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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 - Page updated at 07:48 AM


Alcohol fueled sculpture shooting, Huff said

Seattle Times staff reporter

WHITEFISH, Mont. — More than a year after he emptied a shotgun and pistol into a life-sized moose sculpture, Kyle Huff scrawled out an apology to the artist.

"I really don't know what to say to you, or how exactly to apologize," Huff wrote to John Rawlings in the fall of 2001. "But I want you to know that this act was not a personal attack, and that it was not intended to bring you or your family any sort of stress. I did what I did mostly because of the influence of alcohol. I know that this is not a very good excuse."

Rawlings said he never knew whether Huff's apology was sincere, and he quickly put aside the letter.

But in recent days, Rawlings has been disturbed by the possibility that the moose attack was an early signal of trouble in the young man, who early Saturday used those same weapons — a 12-gauge Winchester Defender shotgun and a .40-caliber Ruger semi-automatic handgun — to kill six people at a Seattle house party.

He then used the shotgun to take his own life.

"It was not just a random act of violence," Rawlings said of the attack on the moose. "There was something quite wanton about it."

But some from the town where Huff grew up say it's foolish to read too much into the late-night escapade of a then-22-year-old.

"It was just a kid screwing around," said Dan Ciaramitaro, 29, a close friend of Huff's from high school.

As Seattle police continue to seek a motive for the deadly Capitol Hill attack, those who knew Huff, 28, and his identical twin brother, Kane, are casting back into their memories to see whether there was any indication of that level of violence in Huff's past. The only hint appears to be the moose incident.

After the attack on the moose, Huff was initially charged with a felony. The charge reflected the extent of the sculpture damage, which appeared to be well above the $1,000 threshold of property damage required for a felony. Under Montana state law, anyone convicted of a felony runs the risk of losing his or her right to own firearms for three years.

Rawlings, the artist, told police it took 70 hours of labor to repair the moose. He valued his labor at $25 an hour, so the damage initially was estimated at more than $1,700 plus materials.

Montana weapons incident

When he was about 22, Kyle Huff used a 12-gauge Winchester pump shotgun with a pistol-grip and a .40-caliber semiautomatic Ruger handgun to shoot a sculpture of a moose in Whitefish, Mont. The weapons were confiscated by police when Huff was arrested in July 2000 on charges of criminal mischief. But the weapons were later returned to Huff through his attorney.

Seattle police said Monday the same weapons were used by Huff in Saturday's killing spree on Capitol Hill. This is the original report from the Whitefish Police Department on the July 2000 shooting incident.

Read the report. (PDF)

Huff's apology letter

But in a September 2000 letter to the board of the Moose on the Loose public arts project — in which 15 moose sculptures by different area artists were set up around town and later auctioned — Rawlings charged for only 26 hours of his labor. This put the total bill, including expenses, at $761.35.

Rawlings' billing statement then was submitted to the courts. And, based on this lower damage estimate, the charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor.

"It seemed entirely appropriate at the time — because the damage was under $1,000," said Dan Guzynski, a deputy Flathead County attorney who helped prosecute the case.

Huff eventually was sentenced to six months probation and ordered to pay restitution of $761.35 plus a $180 fine.

He was also ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and write the letter of apology.

By January 2002, Huff had completed at least 22 hours of community service, and the case was closed, according to court records. By then, Huff had carried out the terms of his sentence better than many people convicted of misdemeanors, according to Guzynski.

Guzynski said that, at the time of the moose incident, Huff had no prior criminal record, and he doesn't second-guess the handling of the case. Even if Huff had been convicted of a felony, he still would have regained the right to bear firearms by 2005.

"This was inexplicable. How could you predict that someone would ever do anything like this?"

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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