Suspect in Seattle Pacific killing had well-documented demons
The suspect in the Seattle Pacific University shooting has battled for years with mental-health issues and alcohol, according to court and police records and a counselor, and he reported hearing the voice of one of the Columbine killers in his head, “telling him to hurt people.”
Seattle Times staff
Aaron Rey Ybarra concealed his dark side well.
His friends describe him as sociable, well-adjusted and able to make them laugh.
But court files, psychological reports and police records obtained Friday instead tell the disturbing story of an alcoholic with multiple encounters with the mental-health system, an obsessive compulsive who heard voices in his head from a long-dead Columbine killer responsible for one of the worst school massacres in history.
Ybarra, 26, of Mountlake Terrace, is accused of opening fire with a shotgun at Seattle Pacific University on Thursday, killing one student and wounding two others.
Alarm bells about Ybarra began sounding loudly as long ago as October 2010, records show. About this time he was attending Edmonds Community College and working at a gun range. That month, he drunkenly called 911, telling dispatchers “he was suicidal and had a rage inside him.”
“He wanted to hurt himself and others,” according to a Mountlake Terrace police report.
Ybarra disclosed he was hospitalized twice in 2010 and 2011 after he heard Columbine killer Eric Harris’ voice in his head “telling him to hurt people,” court records show. He became afraid and sought help in the emergency room, a counselor’s report states.
In November 2011, Ybarra “was referred to Snohomish County Mental Health for involuntary hospitalization, and determined not detainable.”
The report added that Ybarra’s mother “is refusing admittance for her son.” He was discharged.
In August 2012, Ybarra refused voluntary hospitalization after “making threats,” according to a counselor’s report. He was again referred to Snohomish County Mental Health for possible involuntary treatment, but once again determined “not detainable.”
“Voices scared him”
Later that month, Ybarra confided his dark fantasies to a counselor about the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Ybarra said then he “feels he identifies with one of the Columbine killers, whom he identified as Eric Harris,” counselor Deldene J. Garner wrote later in a chemical dependency assessment filed in Edmonds Municipal Court.
Ybarra had been referred to the counselor following his arrest in July 2012 for driving drunk on an Edmonds sidewalk. He reported “being diagnosed with Psychosis and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,” the report said.
On occasion, “voices scared him,” Ybarra told the counselor. He said he’d been prescribed with Prozac and Risperdal to help him with his problems.
Still, the young man “denied any thoughts or plans to hurt others,” the counselor later reported.
In October 2012, a passer-by found Ybarra lying drunk in a Mountlake Terrace street, claiming “he wanted a SWAT team to get him and make him famous.”
Ybarra complained that “no one cared about him,” a police report said. “He said he wants to die.”
In two of the incidents, responding officers detained Ybarra under a mental health hold and took him to an Edmonds hospital for treatment — an involuntarily commitment for his extreme intoxication that posed a threat to himself and others, Mountlake Terrace Assistant Police Chief Pete Caw said Friday.
Friends, family and alcohol
His friends and neighbors tell a vastly different story.
Jessica Vondra, who grew up next door to Aaron Ybarra and his family, said he pulled pranks and constantly made her laugh. The Ybarra children were home-schooled and out almost daily with her and her brother, Brett, she said.
“He was a good kid,” Brett Vondra said in a text message. “He did a terrible thing and it makes me sick but I never thought he would be capable.”
“It’s kind of scary when someone is just so normal and this happens,” his sister said.
In recent years, Ybarra formed a tight bond with a group of friends who frequented Ringers Pub and Grill, near the Ybarra family home in Mountlake Terrace.
“He’s a super loyal friend,” said Zach McKinley, who met Ybarra at the pub. “He’s the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Ybarra’s life was far from perfect, friends noted. His father drank heavily and some relatives had died from alcohol poisoning, he reported to a counselor. Ybarra also admitted to experimenting with marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.
Ybarra described himself as “a loner” who drank to be sociable. By age 24, he drank at least six shots a day to cope with what he described as “depression” caused by “his obsessive compulsiveness,” according to the counselor’s report.
In July 2012, Edmonds police arrested him on the drunken driving incident, recording his blood-alcohol level at .18 — more than twice the legal limit.
There were other problems at home. Last summer, Mountlake Terrace police responded to what they described as an “an attempted suicide” by his father, Ambrose, at the family’s home on 238th Street Southwest, where Aaron lived with his brother, Joel, and his parents.
Officers found Ambrose Ybarra reeking of alcohol with dried blood near his right ear and on his neck, a police report said. A family member said he had tried to cut his own throat.
In recent months, Aaron Ybarra swore off drinking, friends said. From December 2012 through December 2013, he went through an outpatient chemical dependency treatment program at Recovery Options Northwest, court records show.
Sober in recent months, he landed a job a few weeks ago at a Fred Meyer’s store in Lynnwood, bagging groceries and cleaning up.
“When I say we went out for a beer to celebrate his job, I had the beer; he had Dr Pepper,” McKinley said.
Friends noted Ybarra liked horror movies, and tried his hand at writing his own screenplays. Friend James Konecny said Ybarra once mentioned that he went on a Columbine website.
“He told me he’d go on there to do research,” Konecny said. “It was kind of odd, but I didn’t think much of it.”
Daisy Silver, another writer who’d known Ybarra for about a year, had swapped screenplays with him and often talked to him about movies. Most of Ybarra’s movie ideas were science fiction, she said.
“Aaron was awesome; he was the nicest person — super-quiet, super-funny,” she said ... “I don’t feel like there were any flags.”
Ybarra worked for eight years at the Kenmore Shooting Range, before quitting in early 2012 to take a job at a restaurant, a 2012 probation report says.
Ybarra worked as a “trapper” — a job in which he kept score of trapshooting contests and cared for the machinery, said John Conderman, president of the board that oversees the range.
Trappers “don’t handle guns, they don’t shoot guns,” Conderman said. “It’s an entry-level job.” He had no first-hand contact with Ybarra but “did recognize him when I saw pictures.”
Conderman said the range didn’t know about Ybarra’s 2010 police encounter.
About that time the gun range started running background checks on all new employees, Conderman said.
“If he had something in his record like that we never would have hired him,” he said. “So we either hired him before that happened, or [the police] didn’t call us and let us know.”
The 2012 counselor’s report noted Ybarra said he “is aware of laws regarding gun possession” and “the guns have been removed from his parents’ home.”
Sympathy for the family
Jamie Schmidt, who lives next door to the Ybarra home, said that Ybarra took care of a cat that was living beneath the deck of the two homes. Even though the cat wasn’t his, Ybarra made sure it was fed and became attached to it.
She hoped people would have sympathy for the family. “It’s a tragedy for them, as well as all of the victims,” Schmidt said.
After Thursday’s shootings, Ambrose Ybarra opened the door of the family’s modest Mountlake Terrace home with his wife, Janice, standing by his side.
“We just got home from work,” he told a reporter. “We don’t know anything.”
Asked if there’d been any tensions at home or if either son had seemed agitated or angry, Ambrose paused, then said:
“I don’t want to invade his privacy. We just need to sit down and talk. I’m a family man. I’m just trying to put my arms around my family right now.”
Staff reporters Mike Baker, Hal Bernton, Lewis Kamb, Susan Kelleher, Claudia Rowe, Jennifer Sullivan and Craig Welch reported this story, which was written by Kamb. Lewis Kamb: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2932. Twitter: @lewiskamb
Information in this article, originally published June 6, 2014, was corrected June 7, 2014. In a previous version of this story, due to an editing error, Brett Vondra’s text message was mistakenly attributed to his sister, Jessica. Also, Aaron Rey Ybarra has not been charged. Rather, he is being held on probable cause.