A more than 20-hour standoff with a man who allegedly shot a Hoquiam police officer ended early Thursday morning with a raging fire and the man shot dead by police after he exited the home with his weapon.
Officers on scene reported seeing the man, with whom they had not communicated for several hours, descending the home’s staircase around 6:15 a.m. holding a handgun, Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy Steve Shumate said Thursday. Shortly after, the home was reported to be on fire.
Just after 6:30 a.m., the man exited the home armed with the gun. When he didn’t comply with a number of commands, Shumate said, officers shot the man. He was declared dead on the scene. No aid was called. It was unclear if the suspect returned fire or if he was only brandishing the weapon.
The home quickly became engulfed in flames as Aberdeen and Hoquiam firefighters arrived and tried to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to nearby homes.
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Shumate said officers had been using distraction devices, including flash-bang grenades, during the standoff, but were unsure if they were related to the fire. Onlookers early Thursday morning said they could feel heat from the blaze two blocks away at the edge of the barricade. Flames were leaping about 20 feet above the roof line of the home. Firefighters quickly got the fire under control.
He said officers had been communicating over a loudspeaker with the man until about 1:30 a.m. when the suspect covered the windows with mattresses and they were not able to communicate further.
Shumate said Thursday afternoon they still didn’t know for certain who the man was. The person they believed he was only had a warrant for fraud.
“We’re not sure what other factors led this individual to do what he did,” Shumate said.
Other than the Hoquiam officer who was shot during an initial altercation with the man, no other officers were injured, he said. Since Wednesday, Shumate estimated there were hundreds of officers involved at one time or another.
Early in the standoff, residents in a one-block radius were evacuated, but the evacuation was widened considerably after gunfire was exchanged.
It could be some time before they’re allowed to return home, Shumate said Thursday.
The incident began Wednesday, when two Hoquiam officers served warrants on a man and a woman at the home, located in the 2800 block of Aberdeen Avenue in Hoquiam. The woman was arrested. The man gave a false identity and was not.
At 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, four Hoquiam officers returned to arrest the man after the learned his real identity. According to Shumate, there was an altercation and the man pulled a gun and fired, hitting one officer. The police withdrew from the home while returning fire.
The injured officer, Sgt. Jeff Salstrom, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was treated at Grays Harbor Community Hospital in Aberdeen and released, Shumate said.
Hoquiam and Aberdeen police, as well as members of the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department, arrived on the scene and closed off a two-block perimeter around the house. A crisis negotiator was sent in to talk to the man and the Aberdeen SWAT team was brought in. By 2 p.m., members of the State Patrol SWAT and Bomb Squad teams were on scene as well. Robots from the bomb squad were used to look inside the home.
Crowds gathered at the barricade while a command center was set up on the west side of the barricade, at the corner of 29th Street and Aberdeen Avenue. Neighbors gathered on the east side of the barricade as officers and troopers with rifles set up behind wood piles, cars and fences.
Police had been talking to the man until about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, when he fired several shots at a Washington State Patrol SWAT vehicle, according to Shumate. Earlier in the day, the man also opened fire on a robot deployed into the home by the State Patrol, Shumate said.
Tear gas was deployed into the home throughout the evening, as SWAT teams from around Grays Harbor and the Washington State Patrol positioned themselves. The State Patrol SWAT team had taken the lead as of 10 p.m. Wednesday, Shumate added. State Patrol SWAT was relieved Thursday morning by Thurston County SWAT.