Ficker, although police said he only fired the .30-30 rifle.
Investigators 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. But 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.
“On this day, on Saturday, there was a deadly mixture of a lot of things that came together at one time — possible mental health issues, firearms, large groups of people and a suspect willing to shoot,” Strachan said. “Five Issaquah officers were placed into the middle of that. They used their training and their equipment, and most of all they used their judgment, and they stopped a threat.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.