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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - Page updated at 10:39 AM

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Information in this story, originally published March 27, 2006, was corrected March 29, 2006. Kyle Huff did not attend either the Art Institute of Seattle or North Seattle Community College. A previous version of this story reported otherwise.

"It's never been like him to snap," friend says

Seattle Times staff reporters

Though 6-foot-5 and pushing 280 pounds, Kyle Huff could seem almost invisible in a crowd.

The man responsible for Saturday's massacre at a Capitol Hill house party had a demeanor that belied his hulking stature: Friends from his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., described him as quiet, polite and nice.

"It's never been like him to snap," said a stunned Cody Hoon, 21, who said he considered Huff close enough to be his older brother. "I wouldn't believe it if I saw it."

Police in the small northwestern Montana artist community of Whitefish had a different view of him: a small-town rowdy once arrested for blasting a public-art project with a shotgun.

Huff, 28, armed himself with the same shotgun Saturday morning and returned to a party he'd left quietly minutes before. Police say Huff killed two young partygoers outside, forced his way into the home and fired dozens of rounds.

Three more died inside the home, a sixth died at a local hospital and two others were wounded, both seriously. Their conditions were upgraded this morning to satisfactory.

Huff fatally shot himself when a police officer confronted him outside the home.

Lt. Dave Leib of the Flathead County, Mont., Sheriff's Department said he informed Huff's mother, Mary Huff, of her son's death and the mass killings Sunday afternoon. It was the first she had heard of the events, Leib said.

He said she was devastated but "handled it as well as anyone I have ever seen handle that type of news."

Huff moved to Seattle about five years ago with his identical twin brother, Kane, and the two shared an apartment at the Town & Country Apartments in the 12300 block of Roosevelt Way Northeast, near Northgate.

Police arrived there Saturday night with a battering ram and a shield but didn't need them to enter the apartment where they questioned the suspected killer's twin brother, said Jim Pickett, assistant manager of the apartments.

Regina Gray, the manager of the apartments, said the twins were extremely close and did many things together, although they went their separate ways when it came to work and a few other activities. She described them as excellent tenants.

Both brothers were drummers, Pickett said.

"They were very respectful," he said. "They practiced their drums and did it at a decent hour." He described them as "big and beefy."

The suspected killer was "the more purposed, the more focused" of the brothers, Pickett said. "If he didn't like something he'd tell you."

He said the brothers had been working as pizza deliverymen.

John Edwards, the manager of a Pizza Hut not far from the Town & Country Apartments, confirmed Huff had worked there, but not for at least two months.

A couple of years ago, Huff worked part of one shift at a Domino's Pizza. Its owner, Art Mannikko, said Huff screeched away in his car in the middle of his first shift without explanation.

Both brothers attended Whitefish High School. Dustin Hoon, 29, Cody's older brother who is studying for a master's degree at the University of Montana in Missoula, said Sunday he remembered Kyle as a "deep thinker."

"My fondest memories of being with Kyle and his brother were our discussions" that ranged from politics to personal relationships, he said.

"Kyle had a quick wit, and oftentimes in conversation and debate between the three of us he would play the devil's advocate," Dustin Hoon said.

Another friend, Jason Forthofer, 28, of Missoula, said when they were younger the Huff boys eschewed sports — despite their intimidating size — to hang out with the "art and drama crowd."

"We played board games and we loved to go out in the wilderness and play in the woods and make forts," Dustin Hoon said. "Their parents lived in a nice home in the woods outside Whitefish and we would play on their property. We were really tight. Really close."

The friends drifted apart in recent years. Cody Hoon said he last saw Kyle in the fall when he came to Montana to visit his mother, and they went to a bar. "There wasn't anything that stood out" about his behavior, Cody Hoon recalled.

Others in Whitefish remember Kyle differently.

Souheir Rawlings, co-director of the Stumptown Art Studio in Whitefish, said Kyle was among a group of young troublemakers who sometimes roared through town in their pickups.

In November 2000, her studio was supporting a public-art project titled "Moose on the Loose," which involved placing sculptures and statues of moose throughout town. It was a fundraiser, and several pieces were made by local artists and worth thousands of dollars.

One night, when he was about 22, Kyle and a few others were apparently drinking and he took a shotgun and blasted a sculpture outside a bed and breakfast downtown, said Flathead County Sheriff Jim Dupont. Kyle Huff was booked into the jail in Kalispell on felony criminal-mischief charges, he said.

"There was a lot of concern in the town, what with someone firing a gun and destroying a public-art project," Rawlings said.

Huff pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a fine and wrote a letter of apology. If Huff had been convicted of a felony, he would have been banned by law from possessing a firearm.

According to Leib, the Flathead County sheriff's lieutenant, the brothers stayed in town after graduating from high school, grew their hair long and started wearing trench coats.

The Saturday shooting spree was Seattle's worst mass killing since the 1983 Wah Mee massacre that left 13 dead.

Witnesses told police that Huff had been invited to a party after a rave on Capitol Hill.

Lane Storli arrived at the party around 4 a.m. and left around 5:30. About 10 to 15 people were there when he arrived and there were kegs of beer and drugs, he said.

"They had this one chick DJing on the computer. People were just drinking and relaxing, not really doing anything. It was a very mellow, chill atmosphere."

Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said Saturday that alcohol and marijuana were in the house, but that police did not know what, if any, role they played in the shooting.

Storli said he left the party before the shooting began.

"I felt weird. I was getting bad vibes. It was just a weird party. I went back to my house and fell asleep."

Few of the partygoers knew the shooter, Kerlikowske said.

About 7 a.m., Huff left the after-party only to return about 10 minutes later armed with a pistol-grip shotgun, a handgun and bandoliers of ammunition, and allegedly began shooting. Police said the man walked through the home, firing at partygoers. Two people huddled in a bathtub in an upstairs bathroom behind two locked doors. Others jumped from windows and bolted from the doors.

As Huff walked out of the house, he was confronted by a Seattle police officer, who began to order him to drop his shotgun. Huff then shot himself, police said.

Family members have confirmed the identities of four of the dead: Jeremy Martin, 26; Christopher Williamson, 21; Jason Travers, 32; and Justin Schwartz, 22.

The King County Medical Examiner's Office disclosed Monday the names of the other two victims: Melissa Moore, 14, and Suzanne Thorne, 15.

Police spokesman Sean Whitcomb, during a news conference Sunday, said a search of Huff's black Dodge pickup taken from near the crime scene shortly after the shootings yielded an assault rifle, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a machete.

"With the amount of ammunition this individual had and the arsenal of weapons, to be very honest, we're quite fortunate so few people died," Whitcomb said.

"We are very, very fortunate we had an officer in the area that was able to get there quickly. We don't know how much worse it could have been."

Police are still looking into what the suspect may have meant when he wrote the word "now" on a sidewalk and steps near the Capitol Hill house shortly before the shootings. Whitcomb would not say whether police found a suicide note in Huff's pickup or whether police had determined a motive to the shooting.

"There is nothing we would like to do more than find out why this tragedy took place," he said. "Unfortunately, we may never know."

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or mcarter@seattletimes.com.

Staff reporters Sara Jean Green, Jim Brunner, Christine Clarridge, David Postman, Justin Mayo, Pam Sitt and Hal Bernton in Montana contributed to this report.

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