SPU shooting suspect Aaron Rey Ybarra is led into court Friday afternoon in a jail garment issued to those on suicide watch. (photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)
Aaron Rey Ybarra, the Mountlake Terrace man accused of killing one student and wounding two others at Seattle Pacific University last week, was “inspired’ by the mass shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, King County prosecutors allege in charging documents filed today.
Ybarra even documented his thoughts and feelings in a handwritten journal he kept in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s shootings, Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said this morning.
“His final journal entry was on the morning of the shooting, where he wrote about his excitement that he could finally carry out his plan,” Satterberg said during a news conference. “He wrote, ‘I just want people to die, and I’m going to die with them!’ ”
Satterberg announced that Ybarra, 26, has been charged with one count of premeditated first-degree murder, two counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault. All of the charges carry firearms allegations that could increase the sentences.
If convicted as charged, Ybarra could face a sentence of 69 to 86 years, Satterberg said. However, prosecutors plan to seek an exceptional sentence that could result in a term of life in prison.
Under a “rarely used” provision of state sentencing law, prosecutors can seek an exceptional sentence “designed for this type of outrageous act of public violence,” Satterberg said. The law allows for a life sentence if the “offense involved a destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim.”
Satterberg, in a prepared statement, said the shootings reverberated far beyond the SPU community.
“The truth is that crime of random and senseless violence took a toll well beyond the student who was killed, those who were injured, and their immediate families,” he said. “Though it is impossible to measure, I believe that our entire community suffers a profound loss each time there is an incident of mass violence.”
Ybarra is being held without bail in the King County Jail, where he is on suicide watch.
Ybarra is accused of walking into Otto Miller Hall on the SPU campus about 3:30 p.m. Thursday and shooting three students with a shotgun before he was tackled by a fourth student while he paused to reload. In addition to the shotgun, police say, he was armed with a hunting knife and carried more than 50 rounds of ammunition.
Satterberg said Ybarra kept the journal during the two weeks before the shootings. In it, he “expresses admiration for perpetrators of mass violence at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech,” he said. Police found the journal in a pickup he parked near Otto Miller Hall.
Satterberg said the writings in Ybarra’s journal suggest he considered targeting other universities, including Washington State University, Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University, before picking SPU for his attack. The reasons are still unclear, he said.
Satterberg said Ybarra had visited the SPU campus and was even shown around by “a helpful academic counselor and friendly students” before the shootings.
Satterberg said Ybarra had stopped taking his mental-health medications because he “wanted to feel the hate.”
Defense attorney Ramona Brandes said she doesn’t understand the need to push for an exceptional sentence because her belief is Ybarra faces between 79 and 99 years in prison. She also said that she has never heard of the exceptional-sentence statute Satterberg cited being used.
Brandes said it has not been decided whether Ybarra will be seeking a mental-illness defense.
“We have to look at his symptoms he manifested in the past, his treatment and his jail records to determine whether his mental illness arises to the level of a defense. These are choices he’s going to be involved in,” she said. ““He wasn’t on his meds and he committed an action that is incomprehensible. Had he been on his meds, would this have happened? We’ll continue asking that for all time.”
Brandes said last week that Ybarra was unaware of what he was doing until he “heard a girl screaming.”
“Mr. Ybarra has long-standing mental-health issues that were in play,” Brandes said. “He is feeling very remorseful about the pain he has caused these families and these victims. He offers them his apologies.”
“He understands that he will likely spend life in prison,” said Brandes.
The campus shooting claimed the life of student Paul Lee, 19, of Portland, who died at Harborview Medical Center.
A 19-year-old woman, Sarah Williams, of Phoenix, is in satisfactory condition at Harborview.
Thomas Fowler Jr., 24, of Seattle, also was shot but was released from the hospital Friday.
A fourth man, Jon Meis, was treated and released on Thursday.
Meis, a student and building monitor, is credited with stopping Ybarra. Police said he pepper-sprayed the shooter when the man had stopped to reload his shotgun. Meis then put him in a chokehold and took him to the ground, according to police and a friend who spoke with Meis after the shooting. Other students and faculty members rushed to hold the shooter down until police arrived.
In his first public statement since Thursday’s shootings, Meis on Monday credited “God’s grace” for his actions in subduing the gunman.
Satterberg called him a “reluctant and humble” hero. He also characterized him as a “role model.”
“He recognized the danger, he saw a moment where the shooter was reloading, and quickly moved in with pepper spray,” Satterberg said.