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Originally published September 4, 2010 at 6:23 PM | Page modified September 4, 2010 at 6:52 PM

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Alki shooting baffles neighbors

The man shot and wounded by Seattle police Friday night was known for his gardening, his art and his good deeds around the neighborhood, so it's unclear why he turned up on his back porch with an AK-47 assault rifle in his hands and surrounded by cops.

Seattle Times staff reporter

For reasons that are still unclear, a 59-year-old man known for his gardening, his art, his neighborhood good deeds and his eclectic taste in music found himself Friday night with an AK-47 assault rifle in his hands and surrounded by Seattle police.

The officers had responded to the man's home, a sprawling bungalow two blocks from Alki beach, after getting a report that gunshots were fired inside a home where a man had threatened suicide.

The man, identified by neighbors and family as Thomas Qualls, was shot at 8:45 p.m. when, according to police, he pointed the rifle at officers. A second gun also was found at the West Seattle home.

Qualls was still at Harborview Medical Center under police guard Saturday night. Detectives spent part of Saturday at his home but did not disclose additional details. Three officers are on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation into the latest in an unusual cluster of recent incidents in which police in the region have shot suspects.

This incident left neighbors and family to reconcile what happened with Qualls. Neighbors said he could be angry or gruff, especially when he drank, but they also saw a considerate neighbor passionate about art, such as a driftwood sculpture on his front porch.

A garden with ripe tomatoes and strawberries consumes the front yard, and verdant hop vines cover a back porch.

"Tom has an incredible and deep empathetic side to his character," said Peter Stekel, an author and journalist who shares an alley with Qualls. "When people are sick or in pain, he makes special, handmade get-well cards for them."

Qualls recently retired as a Metro bus driver after a serious heart attack, staying home while his wife, Susan, works as an engineer for KUOW. The two, high-school sweethearts, have lived in the house on Admiral Way Southwest for decades, raising two now-grown children.

Joellen Elliott, who lives next door, watched Qualls walk his wife to the bus stop each morning, holding her hand. "He's so sweet with his wife."

Nancy Qualls said she and her brother Thomas were raised in West Seattle. She said he made her a diamond engagement ring and was an excellent jewelry artist.

"He wants to give love and help people live their lives," she said. "I just can't believe this has happened."

Qualls has a concealed-weapons permit, and he taught his children, who are 31 and 32, how to safely shoot, Stekel said. "He loves his kids madly," he said.

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Qualls liked to play music — his tastes range from Irish rock to roots country to klezmer — loudly, irritating some. Elliott, the neighbor, said she heard unusually loud music Friday afternoon, then heard the engine of his beat-up pickup revving. At around 7 p.m., she heard him screaming in the home.

Sometime after 8 p.m., according to Seattle police, a woman inside the home was on the phone with another woman when gunshots were heard. Then the phone went dead. When the woman who had called the Qualls home called back, Thomas Qualls answered and threatened suicide. She called 911.

Officers who arrived also heard gunfire, and when they went to the rear of the home, Qualls came out with the assault rifle, pointed it "in the direction of the officers," and was shot, according to Seattle police.

Elliott, the neighbor, said she was in her front yard at around 8:30 p.m. when she heard two shots, a long gap, then six to eight more shots, then a roar of police sirens.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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