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Good Samaritan tells dying woman, 'You are not alone'
Just after she saw Gloria Koch Leonidas shot in the head, Jo Ann Stremler and another bystander rushed to help the woman. "I didn't think we could save her when we started working on her, but that wasn't the point," Stremler said. "I knew that her family would not have wanted her to die alone."
Seattle Times staff reporter
Just before Ian Stawicki shot Gloria Koch Leonidas, he was standing over her, straddling her. He pulled out a black gun, leaned down and extended his arm. He fired one shot into her head.
Jo Ann Stremler saw it out her driver's side window. She was heading west on Seneca Street after a doctor's visit and was stopped at a light when she heard someone scream, "Help me! Help me!" She looked left to see a man kicking someone who was flat on the ground. She grabbed her phone and dialed 911.
That's when Stawicki fired.
"It seemed to have this bounce and bounce, and I thought, 'It's going to bounce all the way out to the Sound,' " she said of the noise.
That shot at about 11:30 a.m., and several others earlier Wednesday, have reverberated throughout Seattle. It followed several at Cafe Racer in North Seattle, where Stawicki gunned down five people — four fatally. Somehow, he got to Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street and found Leonidas putting a parking receipt on her dashboard.
He needed her car and shot her for it.
As Stawicki sped off, Stremler and another good Samaritan ran across traffic to help Leonidas.
"I didn't think we could save her when we started working on her, but that wasn't the point," Stremler said. "I knew that her family would not have wanted her to die alone."
On Thursday, Stremler, 55, sat in a conference room at University Presbyterian Church where she plays the organ at three services each Sunday. She described how she acted without hesitation.
"I didn't know I was capable of what I did yesterday," Stremler said.
She knows she can play from memory all 810 songs in the hymnals. She's played organ for 42 years, hired for her first paid job at 13.
She couldn't drive, so volunteers from the congregation would drive the 24 miles from town to her parents' dairy farm just shy of the Canadian border. She played every Sunday and practiced with the choir. When there was a wedding or memorial, she played, too. It was awkward at her age, but "just something I had to do," Stremler said.
Just as she had to help Leonidas on Wednesday.
Before she did, she saw Stawicki drive forward, repeatedly hitting a barrier.
He backed up and one rear wheel rolled over Leonidas' legs before he sped out of the lot and toward Stremler's driver's-side door. "I thought, 'Remember that face. Remember that face.' "
Police officers, friends and family later would tell her she was lucky that he didn't turn around and shoot her, too, for seeing him. They would tell her she was lucky again when, as she ran across the street to reach Leonidas, she screamed out the license-plate number, hoping somebody would write it down.
Another woman was running with her. Stremler thinks her name was Betsy.
"Betsy" asked Stremler, "Do you know how to do CPR?"
She did. "Betsy" took Leonidas' pulse and began chest compressions. Stremler, listening to the woman's shallow breathing, grabbed her left hand and told her, "Whoever you are, we are here. You are not alone."
She traded places with "Betsy." They traded again.
Stremler didn't notice the blood on her hands and clothes. She didn't hear anything.
"It was like I was in a cocoon with this woman I'd never met and another woman I'd never met and she's dying," Stremler said, looking over at a box of Kleenex but not taking one.
Then she heard the sirens and told Leonidas, "Oh, help is right around the corner. I can hear them coming."
Police cars. Suited men in black SUVs. EMTs. Media. They arrived in waves. Her car was still parked in the street, running, her phone and purse on the seat.
She was questioned, interviewed and driven to police headquarters at Fifth Avenue and Cherry Street, where she was walked to a room with no windows, a small table and two chairs. She canceled a lunch appointment and an evening church rehearsal.
She answered more questions. She drew what she remembered. She accepted the phone number of a crisis-counseling line and the understanding words of officers and investigators.
At 6 p.m., she learned from police that Leonidas didn't live. She learned about the shooting at Cafe Racer and the other victims.
"You mean he was in Roosevelt and shot all these people and then he got up to [First] Hill?" Stremler remembers asking as she left the station.
She was returned to her car, which an officer had parked two spaces away from where she'd tried to save a stranger. A man with a bicycle laid down flowers where Stremler had knelt hours before.
She drove erratically to Cafe Racer to see where the day had started.
"There was this pull to just go over there to say I know who did this to all of you, and ... " Stremler said, then exhaled. "I just had to go over there."
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed. Jayme Fraser: 206-464-2201 or firstname.lastname@example.org.