Kevin Fernandes is remembered as a loving daddy to his young daughter. Josh Henderson was said to be a good man to his family. But both are dead because they criminally entered another man's home and were shot to death. Same for Ken Talley and Johnny Sok. The four of them died, and at least three others were wounded, in eight Seattle-area stand-your-ground shooting incidents by homeowners since January. To some in the pro-gun crowd, this is a healthy trend.
Apparently there is bad gun violence and good gun violence. Police and the mayor this week raged against a spike in deadly crime-related shootings on the street while gun-rights activists have been cheering a jump in self-defense shootings at home. As noted earlier this week, gun-rights columnist Dave Workman thought the recent accidental shooting deaths of several children were balanced out by the increased body count of home intruders.
The Puyallup ex-cop told police he was asleep when burglars broke in, and he grabbed his gun and fired. One bullet struck Kevin Fernandes, 21, of Spanaway, who later died at a hospital where he was dropped off by his three co-conspirators, all of whom were later arrested. One of them had also been slightly wounded.
Fernandes played football, basketball and ran track at Bethel High. In his News Tribune obituary, his family said "He lived life with passion and truly loved his family and friends." In a guest book note, his mother wrote: "I will keep your loving spirit alive and teach your baby girl all about her amazing daddy."
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist says the homeowner - who claimed Fernandes came at him with a crow bar - acted in self defense and won't be charged. "When you break into someone's home, you take the chance you will be shot," Lindquist said in a statement. "One burglar is dead, and the others will be held fully accountable."
That shooting came two days after a North Bend man killed an intruder who turned out to be drunk and high on cocaine, police say. Joshua Henderson, 30, broke into the home just before midnight April 2 while the man and his girlfriend were sleeping. Henderson's friends had dropped him off in the neighborhood because he was enraged and wanted to fight after a night out drinking. He reportedly banged on the doors of other homes before throwing a propane tank through the homeowner's sliding glass door.
Police said the homeowner barricaded himself and shouted "Leave my house! I have a gun! I don't want to shoot you!" but felt he had no choice. He fired at least three times after Henderson broke open the door to the room where the homeowner and girlfriend were hiding. "They're devastated," Interim King County Sheriff Steve Strachan said, telling reporters the homeowner feels he can never return to the house again.
It was almost a repeat of what Henderson had done nine years earlier in Eastern Washington, when he broke into a Benton County home after drinking. The Seattle Times reported that Henderson stripped down after entering and wiped excrement all over the house. When he reached a bedroom where the homeowners had been sleeping, he flipped on a light, looked at the startled couple in bed, and walked out. The homeowner grabbed a revolver and a shotgun, but never fired. His wife called police and Henderson was arrested. He did six months in jail.
In a statement, Henderson's family says "He wasn't a villian, nor was he a drug addict or alcoholic. He was a good man with a million dollar smile..." They called his death a "tragic accident." When he entered the North Bend house, "We fully believe he thought he was home," as he may have thought when he entered the Benton County home in 2003.
It's a tale of two different homeowners reacting in dramatically different fashion. Could the North Bend homeowner at least have tried to wound Henderson rather than kill him? Columnist Workman says no, "you do not shoot to wound. You shoot to stop and you fire at the center-of-mass. You do not, under this state's sensible self-defense statute, have any duty to retreat, and there is no requirement to wait for police to arrive." The state Supreme Court has upheld those standards.
But of late, the law of defense has become more a law of offense, with homeowners - at least anecdotally - increasingly taking the lethal option.
That was the fate of Kenneth Richard Talley, 26. When he broke into an Edmonds home February 7, the homeowner had every right to shoot him dead, and did. According to The Herald of Everett, the homeowner heard someone knocking on his sliding glass door about 8 p.m. He spoke briefly to a man he described as "sweaty" with "crazy eyes" who said something about field mice. The homeowner sent him away. He also armed himself and called 911. Says the Herald:
Then he heard noises coming from another part of his home and saw the same man approaching his front door. The homeowner, still on the phone with an emergency dispatcher, told the man to leave and warned him that he had a gun, court papers said. The homeowner told investigators that the stranger kicked in the door and stepped inside. That's when he fired, he said.
Talley died, apparently like Henderson, under some mental stress. He had a juvenile record that included car theft and attempted second-degree assault, and a misdemeanor as an adult.
That stand-your-ground shooting came just a month after the January 9 fatal shooting of Johnny Sok, 22, a drug addict. He was shot while reportedly breaking into a home in south Everett. According to the Herald, the homeowner, awakened to the sound of breaking glass, grabbed a .38-caliber revolver and saw Sok coming through a broken kitchen window, a hammer in his hand. He fired, killing Sok, then called 911.
Sok's mother told KIRO-TV he stole to support his drug habit. She had pleaded with him to go to rehab, she said, but kicked him out of the house. "I cannot help you until you help yourself," she told him.
In the midst of these killings were three other incidents in which intruders were wounded or shot at, starting in February when a Seattle homeowner shot and wounded a burglar in Columbia City. He told the intruder to hit the floor, and when he didn't move, the homeowner fired, wounding the 37-year-old suspect in the arm. He fled but was later caught.
Also in February, a burglar was shot in the head by a Sea-Tac homeowner, who had been awakened by glass shattering. KOMO-TV reported the man dialed 911 and grabbed a nearby gun, discovering two intruders. He fired at least one shot, dropping one burglar while the other ran off. Despite the critical head wound, the burglar survived, police said.
And earlier this month, a Renton homeowner - who'd been burglarized the day before - was there with his gun when the same thief, apparently, returned. The homeowner fired three shots, according to seattlepi.com, as the burglar came up the stairs toward him.The thief turned and ran, scurrying through the window he came in, leaving behind one of his shoes. Police did not know whether he was wounded.
Columnist Workman thinks the shootings send a message not only to would-be burglars but to political opponents of guns: they're out of step. "Not surprisingly," he writes, "anti-self-defense gun prohibitionists at Washington Ceasefire have been silent" in the wake of the shootings. "Each one of these incidents provides a stark contrast to their big-bucks advertising campaign, launched last month, aimed at discouraging private gun ownership."
But all such cases aren't easily justified, especially in tragic instances involving mentally ill intruders. Nor do armed homeowners always act within the law. Snohomish County prosecutors said in January said that the 2011 shooting death of Dylan T. Jones, 23, by an Everett homeowner could have been avoided, and that the shooter didn't need to use fatal force to prevent Jones from taking a boat from his property. But they lacked enough evidence to prove the homeowner committed a crime.
As well, this month a Marysville man who shot at two teen boys who'd triggered a motion detector as they walked by his home was himself arrested. The Associated Press reports that Kenneth Aubry told police he'd recently been burglarized and thought his car was being prowled, so he fired two shots in the dark. Charged with assault, Aubry has pleaded not guilty.
And sometimes when a homeowner shoots an intruder, it's murder. Last July, Keira Earhart, 39, of Arlington, was convicted of killing Ryan Rzechula, 25, who broke into Earhart's home. Essentially, Earhart hunted down Rzechula, shooting him in the back three hours after the break-in about a quarter-mile away.
It took two trials, but jurors convicted Earhart of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
As in all these cases, they are tragedies, or near-tragedies, of the intruders' making. But homeowners are not automatically without fault. As deputy Snohomish County prosecutor Mara Rozzano said after the Earhart trial, "This is a tragedy of Mr. Earhart's making. He elected to pull the trigger."