Category Archives: Uncategorized

13th Tacoma Homicide of 2019 Willem Van Sporsen

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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.

– Jack

12th Tacoma Homicide of 2019 Gardner Bee Chittenden

Gardner Bee Chittenden

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.

– Jack

11th Tacoma Homicide of 2019 Jennifer Forsman

Jennifer Forsman

The twelve-year-old girl could hear her parents arguing on the early Sunday morning of June 9th. This wasn’t new. Her parents had divorced two and half years ago. They slept in separate bedrooms in a house in the 500 block of East 75th Street. Her and two of her older sisters all lived under one roof. Her father was upset that her mother was in a new relationship. By 6:15am, she’d gone out to the living room where they were fighting. At some point her father got a gun. He shot her mother once in the arm and once in the head and shot himself. The twelve year old girl took her siblings to the neighbor’s house and called 9-1-1. Police arrived and found that the bullet had ricocheted off her father’s head. He could make a full recovery.  Her mother on the other hand was dead. 37-year-old Jennifer Forsman is the eleventh Tacoma homicide this year.

The man who shot Jennifer was arrested and successfully hung himself while in custody four weeks later.

Jennifer was the mother of four daughters, ages 12-19. She worked as a barista at a University Place Starbucks where she’d been for over a decade. Family members say she was always a very positive person who tended to see the best in people. She was well liked and a good mother.

Whenever I tell people that I write about Tacoma homicides they tend to respond by saying, “A lot of gang shootings, right?” But the truth is that situations like the one that led to Jennifer Forsman’s murder are much more common when it comes to homicide. Domestic violence is one of the biggest dangers we tend to ignore.

I don’t know why Jennifer and her ex-husband lived together. It may have been as simple as the rent in Tacoma rising too fast for either to afford places of their own. Perhaps they wanted to live together for the children. Whatever the case, it is a tragedy that there wasn’t more help available for her. Domestic situations are never simple and solutions are rarely easy.*

I can’t imagine what the Forsmans’ children and families are going through. There is a fundraiser set up for the Forsman family at this link.

The comments section is reserved for friends and family of Jennifer Forsman who might want to share thoughts or memories of her. All comments are moderated and approved before they post.

-Jack

*If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence contact the Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or click here.

Sixth Tacoma Homicide of 2019: Daniel “Danny Rasher” Stueart

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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.

  • Jack

Fifth Tacoma Homicide of 2019: Gerald Antonio Bryant Jr.

Gerald Bryant

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.

  • Jack Cameron

Fourth Tacoma Homicide of 2019: William Harris

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

5 Question Friday With Richard Wiley

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When I originally registered the domain name TacomaStories.com years ago I was glad it was not already taken. It’s simple and easy to remember. Despite this I was still surprised when I learned a few months ago that Richard Wiley’s new book was called Tacoma Stories. My first thought was that I did not want people coming to this site and learning nothing about the book even if I had nothing to do with the book. My next thought was that I did not want people thinking the book was connected to the website since it isn’t.

I decided the best way to deal with this potential confusion was to contact Richard Wiley and see if he would be interested in participating in a 5 Question Friday. This way if you end up here because of the book, you get a quick interview with the author. And if you’re a regular reader of this site, you get introduced to a new author with a book you should really check out.

Thankfully, Richard agreed to do it. Here’s Richard:

1. Can you give us a bit of background on your writing for those who are unaware?

I started writing more than 40 years ago.  My first novel, Soldiers in Hiding, was set in Japan during World War II.  It was lucky enough to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for best American fiction in 1987.  After that there were seven more novels, almost all set abroad, in Korea, in Japan again, in Nigeria, Kenya, and in 1899 Alaska.  A novel of mine entitled, Bob Stevenson, was set in New York City and came out in 2016.

2. What is your history with Tacoma?

I grew up in Tacoma, at Brown’s Point.  I went to school there, and then, after my family moved to North Jackson Street, went to Wilson High School.  I graduated from UPS, in 1967, then left Tacoma for a decade, came back to work at Tacoma Public Schools – both of my children were born in Tacoma – then left again for a few years in Africa and a twenty-six year stint as an English professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  My wife and I moved back to Tacoma in mid-2015.

3. Can you tell us about your latest book, Tacoma Stories?

The stories are linked, but can also stand alone.  All of the characters meet up at Pat’s Tavern on North 21st Street (now Magoo’s Annex) on St. Patrick’s Day, 1968, in the first story.  Over the course of the next thirteen stories, not in chronological order, we follow one or another of those who were in Pat’s that night, into their pasts and also into their futures.

4. You’re going a bit of a book tour at the moment, where can people catch you?

I will be reading at Elliott Bay Book Company, in Seattle, on Friday, February 15, at 7 p.m.  After that, I’ll be at the Tacoma Public Library’s Brown’s Point branch at 2:30 on March 2; at King’s Books, in Tacoma, at 7 p.m. on March 7, and signing books at The Pacific Northwest Shop on Proctor Street, on March 9 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

And if anyone is in Las Vegas on April 11, I’ll be reading at the Writer’s Block Bookstore at 7 p.m.

5. What is your next project?

I am just now completing a third “Japan” novel, entitled “Cornelius, on Love.”  It is set in Kyoto in 1972.

I’d like to thank Richard Wiley for joining me for 5 Question Friday and for writing a book set in Tacoma. I know I am biased, but I am of the opinion that this city is ripe for storytelling. If you think you or someone you know might be a good guest for 5 Question Friday, let me know at jackcameronis@gmail.com

  • Jack Cameron