Monthly Archives: August 2011

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:

TNT’s Profile of Billy Shirley:

5 Question Friday With Tacoma Blogger Luke Byram

Once Tacoma was named America’s most wired city. So I suppose it’s not a surprise that there are quite a few people out there who just love writing about Tacoma. Luke Byram is one such writer. He recently contacted me asking if he could do a guest post on Tacoma Stories. I told him I’d welcome the submission. Then I did some quick online research and when it comes to Tacoma websites, Luke Byram is all over the place. He’s a frequent contributor to and other local blogs.  The most surprising thing about all of this is that Luke is in 9th Grade. So here are five questions I put to Luke Byram for 5 Question Friday.

1. You’re one of the youngest and most prolific bloggers in Tacoma. How did you get started writing creatively?

I am a news junkie, especially for the Puget Sound area but also nationally a bit. My quest to write started when I was in 7th grade. I stumbled upon a Tacoma news site that recruited Tacoma Community Bloggers for their community blogger program. I am contributing to and

2. What are some of your favorite things about Tacoma?

My favorite thing about City of Destiny is… Tacomans who care and want to be involved. I love T-Town’s arts and culture as well as the many amazing events.  

3. What’s your favorite Tacoma blog right now and why?

There are many great T-Town blogs out there. I love food so you can’t go wrong with TNT’s Diner Blog written by the awesome Sue Kidd.

4.Where is your favorite spot in Tacoma?

A favorite spot on a sunny day in the summer is Owens Beach. I have to say there are many great spots in Tacoma.

5. What are your writing plans for the future?

Just to continue to write about Tacoma.

As always, if you think you or someone you know would be good for 5 Question Friday, email me and let me know at

5 Question Friday With Tacoma City Ballet’s Melissa Lovejoy Goldman

I’ve known Melissa Lovejoy Goldman since high school. Though we’ve traveled very different paths, those paths still cross.

Recently she sent me an email about Tacoma City Ballet. Melissa has been a part of TCB for years and it’s great to see someone with so much passion for the art of ballet. I asked if she’d be willing to participate in 5 Question Friday and share some of that passion. She was happy to oblige.

1. What is the history of Tacoma City Ballet?

Fifty six years ago, it was Miss Jan Collum’s dream to create a classical ballet school and performing company in Tacoma.  She believed that offering dancers who had achieved a certain level of technique, artistry and professionalism the opportunity to perform in a professional atmosphere was an integral facet of their preparation for a career as a professional ballet dancer.

The Jan Collum School of Classical Ballet was established in 1955 and along with the Concert Ballet Group of Tacoma, the performing company.  The small company began with six dancers, but quickly grew boasting a membership of thirty or more.  Several years later, Miss Jan created a not-for-profit corporation, gathered a board of directors and renamed the company BALLETACOMA.  After a good thirty strong years, the company became plagued by deficit and the board of directors of BALLETACOMA decided to dissolve the corporation in 1995.  Miss Jan and Miss Erin Ceragioli, the Co-Artistic Directors, refused to let the dream perish.  Once again, a new not-for-profit corporation was created and a new board of directors was assembled.  The company was christened Tacoma City Ballet, its third name in a forty-year history. Miss Jan Collum passed away in August of 2001, but if she were here today, she would be so proud of how her school and company have grown and continue to play such an essential role in Tacoma’s renaissance.

Housed in the beautiful Merlino Art Center at 6th and Fawcett in Tacoma, Tacoma City Ballet is very proud of its recently remodeled facility.  One of the studios, an enormous ballroom with high ceilings and beautifully arched Palladian windows, is one of the crown jewels of our city.  Dancers study and rehearse in spacious, old-world elegance.  The atmosphere, filled with light and beautiful music, is uplifting and truly inspirational.

Tacoma City Ballet perpetuates the long established traditions of classical ballet.  All classes, pre-ballet through professional, have a requisite syllabus, live piano accompaniment, and require dancers to don uniformed attire.  Erin Ceragioli, Artistic Director, as well as Joel Myers, the new Assistant Artistic Director, embrace the traditional teaching philosophies of classical ballet, but insist that nurturing and developing the student’s mind and spirit as well as their body are equally important.

2. How can people help Tacoma City Ballet?

Oh, so many ways!

The most immediate is to vote for us in Intuit’s Love a Local Business grant competition.  Tacoma City Ballet is competing for up to $50,000 in grant money through Love a Local Business from Intuit.  Every comment we receive on our Love a Local Business page ( gives us another chance to be awarded an initial $25,000.  If you prefer, you could text TCBallet to 244326. They’ll ask you for your name and a comment after the initial text message. The quality of the comments will determine which finalist business receives an additional $25,000.  So if you have 250 characters worth of good things to say about TCB, that would be fabulous.  Maybe you’ve collaborated on a project, maybe you danced here when you were younger or had a child dance here.  Maybe you’ve seen a show we’ve put on and would like to say something from an audience member’s point of view.

If you have a longer testimonial that won’t fit into 250 characters, we are always happy to receive those as well.  We are constantly writing grants and developing new programs that ask for community testimonials, so a healthy library of letters and emails is always useful.

If you haven’t had the chance to experience what we have to offer, you can help us by joining our audience.  In our 2011-2012 season, we have several shows:

·         The Haunted Theatre – Halloween Fun For All Ages October 22nd-30th at Tacoma City Ballet

·         Art at Work – Open Nutcracker Rehearsal November 19th 1-3pm at Tacoma City Ballet

·         The Nutcracker – Classic Christmas Favorite with the Northwest Sinfonietta December 10th-21st at the Pantages Theatre

·         Choreography Showcase – A Showcase of New Choreography April 20th-22nd at Theatre on the Square

Come take a ballet class with us – we have everything from beginning adult ballet (Thursdays at 7pm currently) through advanced ballet available on a drop-in basis.  Or if there’s a child in your life that would benefit from some classical ballet training, send them our way.  We have classes for students starting at 3 years old, and enrollment is open now.  We’re always looking for new members of our ballet family!

3. What do you need if you want to join Tacoma City Ballet?

Really, anyone can participate in classes at Tacoma City Ballet.  We have adult beginning and intermediate ballet classes that require nothing more than willingness to learn and $5-$10 for the class (there’s a discount if you purchase a 10-class card).  If you’re talking about becoming a member of the Tacoma City Ballet Performing Company, there’s a more intense standard.  We have company auditions each season, and company members are required to commit to a fairly strenuous schedule in addition to having a solid background in classical ballet.  We have opportunities to become involved as a volunteer as well.

4. Your favorite moment in your years of working with at the Tacoma City Ballet?

I have so many, it was hard to decide. Was it the first time I had a solo role on stage?  Was it the first time one of my students danced the role of Sugar Plum Fairy in Nutcracker? I finally figured it out – it’s actually something I get to enjoy over and over.  I love watching my dancers grow up.  They come to us as small children and learn not only classical ballet, but also respect, discipline, and self-control.  Each year, we say goodbye to another batch of seniors as they head off to make their way in the world.  It’s a pleasure watching them develop into extraordinary people, and then hearing about the wonderful things they do as adults. 

5. What’s next for Tacoma City Ballet?

That’s the exciting part.  TCB is entering a whole new chapter.  We are currently developing more community outreach and education programs and working to bring the arts to as many people in Tacoma as possible.  We are developing partnerships with the Evergreen State College as well as Tacoma Public Schools to bring ballet to underserved students.  Last season, we were able to bring several professional dancers into our Nutcracker, and we have already held auditions for a small corps of professional dancers for this season. 

 I’d like to thank Melissa Lovejoy Goldman for participating in 5 Question Friday. As always, if you think you or someone you know should be a part of 5 Question Friday, contact me at . For more information on Tacoma City Ballet, you can contact Melissa at

508 6th Ave. Tacoma, WA 98402


Help Save Comic Book Ink!

A couple months ago, I shared my friend John Munn’s story of trying to save his comic book shop, Comic Book Ink. He was $30,000 in debt and in danger of closing. The good news is that people have helped out tremendously and he’s very close to reaching his goal. The bad news is that he’s had to endure more personal tragedies and he’s not quite at that goal yet. If you can help, please do. His shop is on 84th Street. Right next to the Regal Cinemas.  Here’s John Munn with more information:
Hello Everyone (please share this):When I first sent out my appeal two months ago, I was truly overwhelmed by the level of support that washed over Comic Book Ink, both near (and very far away).

To recap:

When we moved from East 72nd to our new home, at the Lakewood Regal Cinemas Complex, we knew we would succeed, but we were $110,000.00 in debt.

I knew the shop could do it. Through the help of Angels, I had been able to juggle bills for eight years…including the huge drop in October of 2008. I had juggled as hard as I could up to that point and I just couldn’t juggle anymore. The economy was not recovery as fast as we needed, I was trying to help my father as he battled with health issues, my wife was no longer employed …there were a number of things that were draining my finances and I could no longer put them into the shop.

We were $30,000.00 away from not being able to stay open.

When the e-mail & FB Post went out, I got back a lot of mean spirited e-mails and phone calls:

–You should shut your doors
–You should lay off your staff
–You don’t deserve to be here
–You should close and just focus on your Dad
–You should not put your faith in your customers

They hurt deeply. But the one that hurt the most was about not putting my faith in my customers.

My Customers & Angles proved them wrong…in the last two months and three weeks, you have reduced that debt from $30,000.00 to $4,500.00 which, ironically, is the cost of this week’s shipment, and back debt payment to Diamond Comics (who have also been phenomenal and helped us greatly). This week’s invoice is $4,529.74.

Yes…there has been a slow down of people picking up their comics on a weekly basis, but they are trying to come in at least every other week or, at least, once a month.

About my staff. The store succeeds, and is what it is, because of them. The core group of our “Customer Family” know Alex, Josh & Carmen…and they are the reason that this folks come to the store. We would succeed together or we would end together. We might be less one appendix in the last three months (Carmen’s), but we are still here fighting.

My father ended his battle on August 10th, 2011 at 7:12pm. I am working through the process, with my two brothers, of settling his affairs and putting the life he left behind into order. From FB: “If there is anything that you consider to be a strength of mine…if there is anything that you consider to be the goodness is me…if there is anything that you value in my love for others…If there is anything that you admire in my support of community and every project I get to work on…it can all be attributed to the one person in my life…who guided, loved, supported, inspired, nurtured, taught, drove, cared for and made me who I am from my childhood into my attempts to be an adult: JOHN MUNN, SR. He passed away quietly last night and I hope I can continue to be the same model for my boys, and family, that he proved to be every day.”

Josh asked me yesterday: “Where are we?”

Will we close if we do not have the final $4,500.00?

I can’t juggle anymore…and this week, alone, is proving to be a rough one…the first two weeks of the month always are. I want to juggle, but I can’t.

I need a final run at this…I can’t do it by myself…and it kills me more than you know to even ask you.

We do need folks in this week…to help us finish this.

Please pick up your comics, starting today, and a little extra.

Please catch up your files if you have not.

Please consider purchasing a share.

Please help if you can.

Please remember:

Cash or Check, if possible (we do not have to pay any additional fees through the credit card machine)

We will also accept Credit Card (because of the situation, we are willing to pay the additional fees in order to obtain fiscal help)

If I am not there during the day this week, it is because I am working on matter regarding Dad or at the Lakewood Playhouse, briefly, continuing to assist them and their outstanding staff.

The shop has my phone number and will willingly give it out to folks who might be able to help.

The folks who have come forward, so far, have proved it time and time again over the last three months. They have poured there love into this place that I tried to build.

THANK YOU! Please, please, please…don’t let up now!!

This has been the hardest, most public thing, I have ever done…

Thank you for understanding…and thank you for the care and love you have shown so far.
-John Munn

Comic Book Ink

2510 S 84th, Suites 15A-B
Lakewood, WA

The Tacoma Youth Initiative

Jen Kurkoski surrounded by others in the TYI (including me in the lower right hand corner.)

In 1995 I was nineteen. I got a phone call from someone.

“Mr. Cameron, we’d like to start the Tacoma Youth Initiative again. We’d like you to run it.”

“No. I’m not interested.”

“May I ask why not?”

“The youth of Tacoma do not deserve the Youth Initiative.”

My participation was from 1992-1993. I don’t remember how I got started, but I think it was a girl. At the time, I was known for joining groups simply because a girl I was interested in was a member. It’s how I ended up being a Quaker for a while. More often than not, I’d join the group and get just as interested in the group as I was in the girl. The Youth Initiative was no different in that respect.

To explain what the Tacoma Youth Initiative was and what it did, it’s important to explain the environment in which it existed. The first Gulf War had ended. Bill Clinton was in the White House with a bunch of new optimism. And Starbucks had just gone public. When it came to young people, the general fears were drugs, gangs, pregnancies, and AIDS. Each of these fears resulted in various programs to help kids who were addicted, or stuck in gangs, or pregnant. Almost all of the programs out there were reactionary programs for kids who had already screwed up.

The concept behind the Tacoma Youth Initiative was a bit revolutionary at the time. What if there was a program full of resources for young people before they got messed up with drugs, gangs, or anything else? More importantly, how about a program that helped these teens do what they want to do?

The Tacoma Youth Initiative supported and promoted groups and activities geared towards teenagers in Tacoma. An environmental group called SAVE (Students’ Actions for a Viable Environment), various Safe Streets programs, and Crossroads Coffee Shoppe were all among the programs championed by the Tacoma Youth Initiative.

I know this is hard to believe, but there was a time when there wasn’t a coffee shop on every other corner of Tacoma. And the coffee shops that did existed were not exactly teen friendly. Most of the time a bunch of us would just go to Shari’s or Denny’s. A bunch of us would arrive at the restaurant. The waitress would roll her eyes as each of us ordered just a cup of coffee. 

Soon they made rules that we had to order food or they’d say we could only stay for an hour. This was the genesis of Crossroads Coffee Shoppe. The Tacoma Youth Initiative helped fund the concept of a coffee shop where teens could drink coffee, listen to music, and hang out indefinitely.  Since it was non-profit, there wasn’t any worry of patrons ruining our bottom line.

Crossroads existed in part of a large warehouse owned by the Boy Scouts of America. Part of it was used for the Sea Scouts, but the rest of it was donated to the Youth Initiative. It was located on Dock Street just below the 11th Street Bridge, otherwise known as the Murray Morgan Bridge. It was essentially in a forgotten part of Tacoma. This was before there were gigantic empty condo buildings or the Museum of Glass. Most people who ended up on Dock Street were lost, homeless or drunk. Once, a drunk guy in a pick-up truck took out four small trees next to the warehouse while we were there.

Those of us who were part of Crossroads Coffee Shoppe met every Tuesday at 7pm. We talked about getting equipment and finding the financing for our little part of Tacoma. We also had work parties where we put up walls and made the warehouse space into a place people could actually hang out. Occasionally as a fund raising strategy, we’d open our doors to the public for a night at a time. It was always a low-key affair. No one got crazy drunk or stoned out of their minds. There was never any violence. It was a group of teenagers responsibly hanging out with like minded people. I made many friends at Crossroads that I still talk to on a regular basis.

Crossroads Coffee Shoppe

Eventually I decided to get more involved with the Youth Initiative. The Tacoma Youth Initiative’s offices were located in two small rooms on the first floor of the Tacoma Central School building. Youth Initiative director, Jen Kurkoski was always happy for any help she could get. Many days after school, I would go into the office and help stuff envelopes, fold newsletters, or do whatever else needed to be done while listening to Jen’s radio ever tuned to National Public Radio.

In a very real way, Jen Kurkoski was the Tacoma Youth Initiative and yet, it never felt like she was controlling us. She was the first adult I’d ever met who I felt was on our side. She had a quality about her that got the best out of you and made you feel optimistic. At the time I had no idea how rare it was to work with a genuine leader.

After a while, I started writing for the Tacoma Youth Initiative newsletter. One month, I saw the newsletter and noticed that a paragraph in my article had been changed. I actually left school and went down to the office to yell at Jen for changing my article. She calmed me down immediately. It was the first time I’d been edited.

I was still attending weekly meetings at Crossroads, but it was becoming increasingly clear that Crossroads was never going to be more than a glorified clubhouse for us and our friends. No matter how much we tried to promote the place, we couldn’t get the amount of people in it that we needed to make it an ongoing thing. I decided it was due to our terrible location which I believed was donated to us because no one else on Earth would want it. More than once, I half-jokingly suggested we should burn the warehouse and use the insurance money to get a real location. One time we ordered a pizza once and the guy got lost. I said, “This guy is getting paid to find us and he still can’t find us.”

Back at the Youth Initiative Offices things were getting even more desperate. We weren’t just running out of funding for Crossroads. We were running out of funding for everything. Giving money to homeless kids or drug rehab for kids or for runaways or for former gang members has always been a good way to get in the papers. But giving money to average teenagers who weren’t in any sort of trouble? Hell, didn’t they just give $20 to their kid for gas? The fact of the matter was the Tacoma Youth Initiative simply wasn’t sexy enough to garner ongoing support.

In January of 1993 Jen announced that the Youth Initiative was closing its doors. This announcement got us more publicity than anything we’d ever done. Suddenly we were being interviewed by the News Tribune. Some were happy to see them. I saw them as vultures picking on a corpse. We’d had press releases all but ignored during the majority of our existence and now suddenly we were news…because we were dying.

Jen tried to put a good face on it. She had one last gathering. A cast party for the Tacoma Youth Initiative. She invited us to her apartment on Stadium Way. It was a chance to see some of the people from the other branches of the Youth Initiative. We talked and hung out and worked on a big poster of scraps from our various endeavors.

And then it was gone. As if it had never been. I never saw Jen Kurkoski again. I remained friends with many of people from Crossroads. In the time since we had tried to start Crossroads, coffee shops had sprung up like a disease. There was Temple of the Bean over on Division and North I Street and across the street from it, there was Buzz City. Later there was Café WA and later still Shakabra Java. Crossroads was gone, but at the same time, in a way, it was everywhere.

In the years following the demise of the Tacoma Youth Initiative, I got jaded. I felt that not only did the media and local philanthropists not do enough to save the Youth Initiative, but neither did my fellow young people. More and more I saw that the majority of my peers seemed to think that the world owed them something and the last thing they wanted to do was work for it. So when I got that call in 1995, I turned it down. And as far as I know, the Youth Initiative never started up again.

Now, almost twenty years after I first heard the words ‘Tacoma Youth Initiative’, I’m not nearly so jaded. I see it was something that helped shape who I am. It’s where I started writing things that people other than my friends read. The Youth Initiative is no more. But the people from the Youth Initiative are still around. One is a principal at a high school. One works at corporate offices at Zumiez. Another works in a law office downtown. And Jen Kurkoski is in California working for Google. We’ve all gone on to different things, but I think each of us was changed by our experiences with the Tacoma Youth Initiative and I’m thankful for that.

Could the Tacoma Youth Initiative work in today’s Tacoma? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, but as always, the problem is money. The question is, what would the youth of Tacoma do if they had the resources? I bet it would be something amazing.

– Jack Cameron

Were you part of the Tacoma Youth Initiative? Do you have stories of TYI to share? Email me at It’d be great to hear from you.

Note: Don’t worry. 5 Question Friday isn’t gone. We’re just skipping a week.

What Was The Tacoma Youth Initiative?

Coming Soon...

5 Question Friday With The News Tribune’s Crime Reporter Stacey Mulick

Photo Courtesy of

Before Tacoma Stories, this site was something called The South Tacoma Way. One of the first people to notice my site was News Tribune Crime Reporter, Stacey Mulick. Since then, I’ve started this site and Stacey has remained at the Tribune keeping an eye on the darker side of the City of Destiny. It’s safe to say that without Stacey’s diligent reporting, there’s no way I would be able to chronicle the Tacoma Homicides nearly as well. Her reports are often the starting point for those articles.

Stacey is one of the main contributors to The News Tribune’s Lights & Sirens blog. This week she was nice enough to join me for 5 Question Friday.

1. You’ve been the News Tribune’s crime reporter for many years now. What keeps you interested in Tacoma?

I grew up in the Puget Sound region and love this area. This is home for me, for my family and for my extended family so I don’t see myself leaving. I was fortunate to get a job coming out of college that allowed me to stay in the region that I love. Plus, I continue to find stories that intrigue me.

2. The newspaper industry has gone through tremendous changes. What do you see for the future of newspapers?

I think newspapers will continue to be around and have an important place in our communities. Newspapers have had to adapt in recent years because of the changes in advertising revenue and the explosion of the Internet and social networking sites. Newspapers will continue to adapt and expand their web-based content.

3. As the crime reporter, you focus is obviously on the negative side of Tacoma. What are some positive aspects of the city that you’d like to talk about?

I love to write stories about neighborhoods that have turned themselves around after being plagued for years by crime and blight and victims that have overcome obstacles to better their lives. Over the past 13 years, I’ve seen Tacoma change a lot. The Hilltop is not what it was when I first arrived as a green college student. Downtown has changed and evolved and so have some of the neighborhoods. The amount of crime – and the type of crime – is not what it was when I first arrived. Meth manufacturing has mostly come and gone. The gangs are still here but recent crackdowns have tempered the violence.

4. What’s something that most people don’t know about being a reporter?

We’re human. I think people expect reporters to be perfect all the time, work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and know all the answers instantaneously, especially now with so much attention to the web. We work hard, get the information as fast as we can, ask follow up questions and put together as complete, accurate and timely stories as we can.

5. Where’s your favorite place in Tacoma to relax?

I am addicted to the Puyallup Farmers’ Market.

Thanks to Stacey for participating in 5 Question Friday. If you’re looking for crime news in Tacoma, her Lights & Sirens blog is the best place to go on the web.

As always, if you have suggestions or you or someone you know wants to participate in 5 Question Friday, email me at

-Jack Cameron