Family members recall Michael Anthony Rude as caring, protective and hardworking.
“He liked to help,” said his stepfather, Sergio Sulin, 40, of Spanaway. “He wanted to dedicate his life to help others.”
But suicidal? Rude’s parents say absolutely not. They say they believe law enforcement officers used that term to build a case in support of Washington State Patrol Trooper John Pierce, who shot Rude three times alongside Interstate 5 near Lacey on July 8.
Rude, 22, was pronounced dead minutes later.
Earlier that morning, Rude had called 911, and threatened to attack any officer who attempted to pull him over, investigators say.
His parents say they don’t know what happened, but it wasn’t normal behavior for their son.
“This is not him. This is not Michael Anthony,” his mother Selestina Eneliko, 47.
“This just came out of nowhere,” Sulin said. “I don’t know what happened.”
In their first media interview since their son’s death, the couple said they were shocked and upset that Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim declined to seek criminal charges against Pierce, who has been with the State Patrol for 18 years. He returned to full duty on Sept. 11, even though the State Patrol is now reviewing the incident internally.
Rude, 22, attended Highline High School and completed the GED program at the Curlew Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in northeastern Washington.
He missed a lot of high school because his 10-year-old sister, who is disabled, was hospitalized and he wanted to stay with her.
“He’s never been in trouble,” Eneliko said. “Nothing.”
Rude’s parents have a folder with dozens of certificates that he received after helping with wildfires, floods and special training through the Washington National Guard, which he joined in 2015. He wanted to become a physical therapist to help disabled kids, his parents said.
“He was aiming big in life,” Eneliko said.
Rude was the middle child, who joked he was mom’s favorite. It was kind of true, Eneliko says, smiling.
“I call him the love of my life,” she said. “... Everybody has a lot to say about him. But me, as a mother, as parents, he was the greatest kid.”
Rude never went by his given name Michael. He usually went by his middle name, Anthony, but family and friends usually called him “Ant” or “Ny” for the last syllable of his name.
In 2015, Rude applied to become a state-certified home care aide so that he could help take care of his sister.
Rude enjoyed spending time with his family, recalled Li’a Mefi, his uncle and godfather. He’d often come home from work, pour a big bowl of cereal and watch TV with his little sister. One of his favorite hobbies was playing video games.
Rude had a large extended family, and always looked forward to get-togethers and holiday meals.
“He loved everybody being together and seeing family,” Mefi said.
Earlier this year, Rude began working as a sorter for the U.S. Postal Service from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Tukwila in addition to helping his sister during the daytime and going to drill on the weekends, his mom said.
“Basically this boy was working every day,” Eneliko said. “Basically he was working 24 (hours a day). That’s the kind of person he was.”
She said her son called her at about 6 a.m. the day of the shooting. He had called his girlfriend, too. They were worried about him.
“The tone in his voice was like, ‘I can’t breathe,’” Eneliko said. “I never hear my son’s voice like that.”
She said he asked her to tell him that she loved him. She told him to come home, and she’d hug him and say it then.
After talking to his mom and stepfather, Rude called Mefi. He said he loved him and thanked him for being a dad to him.
“We talked and I knew from the get-go, he wasn’t the Ny that I always talked to,” Mefi said. “I kind of felt something was wrong.”
After driving erratically on I-5 into Thurston County and telling dispatchers he had a knife and was a danger to those around him, Rude was pulled over near Carpenter Road in Lacey. He came at troopers, holding the 10-inch knife. Shots were fired 11.99 seconds after he exited his car, according to investigators.
Rude’s parents say they want justice, and are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
All of the troopers who responded to the scene had Tasers, but none of them used them, they said. One of the troopers had a less-lethal shotgun with beanbags.
“I’m just really frustrated and really upset,” Eneliko said. “… There’s a lot more they could have done. A lot more.”
Sulin believes his son called 911 for help. He said he thinks something was playing tricks on his son’s mind.
Law enforcement officers “need to be trained more” to handle those types of these situations, Sulin said.
Mefi said he thinks troopers could have stayed in their vehicles and talked to Rude over a speaker, or used a less-lethal option.
“He wasn’t holding anybody hostage; he wasn’t threatening anybody,” Mefi said. “He basically needed somebody to talk to. … I didn’t think they needed to shoot to kill.”