Less than three miles from where I’m writing this there sits a for-profit prison capable of housing 1,575 individuals, most of whom are in the Northwest Detention Center at 1600 East J Street simply for not being in this country legally. While one might be able to debate the merits of the immigration system, there is no moral argument to be made that incarceration should be something others profit off of.
It’s the sort of thing that can bother a person. Willem Van Sporsen was such a person. 65-years-ols, a former member of the John Brown Gun Club, a self-described anarchist, with a history of protesting what he felt was wrong came to the end of his rope in the early morning hours of July 11th. Armed with a rifle, flares, and other incendiary devices, Willem arrived at the Northwest Detention Center to cause trouble. Specifically he wanted to damage the vehicles ferrying prisoners in and out of the prison.
He successfully caught a vehicle on fire. Soon police arrived. There was an exchange of gunfire and Willem Van Sporsen was shot and killed by four Tacoma Police officers becoming the thirteenth Tacoma homicide this year.
Willem lived on Vashon Island and was an avid activist. Shortly before he was killed, Willem sent out a three page manifesto saying that he saw the Northwest Detention Center as a symbol of rising fascism and lamenting that he would likely be killed in his action. It isn’t difficult for me to understand the motivations of Willem. It is also not difficult to understand the actions of the police officers. What was likely most unknowable for Willem was the impact the loss of his life is having now to his friends and his family.
When something like this happens, it is easy to get swept up in the headlines and forget about the individual impact the loss of a man’s life has on those who knew him. Though Willem’s loss is hurtful, there is perhaps some solace in the fact that he was killed doing what he’d done all his life, standing up for what he believed in.
As always, the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew Willem and want to share any thoughts or memories of him.
On the afternoon of July 10th, 18-year-old Gardner Bee Chittenden was with a 22-year-old friend in the 8000 block of South Thompson Ave. It was just after 3:30pm when that 22-year-old fatally shot Gardner. Gardner was taken to the hospital. His friend was arrested. Gardner later died of his injuries becoming the twelfth homicide this year. His friend was later released after the prosecutor declined to press charges pending further investigation, saying it was an accidental shooting.
The friends and family of Gardner Bee Chittenden did not get a long time to spend with him in this life, but by all accounts Gardner put his all into living it. He was a skater who never let a skinned knee or a bruised elbow stop him from getting back on the board. He was close with his mother and protected his sister. Gardner Bee Chittenden was a teenager you remember.
Firearms are part of our culture in this country. All too often, our indulgence in our culture makes us forget the deadly and permanent nature of a gun.
As always the comment section is moderated and reserved for those who knew Gardner and want to share thoughts or memories of him. There is a GoFundMe set up for his family at this link.
52-year-old Phyllis Hamilton lived with her two sons (ages 26 and 27) in a house in the 1400 Block of South Madison Street. She was an avid reader and absolutely devoted to her sons.
On the evening of April 29th, something happened inside the house to set off her 27-year-old son. He burst into his brother’s room carrying a shotgun and wearing a bandoleer of shotgun shells. His brother was so afraid that he climbed out the window onto the roof and ran down the alley. The oldest son then set off in his mother’s Cadillac SUV trying to chase down his brother firing at least once.
Police pulled over the SUV and arrested the man. Then they headed back to his mother’s home where they discovered Phyllis Hamilton dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Phyllis is the ninth Tacoma homicide this year.
Phyllis was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. Friends say she was incredibly sweet.
If there is a pattern in the sharp increase in homicides this year, it is the sheer senselessness of the killings. Again and again I find myself writing about a crime that simply should not have happened.
As always, the comment section is moderated and reserved for friends and family who knew Phyllis and want to share memories.
– Jack Cameron
In the early morning hours of April 23rd, 43-year-old James ‘Jimmy’ Mureness was at a bus stop in the 2900 block of East D Street with a friend when a 23-year-old man in a hoodie approached them. Hours earlier the man had fired multiple shots into his ceiling. Police were called, but he had left by then. The man in the hoodie said nothing to Jimmy and his friend and left, then came back moments later and shot them both before running away.
Jimmy’s friend survived. Jimmy wasn’t so lucky. Jimmy Mureness is the eighth Tacoma homicide this year.
Police caught up with the shooter later that same evening. He shot himself in the forehead, but only received minor injuries from the shot. After being treated for his injuries, he was arrested and charged with first degree murder and first degree attempted murder.
Statements made by the shooter were inconsistent and contradictory, calling his mental well being into question, but whatever the explanation, the loss of life is still devastating for his friends and family.
Jimmy’s family lives in upstate New York. They have a GoFundMe set up to offset costs of having his body and belongings shipped back east. You can donate here:
As always, the comment section is moderated and reserved for those who knew Jimmy and want to share memories of him.
– Jack Cameron
Forty-two year old Daniel Stueart was known to his friends as Danny Rasher. On April 13th, around 7:30pm Danny was at a homeless encampment in the 9900 block of Steele Street when he encountered someone with a gun. The gunfire alerted others who contacted authorities. Danny had already died by the time first responders arrived. Danny became the sixth Tacoma homicide this year.
I could not find much information about Danny. His Facebook page says he attended John Brown University studying psychology. He then attended the University of Arkansas but left for a job. He had at least one child. A son. Other than that, I wasn’t able to find much more. Not that more information would ever complete a full picture of who Danny was to his friends and family.
Typically Tacoma averages about one homicide a month. This is our sixth in just over three months, nearly double our typical rate over the last ten years. The reasons for this increase are difficult to discern. We’ve experienced an increase in population, our police department is underfunded, and any number of other factors may be to blame. What is clear is more people are being murdered in Tacoma than usual and each of them impacts the community.
Danny’s murder remains unsolved. Crime Stoppers of Tacoma-Pierce County is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever killed Danny. You can use the P3 Tips App on your smart phone to anonymously submit the information, or call the hot line at 1-800-222-TIPS(8477)
As always, the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew and loved Danny.
Thirty-four-year-old Gerald Antonio Bryant Jr. and a 21-year-old friend of his were drinking and play fighting in front of his friend’s apartment. The play fighting soon became argumentative. His friend’s mother, noticing her son’s level of intoxication asked him to come back into his apartment, but both he and Gerald remained angry at each other. Over his mother’s and brother’s objections, the man grabbed the keys to his Volkswagen Jetta and ran outside. He got into the vehicle and then ran Gerald over multiple times before fleeing.
Gerald was taken to a local hospital in critical condition and placed on life support where he remained for the few days until he died becoming the fifth Tacoma homicide this year. The man who ran him over was arrested a few days after the incident and has been charged with second degree murder.
Gerald graduated from the same high school as I did. Growing up, he worked on cars and did yard work with his grandfather. He was shy as a kid until he got into sports. Basketball, football, wrestling – he tried almost everything. He developed a larger than life personality with a smile that was infectious. Shortly after high school, his first child was born. Over the next few years he’d have six more. No matter what he was up to, he did his best to make sure he had Dad time. If a friend’s car broke down, he’d be with him under the hood. He’s gone now thanks to a senseless murder, but those who knew him will never forget him.
As always, the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew and loved Gerald. If they want to share thoughts or stories of Gerald, this is a place to do it.
In the early morning hours of March 12th, 40-year-old William Harris was in an apartment in the 300 block of South 9th Street. He noticed another 40-year-old man looking at pornography on a computer. It appeared to William to be child pornography. He decided to say something about it to the man. This led to an argument that soon got physical. The other man stomped and kicked William. He choked him with his own coat. At some point in the fight, the apartment door came off its hinges. A neighbor heard the commotion and stepped into the hallway to investigate, finding the other man covered in blood. The man lunged at the neighbor who then pepper sprayed him.
When police arrived around 1am, they found the other man speaking incoherently and standing over Harris who was not breathing. Police administered CPR. William was taken to St. Joseph’s hospital where he was pronounced dead.
William is the fourth Tacoma homicide this year. He was homeless at the time of his death. I was unable to find out much information about him quite frankly because he has a very common name. I wish I had more information to share because one of the purposes of this site is to give a fuller picture of the person this city has lost. Every death matters. When that death is the cause of someone else’s senseless actions, it is all the more terrible.
As always the comments section is moderated and reserved for those who knew William to share thoughts or memories. Also if someone who knew William wants to provide a photo of him for this post, I’ll be happy to include that.
– Jack Cameron