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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

November 20, 2014 at 7:27 PM

Student describes how he stopped SPU gunman in newly released witness recordings

Jon Meis, the Seattle Pacific University building monitor who tackled the gunman, is escorted from Otto Miller Hall Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Jon Meis, the Seattle Pacific University building monitor who tackled the gunman, is escorted from Otto Miller Hall Thursday, June 5, 2014. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

He spoke in a clear, steady voice as he described to a detective the actions he took at Seattle Pacific University that day – actions that so many people have since praised as the work of a hero.

Just hours after a gunman opened fire at SPU’s Otto Miller Hall on June 5, killing one student and wounding two others, Jon Meis humbly recounted how he silently watched a young man standing, pointing a shotgun and demanding, “Nobody move.”

“I didn’t really know what to do,” Meis, then a 22-year-old senior, told a detective inside Harborview Medical Center as his words were tape-recorded as evidence.  “I was kind of standing there. I carry pepper spray in my backpack. So I took that out, kind of just stood there at the door. I didn’t want to aggravate him, make him do anything.”

But after the gunman fired a shot, then broke open his shotgun and fumbled to reload it, Meis, standing near a security desk where he worked part-time, saw an opportunity. And he didn’t hesitate.

“I took my pepper-spray gun, walked out there – walked, ran, um went out there – sprayed him in the face with it, kind of tackled and grappled with him,” Meis told the detective. “I got his shotgun away from him.”

For the first time in his own words, the student hailed for stopping suspected school-shooter Aaron Ybarra, has publicly told the story about the actions he took that Thursday afternoon inside Otto Miller Hall – albeit indirectly.

Meis’ nearly 15-minute interview with Seattle Homicide Det. Russ Weklych, taped about five hours after the shooting, is among 33 recordings of witness statements that Seattle Police released publicly on Thursday.  With names and other identifying information redacted, the witness recordings were disclosed after The Seattle Times and other media submitted requests for police records under Washington’s Public Records Act.

In chilling detail, the witnesses – including students, professors, security officers and others – recounted to police what they did and saw after Ybarra allegedly rushed onto campus with a shotgun, then used it to fatally shoot student Paul Lee, 19, and wound students Thomas Fowler, 24, and Sarah Williams, 19.

Ybarra, 26, is now facing a trial on a first-degree murder charge and two counts of attempted murder. He has pleaded not guilty.

Aside from Meis, the recordings reveal that several others took heroic action that day. Two campus security officers dispatched to the shooting scene recounted how they performed CPR on Lee on a sidewalk near the hall’s entrance, even getting him to breathe again, before treating the two wounded students inside the building.

And at Meis’ direction, another SPU student grabbed a knife nearby the gunman, ensuring that the suspect couldn’t get to it, while Meis subdued him. The student also later helped Meis hold Ybarra down until police arrived.

Yet no one took a greater personal risk to stop the gunman that day than Meis, a private and deeply religious man, now 23, who has repeatedly declined media requests for interviews since the shooting. His recorded witness statement provides a glimpse into his understated demeanor, even in the horrific aftermath of the events that unfolded that day.

As Meis matter-of-factly gave his statement hours after the shooting, even the detective who interviewed him marveled at Meis’ actions.

With ATF agents and another detective looking on at Harborview, Meis described to Det. Weklych how he had headphones on and was sitting at the security desk watching a video, shortly after his work-shift as a building monitor had started that afternoon. Meis said he didn’t really notice the man walk in, only taking attention after he heard someone say, “Nobody move.”

That’s when Meis took the pepper-spray he carried with him out of his backpack. He then stood by, waiting silently out-of-the-line of the gunman’s vision. Before Meis rushed in to spray and tackle Ybarra, he told the detective, “I was panicking.”

“And you sprayed him full in the face or all over the body or do you recall?” Weklych asked him.

“Face,” said Meis.

“Face. And you took the shotgun from him?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“What did you do then?” the detective asked.

“So then I took (the shotgun) — I don’t really know why,” Meis said. “I didn’t think what to do.  I just wanted to get it away from him. So I took it, put it back in the security room where I work. And then came back out.  He was on the ground, or kind of crouched over at least. So I just kind of got back on top of him, held him down.”

“I don’t want you to minimize what you did here. Because you did a fantastic job.” Weklych said. “I mean, did you have to fight with the guy, did you wrestle with him?”

“He didn’t really resist,” Meis said. “It may have been the pepper spray. He really didn’t seem like he was struggling. He seemed kind of defeated.”

After Meis directed the other student to take away a knife lying on the floor nearby, and the two students sat on top of the gunman, Meis told detectives Ybarra said only one thing:

“While I was sitting on him, he told me, `You shouldn’t have taken the knife away, I was going to slit my throat.’”

To that, Meis said he responded: “That wouldn’t help anything now.”

 Related: Listen to the interview with SPD

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Aaron Ybarra, Jon Meis, Seattle Police

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