Arcan Cetin, 20, appears Monday in Skagit County District Court, where he was charged in the fatal shootings of five people in Burlington. (KIRO-TV)

The Bitter Life and Sudden Death of Arcan Cetin

The Cascade Mall shooter claimed a sixth life this week. His own.

The day after he was arrested for randomly shooting and killing five people inside Cascade Mall in Burlington, Arcan Cetin sat in a police interview room carefully responding to questions from several detectives.

Just wondering, one investigator said to the stocky, 20-year-old Turkish immigrant and fastfood worker. What would you call someone who went into a store and killed five people?

“A murderer,” Cetin promptly answered.

“OK, so what are you?” the detective asked.

“A murderer.”

“Are you sorry at all?”

“I don’t want to answer that,” Cetin said.

“Cold,” said the detective. “Ice cold.”

This week, a half-year after the September massacre at a Macy’s in the mall, the death toll rose to six. Cetin’s victim this time was himself. He was found hanged in a Snohomish County Jail cell Sunday evening.

Authorities called it suicide, and say all homicide charges will now be dropped. Cetin will go to his grave as a mass murderer with an asterisk: *Never convicted.

The confessed mall shooter had been transferred temporarily to the SnoCounty jail in Everett from the Skagit County Jail in Mount Vernon to await a hearing on his competency to stand trial. Though he was known to have mental problems and two years ago tried to take his life by drug overdose—and was committed to a psychiatric facility–Cetin was still apparently able to access material for a noose of some sort.

Snohomish authorities have not released details of the death, but Cetin is the 14th inmate to die in the county jail since 2010. Many arrive in poor health, but deaths of most inmates can be prevented with proper medical care and oversight, jail experts say. Snohomish County has paid out more than $3.7 million to settle wrongful jail-death lawsuits in recent years, and faces several other claims, including a $5 million suit over the 2014 death of a mentally ill woman who committed suicide by hyperhydration–drinking a lethal amount of water.

Cetin was facing a possible death sentence if found competent to stand trial. In hours of interviews with investigators, he never expressed remorse for randomly killing four shoppers and a Macy’s employee. Bad as that was, it could have been worse.

An estimated 30 filmgoers watching The Magnificent Seven in a mall theater could have been sitting targets had Cetin been able to gain entry though a theater exit door that he propped open earlier that day.

“I suspect,” said Burlington Police Det. Adrian Kuschnereit, “that this theater room and the people inside of it may have been a planned target for a shooting.”

To investigators, it seemed like a setup similar to the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre in 2012 that left 12 dead and 70 wounded. Killer James E. Holmes had propped open an exit door while he retrieved guns from his car.

In Burlington, however, a theater-goer saw a cell phone wedged in the door and gave it to an attendant after securing the exit. Cetin eventually showed up in the lobby claiming he’d lost his phone. It was returned and he left. A short time later, Cetin took his .22 Ruger rifle and 25-round magazine from his car and went to Macy’s.

Investigators, reconstructing the shooting from security video and witnesses, said the killings took barley a minute. Cetin moved quickly around the Macy’s cosmetics area, shooting the five victims at close range. He stalked those who tried to crawl away and hide, then shot them point-blank. In the store and the mall corridors, panicked patrons ran for cover or the exits. When he’d killed enough, Cetin laid his rifle on a counter and joined those heading outside.

Police converging on the bloody, chaotic scene secured the mall and found one of the shooting victims still breathing. Wilton “Chuck” Eagan, 61, a 43-year Boeing employee, later died at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The three other slain shoppers were Sarai Lara, a 16-year-old high school sophomore and cancer survivor; Belinda Sue Galde, 64, a state probation officer; and her mother, 95-year-old Beatrice Dotson. The fifth victim was makeup artist Shayla Kathleen Martin, 52, a Macy’s employee 25 years.

Cetin, whose social media web sites included a photo of serial killer Ted Bundy and a picture of Cetin posing with assault-style weapons, climbed into his Chevy Cavalier and drove to Seattle, detectives would later learn. He downed a salmon dinner, and spent the night in his car. When he woke up, he checked his cell phone news feeds for his name and saw his picture on Fox News. He drove back to his apartment in Oak Harbor, where he was arrested walking along the street. An officer described him as in “a zombie-like state.”

Just hours before the shooting, according to transcripts of his police interviews, Cetin played his favorite video game, Call to Duty: Black Ops III, in which the gamer becomes a futuristic cyborg soldier slaughtering his enemies.

“I asked him,” an investigator said, “if killing these people [in Macy’s] was similar to a videogame…Cetin did not provide a response.”

Cetin’s former girlfriend told investigators he had a irrational temper. He had assaulted his stepfather several times and once punched his mother in the face, according to court records. He stole the gun he used in the shooting from his stepfather’s closet.

The ex-girlfriend said she met Cetin in 2014 when they worked at the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station commissary. He regularly failed to take his prescription for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, she said, and aggravated his mood swings with excessive boozing and toking.

After she left him following repeated bouts of rough sex, she moved near Tacoma. “He messaged me on Facebook,” she recalled, “and said he was going to come down here and rape me.”

Brought to the U.S. from Turkey at age 8 by his mother and stepfather, Cetin described himself to investigators as a devout Sunni Muslim who prayed five times a day, read the Koran and went by the nickname The Turk (witnesses said his praying claims were exaggerated). On the Internet, Cetin posted photos and praise for leaders of Iran and ISIS.

“He was asked if he was to be labeled a Muslim terrorist for these shootings, would this be okay for him, and he said ‘I can’t answer that,’” a detective wrote in a report. “He was asked if terrorist groups such as ISIS inspired him to commit these murders and he again said, ‘I can’ t answer that.’”

Cetin described a sometimes-brutal childhood in Turkey, recalling that his uncles beat him and both his father and uncles beat his mother. He was 6 when run over by a bus, he claimed, breaking his pelvis and leaving him with post-traumatic stress disorder. He graduated from Oak Harbor High in 2015 but couldn’t attend commencement after getting kicked out of school two weeks earlier for sexually harassing two girls. At the time of the shooting, he was working part-time at Wendy’s.

“He said that he figured he would be caught and captured,” a police report states, “but did not believe that he would be shot at by police.” Others would die, but he would live. That was the plan, at least.

The family of shooting victim Chuck Eagan released a statement following news of Cetin’s death. It expressed a civility that Cetin might have found strange.

“We’re understandably in shock over this development,” it said in part. “While this event puts to rest our fear of his release, we harbor no ill will towards Mr. Cetin or his family and pray for their comfort as we know all too well the pain of grief.”

randerson@seattleweekly.com