The man who shot another man and then killed himself in downtown Olympia on Tuesday is being remembered as an easygoing and quiet military veteran by those who knew him.
They also say he carried a gun and wasn’t hesitant to let people know he was armed.
“He was one of our success stories,” Patrick Seifert, founder of Twenty22Many, a local veterans suicide prevention group, said of Jon Harding, 31. “He will be missed, I'm telling you. He was awesome, and he was a huge part of our mission of helping veterans.”
Police say the shooting Tuesday night outside Burial Grounds coffee shop on Fifth Avenue Southeast appears to have been random.
According to witnesses, several people were arguing on the sidewalk when the disagreement turned physical. Police say a man who intervened was confronted by the shooter, who fired “several times” before turning the gun on himself.
He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the Thurston County Coroner’s Office, which had not released the man’s name as of Thursday because officials hadn’t yet located his next of kin. However, friends identified the man as Harding.
The other man involved was treated and released for gunshot wounds that were not life-threatening, according to police.
Olympia police Lt. Sam Costello said police are still collecting evidence on the shooting and trying to determine a motive. Costello said the shooter was not known to local police prior to the shooting.
“There’s definitely a lot of questions about what happened,” said Ali Dabirnia, who was around the corner at the time and heard shouting, followed by gunshots and screaming.
Dabirnia said he knew Harding from Burial Grounds, where they were both regulars. Dabirnia said he had heard Harding talk about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but for Harding to start shooting on the street is hard for Dabirnia to comprehend.
“There is no way he was fully conscious when he was doing this,” Dabirnia said.
Two bullets went through the windows of Burial Grounds, which was open at the time, said owner Mara Curry, who arrived shortly afterward.
Curry said she too was surprised to learn Harding was involved.
“I never got any weird vibes from him,” she said. “He was an easygoing guy who was always willing to talk about what he was passionate about, which was mental health for veterans and bettering resources for the street community.”
Patrick Seifert and his wife, Katharine Seifert, met Harding about a year and a half ago through Twenty22Many. They described him as funny and quiet, not angry or unreasonable. Harding had recently moved into an apartment downtown and was an active volunteer at the group’s downtown outreach center, they said.
However, Katharine Seifert said Harding often carried a gun and was not afraid to let people know he had it. If he heard something was going on, she said, he would go check it out.
“Jon was not a quack veteran, he wasn't losing his mind. He was a vigilante and he took it upon himself to keep the city safe,” she said.
Curry said since she opened Burial Grounds eight years ago, she had seen the crowds downtown grow and tensions rise, particularly at night. The coffee shop is open late and people often come to hang around or to use the restroom.
"It's getting to the point that it’s kind of scary," she said. "There's so many people out and there's nowhere for them to go. This is a nightly occurrence."