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Originally published May 25, 2012 at 9:31 AM | Page modified May 29, 2012 at 9:38 AM

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Madrona dad killed by a bullet as he drove through Central Area

Justin Ferrari, who lived in Madrona and worked at Zillow, was driving when a stranger opened fire at another person. Ferrari was hit and killed.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Justin Ferrari had dashed out Thursday evening to pick up a few things before heading out of town with his wife for their first weekend alone since the birth of their children, ages 5 and 7.

His parents had flown to Seattle from California that day to watch the kids, so Ferrari, a software engineer, and his wife, Dr. Maggie Hooks, a physician, could be on their own.

But while Ferrari was driving through the Central Area in his van, someone opened fire during an apparent streetside dispute. The intended target and the gunman scattered, leaving Ferrari — family man, friend, youth coach and community benefactor — to die in his father's arms.

Homicide detectives spent Thursday night and Friday searching for witnesses, gathering surveillance video from nearby businesses and trying to hunt down leads. But as of Friday night, no arrests had been made.

The homicide — the 15th this year in Seattle — has galvanized a community already sickened by random violence, coming just over a month after Nicole Westbrook, a 21-year-old newcomer to the city, was killed in a drive-by shooting in Pioneer Square. Like Ferrari, police said she was not the gunman's intended target.

Ferrari's friends, colleagues, neighbors and Mayor Mike McGinn spoke out Friday against gun violence.

"What we've seen from the beginning of the year is a rise in gun violence. It's deeply concerning," McGinn said. "We have seen 15 murders this year, compared to 21 all of last year. We have solved nine of those 15 murders. We are aggressively working every one of our open cases."

Stopped at intersection

Ferrari was driving his white Volkswagen van with his father in the front passenger seat when they pulled up at East Cherry Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way around 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Ferrari's mother and his two children were in the back, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

The gunfire erupted after they came to a stop at the intersection, said authorities.

When the shooting stopped, the van started rolling away, the source said. When Ferrari didn't respond, his father unbuckled the seat belt and realized his son had been shot in the head.

Ferrari's children got out and ran into a nearby Ethiopian restaurant, a spot where their family had dined before, to ask for help. John Ferrari cradled his son in his arms as he died, authorities said.

Police say a man nearby heard young men arguing on the street. The man kept walking and then heard gunfire behind him. He gave investigators a general suspect description: an African-American man in his 20s.

Mourned by many

Ferrari, 43, was a father of two, a devoted husband, son, sibling, longtime supporter of Seattle's arts scene and a water-polo player and coach.

David Hooks, the slain man's father-in-law, said Friday that Ferrari was "very loved."

"He was a very generous and caring guy," Hooks said by phone from Montana.

On Friday morning, John Ferrari, the slain man's father, stood on a corner in the heart of the Madrona shopping district, not far from the shooting, staring off into the distance.

"We're just trying to get through this," he said, declining to make further comment.

Justin Ferrari worked at Seattle-based real-estate website Zillow, and previously was at networking company Cisco.

Zillow issued a statement: "We at Zillow were deeply saddened to learn about this tragedy. Justin began working at Zillow three months ago, and worked at Expedia and Microsoft for many years before that. His passing will be felt deeply by his co-workers and friends. Our hearts go out to his family."

Cisco spokesman John Earnhardt said the company is "deeply saddened by this tragedy. The thoughts of the entire Cisco community are with Justin's family, friends and colleagues."

Ferrari and Hooks, his wife, have long been supporters of the arts, said Lane Czaplinski, artistic director at On The Boards, a contemporary dance, music and theatrical center in Queen Anne. Hooks is a board member at On The Boards, Czaplinski said.

During the center's annual gala Wednesday, Ferrari was full of hugs, smiles and support for the organization, Czaplinski said.

"He always had a smile on his face; he was open-minded, very intelligent, fun to talk to and spend time with," Czaplinski said. "For an organization that has been around 35 years, we have survived because of people like Justin Ferrari."

Coach made a difference

Ferrari is well-known as a youth water-polo coach.

He apparently started playing while growing up in California and while attending Brown University. He also played in adult leagues, according to the View Ridge Water Polo website.

Kristen Kline, a parent in Seattle's View Ridge neighborhood, said Ferrari played a big role in her son's life when he coached his North Seattle team.

"It was a one-for-all-for-one type of mentality," said Kline, whose son is now 20. Ferrari taught the team "you can be someone who really makes a difference not just in this team, but in the world around you."

Nikola Davidson, who lives in Madrona, said Ferrari helped get the Madrona Biofuel Co-op going nearly eight years ago. She said Ferrari jumped in to help build the biodiesel storage shed. One of his vehicles, she said, ran on biofuel.

"He was part of a core group. He was committed to it," Davidson said. "He seemed cool and a nice neighbor, and I appreciated that he was willing to roll up his sleeves and make it happen."

Police seek help

Ferrari is the second Seattle resident to be killed in a random shooting in about four weeks. During the early morning of April 22, Nicole Westbrook, a 21-year-old culinary student, was walking in Pioneer Square when she was killed by gunshots fired from moving car. Westbrook and her boyfriend had just moved to the city from New Mexico.

No arrests have been made.

On Friday, Mayor McGinn went to the Central Area neighborhood where Ferrari died to talk with business owners about street violence. He said community members need to do their part by telling police about people responsible for violence, about people illegally carrying firearms and about crimes they have seen.

Police say they have been conducting violence-emphasis patrols throughout the city, partnering with the state Department of Corrections and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in response to the rise in crime.

"It's beyond tragic. This on top of a year that has already seen an unusual amount of street violence," said police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb. "We want to assure the public the department is doing everything within its power to identify and locate those responsible and hold them accountable."

Anyone with information about either homicide is asked to call 911 or the Seattle police homicide tip line at 206-233-5000.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report, which includes information from Seattle Times archives.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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