911 calls record panic, fear of Federal Way residents
The recordings of 911 calls made during the Federal Way shooting spree depict a chilling scene as neighbors report numerous gunshots.
Seattle Times staff reporter
One woman heard gunshots, then the sound of a body falling to the floor in the apartment next door.
Another woman, who had just pulled into the parking lot of her Federal Way apartment complex, saw a man shot as she got out of her car. Unable to reach her own apartment, she banged on a neighbor’s door, begging to be let in.
One man described “rapid fire” gunshots and said it sounded like “a gang war” had erupted outside, while another said he’d watched as two men were cut down by gunfire.
As the calls kept coming in, 911 dispatchers tried to calm the terrified residents, assuring them that police were on their way and telling them to stay inside and away from their windows.
Recordings of 911 calls placed by several residents of the Pinewood Village apartments on Sunday night provide a chilling play-by-play as officers rushed to the complex in the 33300 block of 17th Lane South in Federal Way, unsure of how many armed suspects they would encounter.
Police later determined that a lone gunman, Dennis Clark III, 27, first killed his 24-year-old girlfriend, Justine Baez, inside a third-floor apartment. Soon after, Clark — who was armed with a pistol-grip shotgun and a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun — went to the complex parking lot, where he shot Ceasar Valdovinos, 23, in the back as Valdovinos tried to run away. Clark also stood over a 47-year-old man, identified by police as Bradley Fischer, and fatally shot him.
Clark then used his shotgun to breach the door of a first-floor apartment, killing resident Roland Scobee, 62.
Clark exchanged gunfire with responding officers and ran from them but then collapsed in the parking lot near Valdovinos and Fischer. He was fatally shot when he ignored officers’ orders and reached for his handgun, according to police.
On Wednesday night, during an emotional community meeting for residents of the apartment complex, Federal Way police Cmdr. Kyle Sumpter praised the numerous people who called 911 to report gunfire.
“That right there takes courage,” he said. “It’s always a risk, isn’t it?”
The 911 recordings, along with the Computer Assisted Dispatch (CAD) report that documents the incoming calls and the police response — which included officers forcing their way into several apartments to check for additional victims — were released Wednesday afternoon by the Valley Communications Center in Kent in response to a public-disclosure request. The center dispatches officers in several South King County cities.
The CAD report also includes the heartbreaking detail of the moment Baez’s mother apparently learned of her daughter’s death, the day after the shootings. Shortly after 2 p.m. Monday, Baez’s mother came to the apartment complex because her daughter had failed to show up for a lunch date. The apartment manager called 911 and reported the mother was “crying hysterically” in her office.
Though Clark did not have a criminal history, police in Seattle and Federal Way had previously responded to verbal domestic disturbances involving Clark and two different women, according to Federal Way police.
On Wednesday, relatives of Baez, Clark’s slain girlfriend, recounted a disturbing incident involving Clark. On Aug. 20, 2011, Clark, Baez and Baez’s cousin Robert Hodges, 26, were out for a night in Pioneer Square. Clark, who was drunk and angry, became convinced Baez had been kidnapped by members of the Russian mafia, Hodges said. Unable to find Baez, Clark drew his gun and pointed it at strangers on the street, he said.
“I was trying to tell him to calm down, but he wandered off threatening the homeless and other people on the street,” said Hodges, who banged on the door of a homeless shelter and was let inside to call 911.
Clark had the gun underneath his shirt when officers arrived, according to Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel. Officers took Clark into custody for not having his concealed weapon permit with him. Police noted in a report that he was intoxicated.
However, Clark’s failure to have his valid permit while he possessed a firearm was an infraction not a misdemeanor offense, so police released him, said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.
Hodges’ father and Baez’s uncle, Joe Hodges, said Wednesday their family had thought Baez had broken up with Clark, though they kept living together as friends.
Baez, who worked as a shift manager for years at a Kent McDonald’s, recently told her family she planned to attend the University of Washington, said her uncle.
“She had told her mom, ‘I want to do better than this,’ and that she was moving on,” Hodges said.
According to the 911 recordings, Baez’s next-door neighbor was one of the first to call emergency dispatchers after the gunfire erupted. The woman, whose whispered voice is at times hard to hear, reported hearing gunshots in the unit next door, then heard someone run out and continue firing outside.
“I heard it so clearly. Somebody dropped. I heard somebody falling,” the woman said.
“Wait,” she whispered to a female dispatcher. Several gunshots can then be heard in the background being fired in rapid succession.
“What’s going on?” the dispatcher asked.
“They’re firing!” the woman replied, as additional shots are heard.
At one point, she tried calling her neighbor — presumably Baez — on a different phone line. “Oh my God, she’s dead,” the woman told the dispatcher.
Another woman called 911 and said she’d just gotten out of her car in the parking lot when she saw one man get shot and collapse to the ground.
“Oh, God,” she yelled as more gunshots were heard. Crying and obviously terrified, the woman can be heard saying, “Somebody let me in,” then, “close the door,” later telling the dispatcher she was inside a neighbor’s unit.
“One was running towards me and they shot him and he went down,” she said.
Another resident told a dispatcher, “There’s a dead man. I think there’s a dead man out there.” He was in the midst of answering the dispatcher’s questions when he reported, “More shots, more shots!”
“More shots now?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes, this is rapid fire. Somebody is firing off something big. That’s not a pistol. It’s like a whole gang war out there, it sounds like.”
Another male caller reported seeing two men get shot in the parking lot.
“So, are you sure two people have been shot?” a dispatcher asked. ”
“Yes, I seen ’em,” said the man, who described the shooter as African American, wearing “all black.”
“Is he still out there?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to go out there,” he replied just before the call was abruptly disconnected.
Sumpter, the Federal Way police commander, said Wednesday night that after killing Baez, Clark went downstairs to the parking lot, where he saw Valdovinos and Fischer “minding their own business.” Sumpter said police will never know what took place between the three men, but he surmised the deadly encounter prompted Clark to change his mind about possibly fleeing.
“Unfortunately, it cost those two heroes their lives,” Sumpter said.
At that point, he said, Clark went into what he called a “homicidal rampage.” Clark sought out Scobee, who had apparently called to a neighbor to call 911. Police said Clark used the shotgun to breach the door of Scobee’s apartment and kill him.
Another woman who called 911 said she was lying on the floor in her apartment, while other residents were hiding in a bathroom.
“It’s scary,” she said.
“I know it’s scary. I could hear the shots in the background. We just want to make sure you’re safe, OK?” a dispatcher replied. “We’ve got lots of officers in the area and we’ve got officers who can hear the shots, too, all right? ... Stay in your apartment and don’t open the door for anybody.”
Times reporter Alexa Vaughn contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org