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Capitol Hill killer's rampage planned, report says
Seattle Times staff reporters
Kyle Huff's shooting rampage that claimed the lives of six young people at a Capitol Hill house party in March was not a sudden eruption of rage but a deliberate, methodical act that ended — likely, as planned — in his suicide, according to a report released Monday.
It appeared to be fueled by Huff's frustration, depression and isolation during his aimless years in Seattle, and eventually turned into a deadly obsession with the rave culture, the report said.
"The shooting was not random. Even though the particular victims wounded or killed were targets of opportunity, the gunman apparently stalked the rave community for his attack," said the report prepared by four crime experts and subject of a community meeting Monday night at Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill.
The 31-page report, commissioned by Seattle police, was based on law-enforcement case files and interviews with police, survivors of the shootings as well as Huff's friends and Montana family. It also analyzes a suicide note, which police say is authentic, in which Huff attacks ravers as "hippies" whose behavior was "too disturbing to ignore."
Capitol Hill tragedy
Criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University in Boston, chairman of the panel that compiled the report, presented the findings during the community meeting that drew about 75 people, including several relatives of the victims.
The report offers the most complete account yet of Huff's troubled move from Whitefish, Mont., to Seattle, which ended March 25 at the early morning after-rave party, where he killed his victims with a shotgun and Ruger handgun before shooting himself. Killed in the shooting rampage were Jason Travers, 32; Jeremy Martin, 26; Justin Schwartz, 22; Christopher Williamson, 21; Suzanne Thorne, 15; and Melissa Moore, 14. Two others were wounded.
During his time in Seattle, Huff, 28, was often unemployed, and spent his days searching the Web and listening to heavy-metal music and his nights wandering through bars and clubs. Even at the rave scene, purported to be welcoming to outsiders, he appeared to be a wallflower who felt rejected, according to the report.
"Kyle Huff was someone who was very isolated here in Seattle. He was really out of his element here," Fox said during Monday's meeting. Fox said he talked to Huff's twin brother, Kane, during his research. Kane Huff told Fox his brother began to withdraw from a lot of things before the shootings.
Other findings of the report include:
• On Huff reportedly spray-painting the word "NOW" on the sidewalk leading up to the house, the report indicates it appears to be derived from one of Huff's favorite songs, "I Want to Know Now," by Nirvana. The lyrics include the refrain: "here you are/watchin' me/like you just did something to kill someone/i want to know now/now now now now. ... "
• Huff had ample opportunity to kill at least four more people at the party, some of whom were hiding behind furniture and divider walls. But as Huff proceeded down the basement stairs, he did not fire his weapons, "as if he lost interest in shooting anymore, or it was just too much effort," according to the report. "It may be that whatever satisfaction he had hoped to derive from the shooting spree was not forthcoming or had been satiated."
• The suicide note — found in a trash bin a mile from Huff's apartment and dated two days before the shootings — was initially dismissed as a fake by Kane Huff. But Kane Huff eventually conceded that the letter — addressed "To Kane from Kyle" — appeared to be authentic. The letter could have ended up in the trash bin as Kane Huff cleaned out his apartment after the shooting and returned to live in his native Montana.
The special panel, chaired by Fox, was charged by the Seattle Police Department with coming up with an explanation for an incident that appears to be "inexplicable and unfathomable," according to the final report.
The investigators found that many survivors wanted to believe the shooting spree could have happened anywhere, at a shopping mall, supermarket or other place where people gather.
But the evidence indicates that Huff "has been stalking the rave community, and planning his assault for some period of time, at least for weeks ... " as his initial interest in the rave scene changed to irritation and then anger at the lifestyle.
On the eve of the shooting, Huff was first seen outside Studio Seven in his pickup, waiting and watching before being chased off by security, the report said.
He then went to a zombie-themed rave at the Capitol Hill Arts Center, where some of the people who would go to the Capitol Hill house were also in attendance.
Once inside the rave, the 6-foot-5 Huff seemed to be aloof, "watching and possibly thinking about his plan," the report states.
At one point, he reportedly glared at a couple — a man resting his head on a girl's lap — in a way a witness said was profoundly menacing, the report states.
Huff, unsuccessful in finding love, likely felt threatened by the hugging, massaging and other open displays of affection frequent among ravers in these all-night dances. With his perception probably colored by depression and delusion, he felt the rave culture was "raping him," according to his suicide note.
Another participant at the rave described Huff as "sketchy," but he was invited to the after-rave party in hopes he might appreciate a more intimate environment, according to the report.
At the party house, Huff remained an outsider who did not engage in small talk and stood off by himself. Evidence suggests that shortly before 7 a.m. he left the party to gather his weapons from a black Dodge pickup, and paused three times to spray "NOW" on the sidewalk before the shootings.
The report also focuses criticism on how police responded to the distraught survivors inside the house. They were escorted out through the front door, which took them past dead victims. It would have been better to have taken them out the back door.
The report also said victims' families were angered by the $20 fee required to obtain autopsy and toxicology reports of their loved ones.
Kyle Moore, the father of 14-year-old victim Melissa Moore, who was standing outside during the community meeting, said he believes the work done by Fox and the other panelists could help some people. But he said what the police told him months ago was enough.
"I think it's a dog-and-pony show," Moore said of the meeting. "I knew Huff lost it months ago."
Garry Will, who hid in a bathtub during the rampage at the Capitol Hill house, said what he heard from Fox helped him feel better. He said he believes Huff, coming from a small town, just didn't understand Seattle culture.
Will said that while he didn't sleep well for the first few months following the murders and missed his friends, "I've come a long way toward making peace with it."
The behavior described in the report is in stark contrast to the Kyle Huff described by friends and family back in Whitefish. There, he was considered to be "kind, friendly and happy."
But the investigators note one tragic slaying back in Whitefish in 2002 — involving a high-school classmate friend who shot to death his parents and himself. Kyle and his brother had been out drinking with the friend on the night of the murder-suicide.
It is possible that "the murder-suicide provided a model for Kyle Huff's search for a solution to his own personal problems," the report said.
In Whitefish, Kyle's mother, Mary Kay Huff, operates Artistic Touch studio, which closed in the days after the shootings but has since reopened.
Since the shootings, Kane Huff appears to have returned to Whitefish to live. A few weeks ago, he was seen at a downtown block party.
"He seemed like he was doing OK," said Mike Potter, publisher of The Whitefish Free Press, who was at that party.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company