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Nation & World

Police initially thought hero was a gunman in Seattle campus shooting

SEATTLE — In the confusion of the deadly June 5 shooting at Seattle Pacific University, police initially thought the student who disarmed the shooter might be a second gunman.

Based on camera observations at the campus security office, two descriptions of potential shooters were broadcast, according to newly disclosed Seattle police reports released under public records law.

Aaron Rey Ybarra, 27, was immediately identified as the suspect in the killing of 19-year-old student Paul Lee and the wounding of two others, the records show.

He was quickly taken into custody by police.

But for a moment, acclaimed hero Jon Meis, the building monitor who pepper-sprayed Ybarra, took away his shotgun and with another person held him down in a campus building, was mistakenly described as a possible second gunman, wearing specific clothing and armed with a pistol.

The pistol turned out to be a pistol-shaped pepper-spray device, which one officer, in his report, called “the source of confusion regarding a second possible shooter.”

“I thought he was the possible second suspect,” a sergeant wrote in his report. “I did a quick pat on him.”

The sergeant then saw several students who told him “the person I had just patted was the person who pepper sprayed the suspect now handcuffed on the floor and had removed the shotgun from the suspect’s grasp.”

The correct information was soon relayed to dispatch, although there was a slight delay as an officer had a radio problem inside the building that required another to step outside, according to the records.

Meis was “shaking and clearly upset,” wrote a third officer, who also experienced a radio problem before eventually relaying information on Meis’ role and that the “true suspect” was in custody.

The snapshots are contained in some 150 pages of police reports that paint a picture of officers racing from all over the city to a bloody and chaotic scene, where they thought there might be a second shooter based on initial radio calls and had to pat down other students before determining they weren’t involved in the attack.

Ybarra, a Mountlake Terrace resident who was not a student at the school, has pleaded not guilty to one count of premeditated first-degree murder, three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault.

Ybarra’s attorney has signaled that she might pursue an insanity defense on the basis of mental instability.

One police report states that Ybarra, while in custody, told an officer he wanted to die and said he acted on a compulsion.

“He indicated he had psychosis and had not been taking his medications for some time,” the officer wrote. “He said he was not sure if he had been dreaming this incident or if it had been real.”

At police headquarters, Ybarra thanked officers for being nice to him, according to the report.

Instances of Ybarra’s instability are documented in court files, psychological reports and police reports dating to at least 2010.

One witness told police Ybarra walked up to him, pointed a shotgun at his chest and said he had just shot someone outside. The witness said Ybarra warned him not to disrespect him, showed no remorse, then shot and wounded someone else.

The witness, fearing he would be killed, said he ran from the building without looking back.

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