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Originally published November 30, 2009 at 10:13 PM | Page modified December 22, 2009 at 9:28 AM

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Nicole Brodeur

Breathless in Leschi — and it's not the view

You can forgive the residents of Seattle's Leschi neighborhood for being a little short-fused. The views across Lake Washington may take your breath away, but recent events have made it hard to breathe easily. To sleep soundly. And to remember what this place used to be.

Seattle Times staff columnist

It feels anxious up here. Everyone's on edge.

A woman pulls up beside me as I walk down East Yesler Way.

"Did they get him?" she asks. It's clear she wants to know now.

Before I can answer, another woman headed in the other direction yells out her own window.

"You're blocking my view of the street!" she barks, then guns the engine and pulls away.

You can forgive the residents of Seattle's Leschi neighborhood for being a little short-fused.

The views across Lake Washington may take your breath away, but recent events have made it hard to breathe easily. To sleep soundly. And to remember what this place used to be.

Just weeks ago, on Oct. 31, two Seattle police officers were ambushed while sitting at the intersection of East Yesler Way and 29th Avenue South. Officer Timothy Brenton was killed, and his partner, Britt Sweeney, was injured. Christopher Monfort, 41, has been charged in the shootings.

On Sunday, police descended on a house several blocks east, where they believed Maurice Clemmons sought refuge with a relative after allegedly ambushing and killing four Lakewood police officers in a strip-mall coffee shop that morning.

Although the house turned out to be empty, it made for a tense night of locked doors, blocked streets and helicopters clattering overhead.

On Monday morning, classes were canceled at Leschi Elementary. SWAT team members used the school parking lot as a staging area. TV trucks lined the street while clusters of cameras stood on a few corners.

And Ethel Nichols, 66, wondered what happened to the place where her family has lived since 1959.

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"It has always been so wonderful," she said. "But lately, it's more than I can think about. Like being in a Third World country."

We stood in front of the picture window of her house, watching SWAT officers remove their bulletproof vests.

"Four weeks ago we were up the hill, crying about that officer being killed," Nichols said. "And no sooner do they get the flowers cleaned up, then here we are again. Up all night long, the phone ringing.

"I just put a pillow over my head."

The family runs a child-care center in the basement. Only four parents brought their children by Monday. Nichols' sister, Fannie, let them in and locked the door.

"They're on the computer; they don't know what's going on," Nichols said. "They're happy."

All morning, cars crawled up and down the street to take in the scene.

"This whole place has changed, and why?" Nichols asked. "Why is this happening?"

She remembered a family named Clemmons. The parents were friends with her parents.

She wondered aloud if Maurice Clemmons had sat near her in church, or if he had driven past her house the previous night.

Did he race past the bus stop where the driver used to stop and honk for her mother, Aridell Mitchell?

Did he glance into the room where her father, Norman Mitchell, used to write sermons for his services at Goodwill Baptist Church?

"He was right there," she said, nodding toward East Superior Street, where police stood in front of a house, waiting for Clemmons all night. "But I think it's God watching over us."

Someone has to be watching, for there is so much pain just beyond this place.

I left to join the crowd outside. As I did, I heard Nichols lock the door behind me.

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She's looking up Psalm 91.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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