Category Archives: Tacoma Homicides

A Word About The Murders Of Charlie And Bradon Powell

At Tacoma Stories, I limit my coverage of homicides to those that occur in the city of Tacoma. If I started to cover murders outside of Tacoma, I’m not sure where that stops. Do I cover all of Pierce County? Do I cover just the significant homicides? As soon as I ask myself that question, it upsets me because they’re all significant. Every homicide victim has family and friends who now have a hole in their lives.

So when seven-year-old Charlie Powell and his brother five-year-old Braden Powell were brutally murdered by their father in Graham, I was a bit torn about weather I should write about it. The murders did not take place in Tacoma. And if I wrote about it, I would feel compelled to write about the next murder that happened in an area surrounding Tacoma. Because otherwise, I’m saying that this homicide is somehow more important than the next and that’s just not something I believe.

In the days that followed these homicides, many questions were asked. How could this have been prevented? Did the judge do the right thing allowing the father to have supervised visitation? Did the social worker do everything she could? Did the 911 operator handle the call correctly? All of these are good questions if they lead to positive changes. They are not good questions if you’re looking for someone to blame because the person to blame is the murderer.

Today in Tacoma, there is a funeral for Charlie and Braden. Hundreds if not thousands are expected to arrive. The vast majority of them will be people who have never met Charlie and Braden or any of their friends or family. Some will be reporters ‘live tweeting’ from the ceremony. KIRO TV has promised live coverage and aerial footage from their helicopter.

At one point a ‘church’ known for its hate claimed that it was going to picket the funeral. I won’t name the organization because what they want is publicity. Others, including the local ‘Occupy’ movement promised a counter-protest. Charlie and Bradon’s family asked that they all not show up and rightly so. None of this is going to make saying goodbye to these children any easier.

I will not be attending the ceremony for the same reason I haven’t attended most funerals; I did not know them. My presence there would not be any sort of comfort to the family and since I technically write about homicides, I could be seen as ‘press’ which would be even worse.

– Jack Cameron

First Tacoma Homicide of 2012 – Michelle Davis

Within the first twenty-four hours of 2012, Tacoma had its first homicide of the year. A month earlier, 25-year-old Michelle Davis had broken up with her boyfriend. Since that time, she’d told friends and relatives that he’d been stalking her. She was afraid enough that she stayed over at her sister’s house on East 84th and D Street on New Year’s Day.  Around 11:30pm her ex-boyfriend got into the house and shot Michelle Davis while she slept. Michelle’s sister escaped through a window with a young child. Her sister’s boyfriend was shot eleven times and is currently in the hospital. Her ex then left the house. He was found in the school yard of Larchmont Elementary the next morning with a self inflicted gunshot wound.

Tacoma’s East Side has always had its share of violence, but the truth is that this sort of thing can happen in any neighborhood. I don’t know the particulars of Michelle’s relationship with her ex. I know that volatile relationships are all too common regardless of who you are or where you live. Getting away from the situation is the best thing you can do. From the sounds of things, that’s exactly what Michelle was trying to do.

In Seattle, on Christmas Eve, a school teacher was killed by her violent ex. These domestic homicides are becoming all too common. Sadly, there isn’t a lot to be done about it. Restraining orders won’t stop someone with homicidal urges from killing. They help get them arrested, but that’s about all they do.

Relatives say that Michelle had an eight-year-old daughter, which makes this all the more tragic. As always, the comments section below is reserved for those who knew Michelle and want to post their memories or condolences.

– Jack Cameron

Fourteenth Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Michelle Johnson

On the evening of Friday, December 16th, 45-year-old Michelle Johnson had been hanging out with an acquaintance on Tacoma’s South Side. At some point, they began to argue. The argument went into the street. Someone in a vehicle passing by saw the argument and thought it was volatile enough to call the non-emergency number for the police. Michelle threw a couple of punches according to some witnesses. The acquaintance then got into a Chevy Tahoe while Michelle walked away. As Michelle was crossing the street on the intersection of South 43rd and J Street, she was hit and killed by the SUV driven by the acquaintance.

This is Tacoma’s fourteenth homicide of 2011 and hopefully its last. It’s also a painful reminder that what starts as a disagreement can become something deadly if the people involved can’t control themselves.

Later that night, Michelle Johnson’s killer was arrested. She admitted to arguing with Michelle. She admitted to being the only car on the street at the time Michelle was struck. She claims that she only drove near Michelle. She’s currently being charged with second degree murder. Due to a lengthy criminal record, she is being held with one million dollar bail.

Typically I don’t post vehicular homicides on this site. This is because often the charges aren’t filed right away and they aren’t normally counted in homicide statistics because they tend to be the result of accidents. However, this was no accident. This was someone using a vehicle to kill a specific person on purpose. That’s not negligence that resulted in the death of someone else. That’s murder.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to prevent this sort of thing from happening. There are plenty of people out there with unpredictable and volatile tempers. We can’t just lock them all up on general principal. Just remember, what might be an argument to you, might be something else entirely to someone else. Michelle was doing the right thing when she was killed. She was walking away.

As always, if you knew Michelle, please feel free to post your thoughts and memories in the comments section. I will not approve comments of hate. This is not the place for that. These posts are to remember those killed in Tacoma. Here’s hoping I’ll have to write less of them next year.

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