SEATTLE — A lone gunman armed with a shotgun and knife opened fire Thursday in a building at a small Seattle university, fatally wounding one person before a student subdued him with pepper spray as he tried to reload, police said.
A student building monitor at Seattle Pacific University disarmed the gunman after he entered the foyer at Otto Miller Hall, and several other people jumped on top of him and pinned him down until police officers arrived, police said.
A 19-year-old man died at Harborview Medical Center. Three other people were also taken to the hospital. A critically injured 20-year-old woman was taken to surgery, hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said. A 24-year-old man and a 22-year-old man were in satisfactory condition. One of those two men was not shot, Gregg said.
None of the victims was immediately identified.
At a news conference Thursday night, Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonagh said the suspect in custody was a white male “approximately 26 years of age” who was not a student at the school. McDonagh said his name would not be released until he’s booked into jail for investigation of murder.
News partner KIRO identified the suspect as Aaron Ybarra, 26, of Mountlake Terrace.
The afternoon shooting came a week before the end of the school year, and the situation was particularly tense when police initially reported that they were searching for a second suspect.
“It appears the suspect acted alone,” McDonagh said. Initially, “there was a report of another person with a weapon, but (investigators) have not confirmed that.”
He said he did not know the gunman’s motive or intended target. Detectives are “working as quickly as we can to figure it out,” McDonagh said.
The university locked down its campus for several hours, and it alerted students and staff to stay inside. Some students were taking finals in the same building that the shooter entered.
“There are a number of heroes in this,” McDonagh said. “The people around him (the gunman) stepped up.”
Multiple shots were fired, and the gunman had additional rounds, McDonagh said.
“But for the great response by the people of Seattle Pacific, this incident might have been much more tragic,” he said.
Both the young man who died and the young woman suffered gunshot wounds to the body, Seattle Fire Assistant Chief Jay Hagen told the news conference. One of the less seriously injured men suffered “pellet-type wounds” to his neck and chest.
The fourth person taken to the hospital suffered minor injuries during the struggle with the suspect, police said.
On Thursday evening, people packed the First Free Methodist Church on campus for a service of prayers and song. So many people crowded into the building that dozens of people gathered on a lawn near the church and formed their own groups as the sun set.
“We’re a community that relies on Jesus Christ for strength, and we’ll need that at this point in time,” said Daniel Martin, president of Seattle Pacific University.
At the scene, a somber Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said: “Today should have been a day of celebration at the end of the school year here at Seattle Pacific University. Instead, it’s a day of tragedy and of loss. Once again, the epidemic of gun violence has come to Seattle, an epidemic of gun violence that has haunted this nation.”
He thanked first responders, students and staff.
“Friends, we have been here before: Cafe Racer, the shootings on Capitol Hill, the shootings at the Jewish Federation,” Murray said. “This is a tragic moment for Seattle, a tragic moment for America once again. Our prayers and our thoughts are with the families, and with the entire family of the Seattle Pacific University community.”
SPU President Daniel J. Martin said the emergency-response system in place when the shooting occurred has been in operation for several years.
“Certainly, I think that Virginia Tech heightened the awareness of all campuses to be prepared for an event like this to occur,” he said of the 2007 shooting in which a gunman killed 32 people before taking his own life.
SPU students inside and near Otto Miller Hall heard the first blasts shortly before 3:30 p.m.
Ronald E. Lopez was studying in a second-floor laboratory at the hall when he heard what he described as “a loud bang.”
“I prayed in my heart it wasn’t a gun shot, because I’ve been hearing all this talk about gun shootings and I’m tired of it,” Lopez said. “But it of course was a bullet.”
About two doors down from Otto Miller Hall’s entrance, Michaela Stewart was in a first-floor physics class with about 25 or so other students.
“It sounded like it was outside,” she said. “We heard a gunshot, but we were all really loud so we didn’t pay attention to it.”
After a few minutes, though, the classroom clock emitted a “loud, obnoxious beep” and flashed the word “lockdown” in red letters.
Her teacher locked the door, and they closed the blinds and turned off the lights. Her teacher told them to carry on, but they started hearing noises from the hall.
“We could hear screaming and moaning in the hallway right outside our door for quite a few minutes,” she said.
Some students began to pray. Stewart texted her family, telling them she was OK.
Stewart was unclear how much time passed, but said it seemed like about three minutes later when they were evacuated from the classroom.
“That’s when we saw blood on the carpet, and a guy in handcuffs, completely knocked out on the floor.”
The man was face down, she said, and appeared to be unconscious. He was wearing skater sneakers and jeans.
The students were taken, under police escort, to a bus stop across the parking lot, and then to another building.
Elsewhere across campus, students and faculty said they heard sirens and received a mass-emergency notice via text.
“Emergency! A campus lockdown has been initiated. This is not a drill,” the text said. Tom Lane, who works in the school of business, said he got an email and text notification of the lockdown at 3:28 p.m. — right around the time he heard emergency vehicles responding to the scene. At his office across the street and a couple buildings away, the three workers on his floor closed the blinds, locked the doors and gathered in the hallway.
SPU student Gloris Jones, 20, was walking from Otto Miller Hall with her mother, Mary Jones, who is visiting from Michigan.
Jones received a text message from a friend who said he had been shot. She sent back five or six messages to the SPU senior, but he didn’t reply.
“I don’t even know where he is,” Gloris Jones said as she hugged her mother. “And you want to make sure he’s OK.”
Kharis Lund, 19, a sophomore at SPU, said she was in her dorm room at Emerson Hall when she heard sirens.
“We thought that’s a lot of sirens, just for something in the neighborhood,” Lund said.
Next, she got a mass text from the school reporting the campus was on lockdown, it was not a drill and that a shooter was on campus.
Lund said she and several other people in the room locked the doors, closed the blinds and got on the floor.
“It was super-terrifying,” Lund said. “There were a lot of people crying and calling their parents.”
Lund, who is from Canada, said she couldn’t call her parents because of her limited cellphone plan, so she let them know she was unhurt in a Facebook message.
The group in the room remained cautious until they heard a media report that the shooter was apprehended.
Lund said her room is a short distance from Otto Miller Hall, and on the same street. But she did not see what happened, she said.
SPU student Jordan Heff was in class when he heard gunshots coming from a classroom next door.
“I was in physics and people heard a loud bang — we thought it was a science experiment. We heard crying and yelling outside our door. We walked out and there were blood stains all over the carpet.”
Max Osgood, a 19-year-old freshman from Anchorage, Alaska, said he and about 25 other students were in a physics class when they heard “something that sounded like a door slam or a desk fall over.”
“And then we heard a lot of screaming that someone had been shot,” Osgood said.
When a classmate poked his head out of the classroom’s door, Osgood said a voice from the hallway screamed, “Shut the door and lock it!”
For the next four to five minutes, Osgood and his classmates — with the doors locked and blinds pulled shut — listened to muffled screams and moans emanating from the hallway.
“We could hear people yelling about bleeding, stuff like that,” he said.
Finally, there was a bang from a back door-well. Some classmates screamed. A couple of armed Seattle cops burst through the door, leading the frightened class out of the building. Osgood and other students caught glimpses of the carnage as they went.
A bloodied girl was being loaded onto a stretcher. Carpeting was splattered in blood. And two police officers were holding down a man with black hair.
“He wasn’t moving at all,” Osgood said. “He was unconscious and in handcuffs, with a couple of cops kneeling on his back.”
The students were lead across the street and into another building, where they were kept in lockdown for at least 45 minutes, Osgood added.
“It’s pretty rattling,” Osgood said. “And then on top of that, all of this happened right outside of classroom. It was very scary. A lot of people were freaking out. It’s just really weird. You never think anything like this will happen to you — especially after the shooting that happened at UCSB a couple weeks ago. It’s just bizarre.”
As soon as he could, Osgood said he called his parents, his brother and his close friends in Alaska to let them know he was safe.
“I made sure I was the first to let them know what happened, so that they didn’t see it on Twitter or something.”
The Seattle Times, KIRO and The Associated Press contributed to this report.