Category Archives: Tacoma Homicides

13th Tacoma Homicide of 2011 Leileah Flowers

Last Wednesday night, eight-month-old, Leileah Flowers was crying in her Hilltop home. Her 20-year-old father was playing a video game. According to his statements, when she had cried in the past, he had shaken her a little and she stopped crying. He says he was frustrated with her crying and shook her again. This time it caused her to vomit and her nose began to bleed. He noticed she was having trouble breathing.

Leileah arrived at Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Hospital around 8pm on Wednesday night. The police were contacted three hours later. Leileah lived two more days before dying on December 9th and becoming Tacoma’s 13th homicide of 2011. Her father is being charged with her death.

It would be easy to call Leileah’s father a monster. Go to any given news site about this and you’ll find comments doing exactly that. And to be clear, what he did is monsterous and terrible. I have a personal friend who has a child that was shaken by the child’s father. That child has severe brain trauma and will never lead a normal life. So I have no illusions as to the devestation this tragedy has caused.

However, I also believe that most cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome don’t occur with the intention of killing or even harming the child. It’s a combination of frustration, the loss of one’s temper and the lack of knowledge. This doesn’t make any of this any less tragic. And it doesn’t make the person involved less responsible.

What needs to be said, again and again is that you NEVER SHAKE A BABY. Not ever. My mother is a labor and delivery nurse. I’ve listened to stories of babies all my life. While it might be common knowledge for most, there are still many who simply don’t know or don’t believe in Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Leileah isn’t the first shaken baby to die. Sadly, she won’t be the last. My heart goes out to the family of this child. I can’t imagine what they’re going through. The only good thing that can come out of this is hopefully, there will be young parents who hear about this case and learn that they can never shake a baby.

– Jack Cameron

For more information on Shaken Baby Syndrome, go to: http://dontshake.org/

12th Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Terrance Sand

On Friday night around 8pm, someone living near South 34th & Madison heard a gunshot. Looking out the window, they saw a man on the ground and two men standing over him. The two men walked away, leaving Terrance Sand dead from a single gunshot wound.

Terrance Sand was 42 years old. He’d been living in a boarded up house near where he died. So far there has been very little reported about this shooting. There is currently no description of the two men and their whereabouts are unknown.

A more jaded person might think that the lack of information and the fact that suspects haven’t been caught has something to do with the fact that Terrance Sand was essentially homeless. The truth is that these sort of homicides are among the most difficult to solve. People without homes often have little to no contact with family. Friends tend to no have fixed addresses or other means of contact. Jobs tend to be sporadic. Living off the grid whether by choice or circumstance makes you fairly anonymous.

This killing reminds me of the May 2007 murder of Steven Chennells. Chennells had been found under an overpass and had been homeless for some time.

I’m hoping that more information will come to light in the coming days and weeks. I will update this post when appropriate.

UPDATE: Police have arrested a 28-year-old man in connection with Terrance Sand’s murder. Charging documents indicate that Terrance knocked on a neighbor’s door and was asked to leave. Directly afterward, the suspect, who had been staying at that house, approached him and a fight broke out. Witness statements say the suspect punched Terrance repeatedly and then shot him once, killing him.

If you happened to be someone who knew Terrance Sand and you’d like to talk about what sort of person he was or memories you have of him, please feel free to leave a comment.

One note, I moderate all comments so they will only appear after I have approved them. This is to stop any threats or hate-speak.

-Jack Cameron

About My Tacoma Homicide Posts

Originally, I started writing about homicides in Tacoma because of Tacoma’s reputation as a city of crime. Tacoma has a long and colorful history of crime and corruption. That history continues, but when it comes to homicides, Tacoma really isn’t as dangerous as it used to be. Crime rates have dropped significantly since the 1990s. My original purpose was to show that there really aren’t that many homicides in Tacoma. Usually about one a month.

Since most media reports tend to focus on the killer, I chose to focus instead on the victim. Personally, I don’t think killing someone should make you a household name. So whenever possible, I don’t mention the name of the killer. Another aspect of it is that the victim is usually forgotten and little if anything is written about who the person was. I wanted to write about these people who could no longer share their story, whatever their story was.

Soon after I started doing this, I found a new purpose in writing about these murders. I found that friends and relatives of the victim would often contact me. Some would be old friends who hadn’t seen the victim in years and only found out they had died through a Google search that found my site. Others would be mothers, wives, fathers and children of the victim. It became clear that what I was doing mattered to some people.

There was also the flipside of that coin. Particularly when gangs were involved, I’d get other messages. I’d get threatening emails. Once I got one with information only someone directly involved with the killing would have known. I forwarded that one on to the police. At the time, it occurred to me that while some liked what I was doing there were others who didn’t and some of those others were killers. And so I stopped for a few years.

During that time, I’d occasionally reread the emails from the friends and relatives of victims. I was contacted by one who asked me if I could find the name of the person who killed a woman a few years ago. It took a bit of research since I don’t mention killers, but the person who wrote me wanted to know who killed her mother. I sent her the information I had. I was reminded that what it comes down to is that the victims can no longer tell their story and someone should.

I started writing about Tacoma homicides again in 2011. I plan on continuing to do so for the foreseeable future. Because there have to be limits on something like this, I only write about homicides that occur in the city limits of Tacoma. I include police involved shootings because I am told that they are counted in official homicide statistics and because those victims have a story too. I don’t include vehicular homicides because they are much more difficult to write about. Often charges aren’t filed until much later, and writing about everyone who is killed in a car accident in Tacoma goes a bit outside of what this is for.

When writing about these crimes, I use whatever information is available to me at the time. I read newspaper articles, news sites and television news broadcasts. I also use whatever personal knowledge I might have of the victim, the area or any other information I might have. Whenever possible, I try to write it with a sympathetic ear towards the victim. This year, that’s been a bit difficult. There were two police involved shootings and two instances where a homeowner shot intruders in their house. While it’s debatable whether they were justifiable or not, there were no charges filed in these cases and in each of them, it’s understandable why events occurred the way they did.

I’m not a reporter. I’m not objective. I do have an opinion on each homicide I write about. I try not to let that influence me too much, but it’s impossible to keep my bias out of something I write. I’ll be the first to admit that occasionally I get it wrong. Often this is due to a lack of information on the case at the time that I’m writing about it. This is why I tend to wait until the name of the victim is released. Usually by that time, the story of what happened is out there and reasonably complete.

It’s my hope that telling these stories helps those who have lost someone and gives others a better picture of people Tacoma has lost.

– Jack Cameron

11th Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Aaron Westby

Photo Courtesy of Pierce County Sheriff.

On the morning of Saturday, October 22, Aaron Westby was loading suitcases into a truck in the alley near South 19th and Yakima Street. Aaron was a known car thief. The bright red Ford truck had been stolen Friday with a gun inside it. Two uniformed Pierce County officers approached him. He was known well enough from his previous encounters with police that these two knew him by sight.

Aaron continued to load the suitcases as they approached. He knew he had a warrant out for his arrest. He also knew that this would be his third strike and he’d likely be facing life in prison if they arrested him. So he told them that they would not be arresting him. When they got to him, there was a bit of a struggle. Eventually he got free and got into the truck. One of the officers broke the window. They used a taser on him, but it didn’t seem to stop him. According to the officers, he reached into the glove box and told them he had a gun. One of the officers shot once, killing Aaron Westby.

This, it would turn out, would be the second of four police involved shootings in Western Washington this weekend. The first shooting happened in Grey’s Harbor County when an inmate receiving medical treatment attempted to escape, taking a hostage with the butter knife. Less than 24 hours after Aaron Westby’s death, officers in Lakewood shot an armed man at a party. Then on Sunday, in Seattle’s Belltown, a homicide suspect was shot on Cedar Street.

Aaron Westby was facing life in prison as a result of an extensive criminal record. He had a history of running from the police. The stolen truck he was using was reported to have a gun in it. While, it will be months before any investigation into this will be concluded, it’s safe to say that any charges against the officers are unlikely.

Since 2009, when six officers local officers were killed in the space of a few months, four of them in an ambush in Lakewood at a coffee shop, local police have been much more willing to use lethal force. This isn’t news to anyone around here. From the information on hand about Aaron Westby’s death, it would appear he preferred to run and risk death rather than face life in prison. This was an unfortunate loss of life, but one that could have been easily prevented by Westby simply complying with the officers.

I’ve talked with a lot of cops. Some of them are personal friends. Not one of them wakes up wanting to shoot someone. That said, most of them are more than willing to if it means saving lives or saving their own life. For some the action haunts them forever. For others, it’s just part of the job.

A search of the truck found that there was no gun inside. Aaron Westby’s last threat was a hallow one. Did he say it knowing the officers would shoot? The more cynical might even ask if he said it at all? Aaron Westby made it clear he wasn’t going back to prison and he was right.

If you knew Aaron, please feel free to comment below with memories of him. All the media is going to report is that he was a car thief. If you have more to say than will fit in a comment, feel free to email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com

 

10th Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Devondre D. Davis

Devondre D. Davis

At some point on Wednesday, September 7th, 16-year-old Devondre D. Davis went to the apartment of 20-year-old Anthony Clark on Tacoma’s East Side. Clark has given various accounts of why Devondre was there and what happened what he got there. What is known is that sometime after Devondre arrived he was  shot in the back of the head likely while near the bedroom closet.

Devondre’s body was found in a garbage bin in the 500 block of East 36th Street. Neighbors say Clark asked him if he could dispose of a body in the garbage bin. They then alerted members of the Tacoma Police Department’s Anti-Gang task force who were nearby on an unrelated call.

This tenth Tacoma homicide of 2011 is such a senseless waste of life that I actually have trouble writing about it. This is the second teenager murdered in Tacoma in the last two weeks. Here’s hoping this streak stops now.

Tacoma’s East Side has had its share of violence. Like the rest of Tacoma, it has improved over the years. Much like Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, the East Side is held together by proud citizens who do not accept that this sort of violence has to be a part of their neighborhood.

We may never know the reason Devondre was shot and killed. In many ways, it doesn’t matter why. There isn’t a reason that is justifiable for what happened to him. It is a crime and a tragedy.

Devondre may be gone, but he is remembered. A Facebook Page has been posted in his memory. You can find it here: http://on.fb.me/nLJlg7.

You can also post comments below if you like. My thoughts go out to Devondre’s friends and family.

– Jack Cameron

Ninth Homicide of 2011 – Billy Shirley III

On the second floor of a building just off of Center Street, the After Party was getting intense in the early hours of Saturday morning. This wasn’t just a guy inviting people back to his place for a few drinks. This place had bouncers. There were even guys with flashlights to tell you where to park when it got busy. The Friday night after party was far from the first one to happen here.

Seventeen year old Billy Shirley arrived there just before 5:00am. He wasn’t there to party. He was there to check on someone. Unconfirmed reports say he was there to pick up his mother. Billy wasn’t the late night after party type. Last April he was profiled in The News Tribune as part of a volunteer group called ‘Peace Out’. What happened next is still under investigation. There was an argument between Billy and someone else. Some witnesses say there Billy became involved in a brawl. What’s clear is that as Billy was leaving he was shot at least twice in the back. When the paramedics arrived, they were unable to revive him. As the sun rose on the City of Tacoma, Billy Shirley III became its ninth homicide victim for 2011.

Tacoma had managed to go most of the summer without a homicide. Our last one was in June. There was a recent shooting near Tacoma General Hospital almost a week ago, but the victim was uncooperative and his wounds were not life threatening.

Billy was about to begin his senior year at Curtis High School. From his involvement in Peace Out and various comments online, it sounds like he was a good kid who was interested in giving back to the community. It’s an unfortunate tragedy in the City of Destiny. He will not be forgotten.

After Parties are nothing new in Tacoma. Neither are illegal night clubs. One could argue that since this place had been having parties for months without a major incident that it wasn’t a big deal. However, one could just as easily argue that something like this was bound to happen in a place like that. That area of Center Street is mostly an industrial area. They likely didn’t get too many noise complaints regardless of how loud they were.

With the death of Billy Shirley, it’s safe to say that the After Party is over. At least in that location. The Tacoma Police Department continue to investigate and would like to talk to anyone who left the party before the police arrived.

–          Jack Cameron

Related Links:

Peace Out: http://www.mypeaceout.org/

TNT’s Profile of Billy Shirley: http://bit.ly/nU6UCr

5 Question Friday With Tacoma Cold Case Detective Gene Miller

Many years ago I worked in police records at the Law Enforcement Support Agency. I spent my day transcribing police records and deciphering handwriting on police reports usually written on clipboards in a squad car. At the office, there were aisles of folders from all sorts of cases. However, at the end of the aisles, on a bookshelf, there were a group of accordion files bigger than most of the other ones. Many of them were red. I asked what they were. Someone told me that those were the unsolved homicide cases. Thinking how each one of those represented a human life that had been taken by someone who was still out there haunted me. It’s one of the reasons that when I started my first website about Tacoma, I started writing about every homicide that happened in Tacoma.

Detective Gene Miller is in charge of the Tacoma Police Department’s Cold Case Unit. Many cities don’t even have a Cold Case Unit. Tacoma just started this unit last April. Detective Miller keeps these cases from just being folders on a shelf and he took time out of his day to join me for 5 Question Friday.

1. How did you get started in the Tacoma Police Department?

I was born and raised in Tacoma.  I became interested in law enforcement while at WSU and was hired by the Enumclaw Police Department after college.  When the opportunity presented itself in 1985, I transferred here to Tacoma which is where I ultimately wanted to be.

2. You now head up the Cold Case Unit of the Tacoma Police Department. What interests you in Cold Cases in particular?

I firmly believe that someone needs to continue to speak for the victims of these cases and for the families left behind to deal with the loss.  The citizens of Tacoma need to know these cases are not forgotten and the killers yet to be caught need to know that as well.

3. What tools are now available that give you advantages in solving Cold Cases?

The keys to solving cold case homicides are technology and time.  The scientists at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab are my best friends.  What they bring to the table is HUGE in the resolution of many of these cases.  Time is a big thing as well because I have the benefit of seeing who people are today.  Bad guys may have been able to hide under a rock back then but, more often than not, they will have raised their heads and gotten caught being who they are.  That historical perspective is effective in rooting out the suspect in many investigations.

4. What is one of the biggest misconceptions that the public has about homicide investigations?

The biggest misconception is that we live in a CSI (television) world.  The reality is just because someone touches something doesn’t mean they are going to leave a useable print.  Suspects do not always leave DNA and even if they do, it can take months before we get any lab results.  Also, some of the technology people see on TV only exists in some writers mind.  A good percentage of the other technology only exists at the state level where it is shared by several agencies, all of which are competing for its time.

5. What Cold Cases are you currently working on?

The unit has 192 cases that date back to 1961. All of these cases are open for investigation and varying levels of work occur on each case throughout the year to include the submittal of evidence etc. The unit also actively pursues certain investigations more vigorously based on a variety of factors. Due to the sensitive nature of law enforcement investigations I am not in a position to give you any particular details. Ultimately, you’ll know the answer to this question shortly after the person responsible for the murder finds out.

Thanks to the Tacoma Police Department and Detective Gene Miller for participating in 5 Question Friday.

As always if you or someone you know is interested in doing a 5 Question Friday interview, contact me at jackcameronis@gmail.com