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Frightening scene at Seattle Pacific University as shooting claims at least 1 life

Police inside Seattle Pacific's Otto Miller Hall after they had taken a suspect into custody. Jillian Smith, a sophomore from West Seattle, took the photo. (Click to enlarge.) Credit: Jillian Smith

Updated at 9:21 a.m.

A shooter walked into a building at Seattle Pacific University on Thursday afternoon and opened fire with a shotgun, taking the life of one male student and sending three others to the hospital. 

A woman, 19, sustained critical wounds and was taken into surgery at Harborview Medical Center on Thursday night. She remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition on Friday morning. Two other victims, both men, were hospitalized with less serious injuries. Police said that it appeared the shooting was the work of a lone gunman. The suspect, Aaron R. Ybarra, 26, of Mountlake Terrace, was booked into King County Jail for investigation of murder. As far as police know, he was not a student at the university. He had additional rounds of ammunition with him and was also carrying a knife, said Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonagh.

The shootings took place in Otto Miller Hall, which houses the divisions of computer science, engineering, math and physics. SPU is a Christian university and says it has about 4,000 undergraduates and graduates at its campus in north Queen Anne.

The gunman fired multiple rounds, but police could not verify how many. When the man paused to reload his shotgun, a student security monitor, now widely identified as Jon Meis, 22, pepper-sprayed him and stopped him from firing again, said West Precinct Capt. and incident commander Chris Fowler at a press conference Thursday evening. Other students then helped Meis subdue the shooter.

"Regular citizens stepped up and tried to do the right thing and in this case I believe they prevented a more horrible tragedy than it was today," McDonagh said.

Fowler said the first call about the incident was received at 3:23 p.m. and officers were on the scene by 3:27 p.m. They entered the hall shortly afterward.


The scene at West Nickerson Street and Third Avenue West following Thursday's shooting. Photo: Bill Lucia 

The student who died was in his 20s, according to the Seattle Police Department. He suffered a gunshot wound to his upper body, according to Seattle Fire Department Assistant Chief Jay Hagen. The student, Hagen said, received CPR at the scene and on his way to the hospital, but was pronounced dead at Harborview Medical Center.

The young woman who underwent surgery Thursday night also received an upper body gunshot wound, Hagen said. According to Harborview Medical Center, she was in intensive care on Friday morning. 

Another male victim, 24, suffered pellet-type wounds to his neck and chest area and remained in the hospital in satisfactory condition on Friday morning. A third man in his 20s suffered minor abdominal wounds while struggling with the suspect. He was released from the hospital by Friday morning. Hagen did not specify what had caused the abdominal wounds. 

The Seattle Fire Department received a call about the shooting at 3:25 p.m. Firefighters and medics arrived on the scene at 3:30 p.m. and began tending to a patient one minute later. Hagen said they were on the road in five minutes, and arrived at Harborview Medical Center with that patient 10 minutes later.

"I think a lot went right today," Hagen said. "We've been practicing this type of thing for a long time, because unfortunately it seems like these events are becoming more common.


The shooting took place at Otto Miller Hall, which is located on Third Avenue West near West Nickerson Street.

Police confirmed that three of the four young people were injured in a sitting area inside the hall.

Fighting back tears as he addressed reporters, Daniel J. Martin, president of the university, said it was his understanding that the student security monitor had acted "without regard for [his] own safety on behalf of others."

Meis, the young man who stopped the shooter, is a senior in SPU's engineering department. He is currently an electrical load analysis intern at Boeing in Renton, and has held the security monitor job since January 2012, according to his LinkedIn profile.  

Chris Howard, a junior in mechanical engineering, said he saw a student security monitor holding down the suspect. Howard had been working on a design project in a machine shop in Otto Miller Hall when a friend rushed in, closed the door behind him and asked if the other doors were locked. The friend, possibly grazed by a bullet, had marks on his neck and was bleeding. Howard said his friend "mentioned something about a gun." It is unclear if his friend was the same man who suffered the pellet wounds described by police.

Howard took a first aid kit from the wall and helped cover the wounds with gauze before leaving the machine shop to find someone with more first aid training.

When he exited the workshop, Howard saw another friend, a male student, kneeling over a young woman. Howard did not know the young woman but assumed she was also a student. She was lying on the ground, her chest red with blood and a tourniquet around her arm. Howard sat on the floor and held the young woman's head in his lap. Her cell phone was on the ground at her side, he said.

“I’m pretty sure she was shot in the chest," said Howard. "She was trying to have us call her mother, aunt, her best friend." He said, “She was frantic. We were trying to reassure her that she was going to be OK. She was going to live.”

When the police arrived, Howard said he left the girl in their care. As he left the hallway and entered a lobby area he saw the student security monitor holding down the suspect. He also noticed a sheathed knife on the floor and what he believed were multiple red shotgun shells. Howard did not recognize the suspect as a student and said he did not look like one. He described the suspect as relatively thin.

While in the lobby, Howard heard the police talking to the suspect. Howard said the only thing that he heard clearly was the police asking, "Where's your buddy?" And the suspect replying, "What buddy?"

Jillian Smith, a sophomore from West Seattle, had been taking a math test when the shooting began. She didn't hear gunshots, but soon learned that the whole campus was in lockdown. "We didn't know if it was a drill or a real lockdown," said Smith. "I was really scared." After police came into her locked-down classroom, students were allowed to leave.


The scene inside Otto Miller Hall shortly after the shooting was captured in this cell phone photo, which sophomore Jillian Smith took as she left the building. Shotgun shells can be seen on the floor behind the officer's feet. The object on the floor in the foreground appears to be the sheathed knife described by witnesses. Photo: Jillian Smith 

"Being in the classroom, that was scary," said Smith. "Coming down the stairs just made it so real." Smith said there were about 20 shells scattered on the ground and blood on the carpet and the wall. The math class was her last of the year.

"I don't think it's hit me yet," Smith said.

Yarro Lanphear Ramirez, a freshman from Port Townsend, was one of about 20 students in a class in Otto Miller Hall. "We all curled up in a corner," she said. "We were calling our families and texting and praying." She texted her mother and her younger brother, telling her brother that if anything happened to her, he would be the oldest and would need to be brave.


Students file into the Demaray Chapel at First Free Methodist Church following Thursday's shooting. Photo: Bill Lucia

Lanphear Ramirez said she received a text at 3:29 p.m. saying that a campus lockdown had been initiated and that it was not a drill. The message also said to leave campus if you were locked out of a building. All the people she knows are safe. But, said Lanphear Ramirez, "I'm really worried for the people that were injured."

Around 7 p.m. students gathered for a prayer service at the Demaray Chapel at First Free Methodist Church, which is located on the campus. They filled the chapel and overflowed into the foyer, while more students watched a streaming video feed of the service in the nearby Fine Center. Close to 100 other students sat in groups on a lawn in an area known as the Tiffany Loop. The setting sun cast long building and tree shadows across the loop's brick walkway and the lawn. A light breeze blew.


Students gathered at the Tiffany Loop on SPU's campus after the shooting. Photo: Bill Lucia

Martin, the university president, spoke to the crowd assembled inside the chapel. "If there was a time we need to express the love and grace and peace of Christ to those around us," he said, "it's now."

Crosscut editorial intern Jessica Buxbaum contributed to this story.

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