photo courtesy of KOMONews
Clifford Bennett lived with his 78-year-old mother Joyce Coffel in a house in the 5800 block of East I Street. He was 57 and disabled. A woman was lived in the basement. Her 27-year-old son had been staying there for a few days. Last Tuesday the 27-year-old had been up for three days on a combination of heroin and methamphetamines. A little after two in the afternoon, the 27-year-old went upstairs and hit Clifford with a ballpeen hammer five or six times, killing him. He also attacked Clifford’s mother hitting her with the hammer in both eyes. At the time of this writing she is still at Harborview with life threatening injuries.
Clifford Bennett is the eighth Tacoma homicide this year. His mother may very well become the ninth. We are on track to have roughly one homicide a month this year which is fairly typical for the city of Tacoma.
Given the ages and circumstances of the victims, there simply isn’t much information about the lives of Clifford Bennett or Joyce Coffel. Those who knew them are encouraged to share stories about them in the comments section. As always, I monitor the comments section and each comment must be approved before it appears. This is to stop disrespectful or hurtful comments.
On a personal note, I’ve been writing about Tacoma homicides in one form or another for almost ten years now. Sometimes I find the words easily and I’m able to share how people are killed in my hometown. Other times, like with this particular case, I find it much more difficult.
Clifford and Joyce didn’t live in the best neighborhood. And she was likely renting out rooms to help offset the costs of taking care of her disabled son. Clifford and Joyce deserved better than this senseless act.
Again, as always, comments are reserved for those who knew Clifford or Joyce. My thoughts go out to their friends and family.
– Jack Cameron
On Friday, March 30th, Aleesha Walker called 911 at around seven in the morning. The 28-year-old called to confess that she had murdered her 2-year-old son, Noah. Paramedics and police officers responded to the house in the 3600 block of South Thompson. Noah was taken to Mary Bridge Children’s hospital and pronounced dead. Aleesha was taken into custody.
Tacoma’s third homicide bothers me more than most. I’m of the opinion that no one really deserves to die. However, there are homicides that occur that are at least understandable if not justified. The murder of Noah Walker is the very definition of a senseless killing. A two-year-old child cannot be a threat and at worst can be an annoyance. Noah’s mother should have been the last person he needed to fear.
At TacomaStories, I try to focus on the victim, but it’s difficult to do with one so young. He never got to show Tacoma and the rest of the world what sort of person he could be. He never got the chance that everyone reading this has had. It was stolen from him by his mother. He had two years of life and is gone.
I wish there was more to write but there isn’t.
– Jack Cameron
Ten blocks down South 38th Street from where Marvin Plunkett was shot and killed, Tacoma had its fifth homicide of 2011. It was the early afternoon of April 5th. Three men rang the doorbell of a house near the corner of East J Street and South 38th Street. One of those men was 19-year-old Jamarr Johnson. When no one answered, they walked around to the sliding glass door and shattered it. The three men entered the house. Jamarr Johnson went upstairs possibly with the others. A door to the bedroom was shut. Johnson tried the door. It was locked. The deafening sound of gunfire erupted from inside the bedroom. Moments later, Jamarr was dead from multiple gunshot wounds.
The other two men left quickly, one of them going out an upstairs window. Police arrived on the scene and quickly tracked down one of the two remaining intruders. A third man remained at large. The police talked to the homeowner. He told them that he heard the doorbell but did not answer and when they tried to get in through the sliding glass door, he locked himself in the bedroom. When he saw that they were trying to come into the bedroom, he fired his weapon.
At the time of this writing there are still a lot of things that are unknown or at least not released to the public. We do not know the names or ages of the other individuals involved. We don’t know if they knew each other. What is known is that a homeowner had reason to fear for his life and used a firearm to protect himself and his home.
It’s unfortunate that someone lost his life, but it’s fairly clear that he put himself into a situation where he could be killed. The East Side of Tacoma has been among the worst areas of the city for years and the odds of your average East Side homeowner having a gun are pretty good. There are those who might say the intruder got what he deserved. Personally I wouldn’t go that far, but of all the possible outcomes, this one is better than others. In other words, I feel better writing about the death of the intruder than the death of the homeowner.
The fourth Tacoma homicide of 2011 occurred on Friday February 25th, a little after five in the morning, two blocks from the house I grew up in. Two women and a 36-year-old man named Marvin Plunkett were sitting in a car and joined by another man. Word is that it was some sort of drug deal. Words were exchanged and the man who got into the car shot the other man and got out. The two women in the car drove the injured man to St. Joseph’s Hospital. He was dead before they got there.
I wish I had more information about this, but everything I know about this crime is in that paragraph above. Despite looking on half a dozen other websites, I was unable to find out the victim’s name. Glancing at various comments on The News Tribune’s blog and elsewhere, most people seem to be treating this killing as a ‘misdemeanor homicide’. Since it was a ‘drug deal gone bad’, who cares that someone died?
I’m sure his friends and family care. I’m sure the neighborhood where this happened cares. And I care. Not simply because I used to walk those streets on a daily basis as a kid, but because drug dealer or not, drug user or not, he was still a person, and it’s unfortunate when anyone is killed.
Let’s be clear here. I’m not saying I’d have your average drug user or dealer watch my kid. But I also don’t think they should just be locked on general principal. They certainly don’t deserve to be shot and killed. And the fact that the news media wrote one article and didn’t even mention the victim’s name means that on some level, they think that since it was a ‘drug deal gone bad’, it’s okay that someone got killed.
Just to prove a point here, let’s take the shooting out of the situation. If there was simply an exchange of drugs for money, what are the horrible consequences for the community at large? Some people would get high. And though there are those who want us to think that drug crazed maniacs are going out raping and killing people, that’s simply not true. The vast majority of people doing drugs are sitting in a room laughing their asses off and eating a little too much Chicken in a Biskit.
As I mentioned, I grew up in that neighborhood. It wasn’t a good place in the late 80s and early 90s. I literally had a collection of shell casings I found around the neighborhood. I was so used to going to bed to the sound of gunshots and sirens that when I went out of town, I had trouble going to sleep. The neighborhood has improved since then. Still, drug deals are going to go on. People are going to do drugs. And some people are going to get shot. But to equate murderers with drug dealers is like equating drug dealers with speeders. The only thing they have in common is that they’re illegal.
If anyone reading this knows the victim in this homicide, please comment below.
Saturday morning at about 9:30a.m., someone walked up to a row of apartments on Tacoma’s hilltop on South 8th Street. Forty-nine year old, Bridget ‘Ginny’ Thomas had only lived in the apartment for a few months, but she’d been a resident of Tacoma for the last twenty-five years. Once inside, the person found Ginny dead. Police responded and determined that the death was likely a homicide.
Ginny had many friends and was a great grandmother. From all appearances, Ginny was another resident of Tacoma who deserved a long life and instead had it cut short. Details on this case are fairly vague right now so I’ll probably post more about this later.
Tacoma’s Hilltop was once the most crime-filled area in the city. In the violent days of the early 90s, Hilltop was so well known, that when I was visiting New Zealand, I told a guy I was from Tacoma and he said, “That’s where Hilltop is, right? I saw that last week on Cops.”
In the last few years, Tacoma’s Hilltop has changed dramatically with the help of the community and local small businesses. Unfortunately in recent months, the presence of gangs and drug dealers are becoming more and more common. It’s far too early to say if any of these recent changes in Ginny Thomas’ neighborhood had anything to do with her death. What’s clear is the Thomas was one of the people who made Hilltop better, not worse. My thoughts go out to her friends and family and to the police in the hopes they quickly find her killer.
I’ll post more about this when and if there’s more to say. As always, feel free to comment, especially if you knew Ginny.
– Jack Cameron
Friday night, a little before 7pm, 42-year-old Robert David O’Connell walked into the 76 Station on Puyallup Avenue a few blocks away from Portland Ave. He’d recently been diagnosed with a mental illness. He’d also been put on leave from his place of work. In his pocket, he had a revolver. He decided to purchase a knife from the 76 Station. After this he walked around outside. Someone, perhaps the clerk, called the police because they thought he was behaving strangely. This was likely due to the fact that he had stopped taking his medication for some reason.
Two Tacoma police officers arrived in a patrol car. They saw him hanging around a phone booth by the gas station. As they approached him, one of them asked that he take his hands out of his pockets. When he did, he pulled out the revolver and began firing. One shot hit the patrol car. He fired two other shots, but it’s unknown what, if anything they hit.
The two police officers returned fire, striking Robert O’Connell multiple times. When the fire department arrived, he was already dead. While there was initial and unsubstantiated speculation that these events happened differently, both the evidence and most witness statements seem to back up this version of events. Witnesses say they heard a couple of shots followed by ‘a bunch’ of more shots. Any speculation that Robert didn’t have a gun can be disproven by the bullet hole in the police car. I have no doubt that whatever investigation as done will rule this shooting justified.
However, just because the two police officers responding to the scene were in a situation where they had to use lethal force, this doesn’t make it any less a tragedy. Robert O’Connell had friends, a family, and a job. At some point, he snapped. There’s talk that perhaps this was ‘suicide by cop’. It’s possible. We’ll never know for sure.
Mental illness is a tricky thing. It’s not something you can usually see. What the two police officers encountered Friday night was a man who pulled out a gun and started firing. What happened next took only a few seconds. There was no way to know that he was mentally ill and even if he did, that does not negate the fact that he was firing a gun at them.
It’s likely that if Robert had taken his medication, this tragedy would not have happened. Robert would still be alive and two Tacoma cops would have had just another Friday night on the east side of Tacoma. My thoughts go out to Robert’s friends and family and to those of the two police officers.
– Jack Cameron