US campus shooter went off meds - prosecutor

2014-06-11 13:32
Seattle Pacific University shooting suspect Aaron Rey Ybarra is led into court. (File, AP)

Seattle Pacific University shooting suspect Aaron Rey Ybarra is led into court. (File, AP)

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Seattle - The man charged with killing one student and wounding two others at a small Seattle college last week had stopped taking his medications because he "wanted to feel the hate", and he detailed his plans in a handwritten journal for two weeks before the attack, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.

"I just want people to die, and I'm gonna die with them!" Aaron Ybarra wrote the day of the shooting, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said.

Satterberg released new details of the allegations as he filed charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and assault against Ybarra, aged 26. Satterberg is seeking a sentence of life in prison.

Authorities say Ybarra has been held without bail and is on suicide watch at the county jail since a student pepper-sprayed him and ended the rampage on Thursday at Seattle Pacific University.

Ybarra's lawyer, Ramona Brandes, has said her client has a long history of mental issues but is aware of the trauma caused by the shooting and is sorry. She said on Tuesday that no decision has been made yet on whether he will seek a mental-illness defence.

"We have to look at his symptoms he manifested in the past, his treatment and his jail records to determine whether his mental illness arises to the level of a defence. These are choices he's going to be involved in," Brandes told The Seattle Times.

"He wasn't on his meds and he committed an action that is incomprehensible. Had he been on his meds, would this have happened? We'll continue asking that for all time."

Transient psychosis

The journal, recovered by police from Ybarra's truck that was parked near the shooting, reflects Ybarra's admiration for the school shooters at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School but does not clearly explain why he targeted the Seattle college, Satterberg said.

Ybarra considered other universities - Washington State, Eastern Washington and Central Washington were mentioned - but apparently dismissed them because they were too far away, the prosecutor said.

Instead, weeks before the shooting, Ybarra took a tour of Seattle Pacific, a private Christian college in a leafy neighbourhood north of downtown. He remarked on how friendly and helpful the academic counsellor and students were who showed him around, Satterberg said.

During the tour, Ybarra learned the academic year would soon end, solidifying his plans, Satterberg said.

Ybarra shot Paul Lee, aged 19, in the back of the head with a double-barrelled shotgun outside Otto Miller Hall after Lee turned to run away, according to the charging documents. Some of the birdshot pellets struck another student, Thomas Fowler, standing several feet away.

He tried to shoot a woman nearby, but the gun misfired and she escaped, a detective's probable cause statement said.

Ybarra then entered the building, encountering a man seated at a table, the statement said. Ybarra ordered the man not to disrespect him, but did not shoot, the detective wrote - instead turning the gun on student Sarah Williams, who was coming down some stairs.

Williams was severely wounded and remained hospitalised in satisfactory condition. She thanked supporters and first responders on Tuesday in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

"I know there is a lot of concern for my health and well-being, so I'd like to take this opportunity to let everybody know that I am healing and getting stronger," she wrote. "While every day brings improvement, I have a long way to go for full recovery."

Because one of the barrels of the gun had misfired, Ybarra essentially had a single-shot weapon, Satterberg said.

As Ybarra tried to reload, Jon Meis, a student building monitor, rushed out of his office, pepper-sprayed the gunman, grabbed the weapon and hid it in his office, the prosecutor said. Meis came back and helped another student hold the gunman down until police arrived.

Ybarra fired just two shots but carried nearly 50 shells and had 25 more in his truck, because he planned to kill many more people, Satterberg said. He also had a large hunting knife and planned to slit his own throat, the detective's statement said.

"In the defendant's plan to murder innocent students, he did not anticipate the courage of Jon Meis," Satterberg said. "M  Meis, though a reluctant and humble figure in this tragedy, undoubtedly saved many lives. He emerges from this awful crime as an example of how we all would hope we would act to confront a killer."

Ybarra gave an hour-long police interview after his arrest, saying he didn't specifically target any of the students but had a "hatred for the world in general", the probable cause statement said.

He told detectives he had been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and transient psychosis but had stopped taking his medicine about six months earlier because he wanted to feel his hate, it said.

The standard sentencing range for the charges is 69 to 86 years in prison, but Satterberg said he is seeking an exceptional sentence under a rarely used aggravating factor: that the crime had a "destructive and foreseeable impact on persons other than the victim".

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