Strange behavior shaped Issaquah gunman’s final days

May 15, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Inquest into police shootout starts May 21

The rough outlines resemble doodles more than a far-fetched blueprint, and the instructions on the page defy explanation.

Ronald Ficker

In hand-scrawled notes about a manmade island scattered among the sketches, the creator urges, “Start building Atlantis.”

The creator later stuffed the notes, sketches and more than $23,000 in Swiss francs into a safe deposit box at the Bank of America branch in Issaquah.

The stack of documents contained instructions for the reader.

“If I get hurt, must take this to police.”

The sentence outlined the future. The man behind the notes, Ronald W. Ficker, 51, died in a police shootout on the Clark Elementary School campus Sept. 24.

Police uncovered the locked safe deposit box in the subsequent investigation.

The documents and other materials from the investigation, obtained from King County authorities through a public records request, offer a glimpse at the days before Ficker abandoned a rental car at a downtown Issaquah intersection and set off for school campuses.

The information presents a man detached from reality in the days before the shootout, a paranoid loner accosting store employees and ranting to police about a device to save the planet. The man presented in the documents is also hardworking and polite, but also socially awkward and quiet. The information shows a dutiful son and a handyman interested in a real estate career.

Ficker is again the focus as King County prosecutors prepare for the inquest into Issaquah police officers’ actions amid the shootout. The inquest, or fact-finding hearing, into the incident is scheduled to start May 21.

A late-night visit

Clues to possible turmoil started not long before the shootout.

Ficker traveled to Concrete in rural Skagit County — 111 miles from his home in rural Maple Valley — to visit his parents about a week before the incident. Ficker’s father later told police his son seemed “disturbed” during the visit.

What to know

Issaquah police inquest

  • 9 a.m. May 21-23
  • Courtroom W-842
  • King County Courthouse
  • 516 Third Ave., Seattle
  • The inquest is open to the public.

What is a police inquest?

In King County, a prosecutor-led inquest is a fact-finding hearing conducted before a six-member jury. Such a panel is called to determine the circumstances in any officer-involved shooting in King County.

County officials said inquests into officer-involved shootings provide transparency into law enforcement actions for the public. No inquest conducted in the county has led to the filing of criminal charges against a police officer involved in a deadly shooting.

The inquest is expected to include statements from the officers involved in the shooting — Laura Asbell, Tom Griffith, Brian Horn, Christian Munoz and Jesse Petersen. The commander at the shooting scene, Sgt. Chris Wilson, is also expected to offer input.

Besides the involved officers, officials could request information from investigators and witnesses.

King County District Court Judge David Steiner is the presiding judge for the inquest.

Inquest jurors answer a series of questions, called interrogatories, to determine the facts in the case. The jury does not, however, determine whether a person or agency is civilly or criminally liable for the incident.

Ficker’s sister said her brother held a long distrust of government, although family members, friends and tenants considered him to be more quirky than threatening.

Ficker arrived at his elderly parents’ home after 10 p.m. as they prepared for bed, Ficker’s sister later told police. He immediately told them they needed to go to Washington, D.C., because the world was going to end.

Ficker’s sister said their parents listened calmly as he asked for $200 to invest for his parents. Ficker’s father gave him the money, but as he prepared to leave after about 20 minutes, he returned the money and said did not need the money and just wanted to see if his parents believed him, his sister told police.

He then said he needed to go to Wenatchee to tell his brothers and, although his parents asked him to stay the night, he left, his sister told police. Before departing, he asked his parents to withdraw their money from banks.

Ficker acted “as normal as can be” during a phone conversation the next day. He had not traveled to Wenatchee as he said he planned to do the night before.

Ficker’s parents also called his sister and told her they wanted family members to keep in better contact with him.

His family attributed the actions to a lifelong pattern of offbeat behavior and did not believe Ficker posed a threat to anybody. Ficker did not have a record in the FBI’s criminal database or a record of involuntary commitment in King County.

Ficker’s father later told police his son “has some weird ideas” and preferred to remain “very private.”

A complicated man

Ficker’s sister described her brother to police as “socially awkward” but also “very calm, very sweet.” She told police she remembered her brother as the reserved one in a family of outgoing personalities. He was kind to children in the family, and made a point to remember them on their birthdays and Christmas.

Ficker was shy around women, she told police, but was married for a time to a woman from Colombia. His ex-wife relocated to Atlanta after their divorce, and they became Facebook friends not long before he died.

Frugality defined Ficker from childhood. When he and his siblings were children, he saved his money and then charged his siblings exorbitant interest rates to borrow money from him. Later, in adulthood, he maintained the same thrifty habits and disliked borrowing money.

Former employers described Ficker — a former heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technician — as hardworking and respectful. Later, he obtained a real estate license and managed his home as a rental property.

Transcripts show Ficker was a good student at Renton Technical College. He attended courses from July 2006 to June 2007 to be a certified office professional executive assistant.

But Ficker displayed unusual behavior to police and others in the last days of his life.

The initial interaction between him and Issaquah police occurred during a late-night visit to Issaquah City Hall.

Just before midnight Sept. 15, Ficker stopped there and asked for assistance from a police officer. He carried a handgun, and told the responding officer a strange tale about being chased and saving the planet.

Ficker did nothing against the law, and surrendered the handgun after officers asked for the weapon. He asked for police to file a report in case the devil or demons caught up with him.

He had a familiarity with guns since childhood, and owned several firearms.

The last days

Though he asked his parents to withdraw their money from banks, Ficker engaged in a strange series of financial moves. He headed to a Bank of America branch in Issaquah days before the shooting to purchase Swiss francs and Canadian dollars.

In mid-September, Ficker entered the Tukwila Costco and told a store employee in the electronics area he wanted “the best of everything.” When the employee asked for specifics, Ficker insulted her and used sexist language. Later, a manager helped Ficker load up $7,000 in electronics — TVs, videogame consoles, Blu-Ray players and more. Ficker only had $3,000 in cash for the haul, so the store placed the items on hold.

Ficker said he intended to come back later and pay for the items, but he did not return in a timely manner.

On Sept. 19, Ficker returned to the store and attempted to purchase more than $8,000 in electronics, but carried only $4,000. He left the money at the store and set out to get more money, but when he did not return, the manager placed the money in the store safe.

(Ficker was a Costco member in good standing since the late 1990s.)

Ficker finally returned to the store Sept. 23 and caused a minor scene. The on-duty manager did not know about his earlier visits, and Ficker had to be escorted from the store. He returned later in the afternoon to retrieve the cash he left behind during the Sept. 19 visit, and purchased and activated a cellphone at a kiosk in the warehouse.

Ficker identified himself to a phone kiosk employee as a commander in the Air Force space program and told him to “watch the news.”

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The same day, in the late morning or early afternoon, Ficker rented a silver Kia Forte sedan with California license plates at the Budget counter at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. (The car closely resembled Ficker’s silver Hyundai Accent.)

Unanswered questions

Ficker told the Budget employee he did not know he long he might need the vehicle, but told the employee he intended to see Mayan ruins in Central America. He also referred to himself as “commander of the Army” in chitchat with the Budget employee.

In the next 24 hours, Ficker put about 450 miles on the vehicle traveling to military surplus and camping supply stores in King and Pierce counties, and British Columbia.

Issaquah police encountered Ficker again at 9:39 a.m. Sept. 24, alongside the stalled Kia on Interstate 90 near the exit for downtown and the Issaquah Highlands. 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.

The car ran out of gas again just after 11 a.m. heading toward downtown on Front Street South just before Newport Way Southwest near the Julius Boehm Pool. Then, he abandoned the vehicle and set off to Clark Elementary, toting rifles and ammunition.

Ficker layered in a jacket, a long-sleeved thermal shirt, long underwear, a long-sleeved T-shirt, cargo pants and a belt even as the temperature notched into the 70s. The sales tag still dangled from the Old Navy jacket — $59.94.

Investigators later recovered 952 rounds of ammunition — mostly light and small ammunition for .22-caliber firearms — on Ficker’s body and stashed in the pockets of his cargo pants. Investigators also discovered $4,000 in cash on his body.

Ficker’s brother told police Ficker became depressed and withdrew from people in the months before the incident. Then, a week before the shootout, Ficker seemed confused. Ficker’s brother said he believed his brother committed suicide in the police shootout.

Police encountered Ficker on the Clark Elementary campus at 11:38 a.m., after a caller said he attempted to break into a driver’s education car. Then, after several minutes of shooting, the campus fell silent.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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