(Reuters) - When Ian Stawicki started shooting at a Seattle cafe in a spree rampage that would leave him and five others dead, one man stood up and tried to stop him by hurling coffeehouse stools at the gunman, police said on Thursday.
A day after the shootings in the Cafe Racer, police said the actions of that man - whom they are not naming - ultimately saved three lives and were a bright spot in a violent series of events that ended when Stawicki shot himself in the head.
Seattle Assistant Police Chief Jim Pugel described the shooting, which was caught on video, as erupting seemingly without warning amid typical mid-morning coffeehouse activity.
“Some folks are reading, others are sipping coffee, they are jocular, they are exchanging conversation, then the person comes in, looks around, sits down, you can see there’s some interaction between him and the barista,” Pugel said.
“One person stands up, looks like he’s going to go outside for a minute. At that point, the suspect stands up and starts shooting.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has said the killing spree, following a recent rash of other shootings, had shaken the city and he urged fellow municipal leaders to “bring an end to this gun violence that the city is seeing.”
But Pugel said “there is a hero” who saved lives, describing him as a man sitting next the gunman who intervened when the shooting happened at the coffee house known for its live music in Seattle’s Ravenna neighbourhood.
“The hero picked up a stool and threw it at the suspect, hit him, picked up another stool as the suspect is shooting, and now pointing at him, and hits him with another stool,” he said.
Pugel did not name the man.
“During that time, two or possibly three people made their escape,” Pugel said, adding that the gunman had been between those people and the door. “So he saved three lives.”
Police said that roughly half an hour after the late-morning cafe shooting, in which four people died, the gunman fatally shot a woman and stole her sport utility vehicle in another part of the city, before ultimately abandoning it, leaving one of his two guns inside.
Police have given little explanation for the bloodshed. But Stawicki was known to frequent the cafe and reportedly had quarrelled during previous visits with two of the people he shot, neighbourhood residents told local TV station KIRO-7.
Stawicki has also been described as mentally disturbed, and police said an acquaintance he contacted after the cafe shooting told police he was talking nonsense.
“This former acquaintance did not know what had happened and was completely unaware of the news. This acquaintance said that he was acting erratically, talking nonsense. And this acquaintance broke off the contact,” Pugel said.
Once the acquaintance heard news of the shooting, that person contacted police. When police finally tracked Stawicki down, he knelt and shot himself in the head, police said.
The father of the gunman, Walter Stawicki, said he knew his son “had issues,” but that he woke up the morning of the shooting in a good mood with plans to help his girlfriend move her mother to another home, according to the Seattle Times.
“He wasn’t a loose cannon. We knew he had issues,” Stawicki told the paper, saying his son had faced mental illness since he was in his 20s. “We were more afraid a trucker would come at him with a fist because he was so provocative.”
“I‘m grieving for him, I‘m grieving for his mother, I‘m grieving for his brother,” Stawicki said of his eldest son, who he said had long had a concealed weapons permit.
“I‘m grieving for six other families.”
Reporting By Cynthia Johnston; editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Todd Eastham