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Originally published May 30, 2012 at 9:40 PM | Page modified May 30, 2012 at 9:57 PM

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Help: We're losing it here

The gunfire in our city seemed so ubiquitous it felt more like it could strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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When there was an armed killer on the loose in West Seattle on Wednesday, and, it was believed, another one in the University District, a report came into our newsroom that The Bush School had gone into lockdown.

The private school is near Madison Park. Nowhere near the manhunts.

It turned out students at the school had seen a man with a gun. He was out jogging. Wearing a sidearm for protection.

"The person carrying a gun seen by our students is a neighbor of the school," the head of the school announced in an email to parents. "He was on a run dressed in a black running suit ... and was carrying a gun because of the number of shooting incidents that have taken place in the city in recent days."

Seattleites, we are losing it.

Last week people in one part of town, the Central Area, were thinking: "That could have been me."

But by Wednesday the gunfire in our city seemed so ubiquitous it felt more like it could strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.

This is what it has come to: Jogging with your gun. But can you blame him? When bystanders and other completely innocent people are being gunned down now on a regular basis?

The Wednesday killings of five people in two midmorning shootings, in two busy parts of the city, turned out to be perpetrated by the same man. This came as a perverse form of relief to the rattled city — that there was only one armed killer on the loose instead of two.

Since Madrona's Justin Ferrari was shot last Thursday — an eternity ago in the violence cycle we're in — a man was shot at the Northwest Folklife Festival and more than 60 bullets fired in four drive-by shootings in South Seattle.

Then came the Wednesday killings. Four were gunned down in a University District cafe. On First Hill, a mom of two was struck down completely out of the blue, just like Ferrari.

"Mayor, what is going on?" someone asked at the city's news conference.

Mike McGinn acknowledged it was a great question.

He had no answers.

I don't blame him: Whatever paradigm we were operating under last week — that gangs have gone out of control — was upended by the latest shootings, which were motivated not by gang turf wars, but apparently by mental illness.

"You can thank the Department of Justice for this!" a man on a bike yelled outside Cafe Racer, site of the mass killings. His point was that if the feds would stop scrutinizing police tactics, then the cops could go back to stemming violence like this.

That hardly follows. When someone with demons goes crazy, there's usually nothing the police could have done.

But the frustration is real. We are a city on edge. A city now in full-fledged crisis.

The mayor, the police and the feds need to quit bickering, sit down like adults — now — and hash out what, if anything, they can do. Because the people, at this point, are literally being caught in the crossfire.

At the least there needs to be far more urgency and more police presence in the neighborhoods, until what the mayor called this "wave of gun violence" is brought under control. Or, more likely, ebbs on its own.

On Wednesday, I talked to a mom of two toddlers who lives near the corner of East Cherry Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, site of the deadly shooting of Ferrari last week. She called me after I wrote that his death had made me wonder, for the first time, why I live where I live.

"We can't retreat," she said.

She meant to be hopeful, with tips about how neighbors can take back their blocks one by one. But she acknowledged her husband had raised the issue of buying a gun.

"We looked at each other and said: 'If we're even talking about buying a gun, maybe we need to move.' "

Mayor, police chief: This is the mood of the city. Joggers are packing heat. Moms of toddlers are contemplating arming up or heading out of town.

It's insane, yes. We are losing it. Can you blame us?

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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