Tag Archives: Tacoma Homicides

Third Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Donald Phily

A little after midnight on Friday March 29th police received phone calls reporting gun shots near South 72nd and Pacific. At the nearby Morgan motel they found 42-year-old Donald Phily dead from gunshot wounds.

At the time of this writing there is still very little information being released to the public. There are probably a couple of reasons for this. One is that in the first few hours of a homicide investigation the police like to keep information quiet because it helps find the person responsible. (If someone has information that the news never reported then they know that person might be valuable to the investigation.)

The other reason that there is very little news coverage of this homicide is that the Morgan is known for frequent criminal activity and while crime in Tacoma is nowhere near the levels that it used to be, someone getting killed on the South Side of Tacoma in a cheap motel room isn’t what some news outlets would call ‘newsworthy’.

I do my best to report every homicide that happens in Tacoma because every death affects friends and family of the victim. They’re all important deaths. If I had the time and the resources, I’d cover more than just homicides.

My heart goes out to the friends and family of Donald Phily and I hope his killer is brought to justice. As always, the comments section is reserved for the victim’s friends and family to share their memories of Donald. These victims of homicides may be gone, but we can preserve the memories of them for others because each of them is a Tacoma Story.

– Jack Cameron

Second Tacoma Homicide of 2013 Sara Barrett

SaraBarrettSara Barrett was putting her life back together. She had three children, all boys. Her youngest just turned twenty-one. She had recently become a grandmother. She was also estranged from her husband of over twenty years. On Wednesday morning she posted on Facebook, Good Morning and Happy Hump day everyone. Today is a good day and will be an even better night :))))’  Before the next morning, 42-year-old Sara Barrett would be found dead in a motel room at the Motel 6 off of South 72nd Street and her estranged husband would be arrested after making a phone call to a local TV station where he confessed to her murder and then leading the police on a chase that ended across the Narrows Bridge.

Sara is the second Tacoma homicide of 2013. Her marriage had been on and off for last few years. In 2007 her husband tried to smother her with a pillow. There were two restraining orders filed during that time but they were denied when Sara didn’t show up for court.

In many ways the death of Sara Barrett is a textbook case of domestic violence. These situations are difficult. It’s easy for some to say she simply needed to get away from her abuser, but he wasn’t just that to her. He was her husband of over twenty years. He was the father of her children. It’s not easy to see that person as a deadly danger. Sara seems to be someone who always saw the best in people. It’s likely one of the things that made people love her. She will be missed.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Sara and want to share memories of her. The purpose of writing these articles is so that the people who are taken from us in this city are remembered.

Here’s hoping we can go a long time before I write another one.

–       Jack Cameron

Fifth Tacoma Homicide of 2012 – Stanley Howard

In the early morning hours of Wednesday May 9th, 56-year-old Stanley Howard had an argument with a 46-year-old acquaintance near South 19th and M Street. Later, Stanley went to the man’s house with a knife. The other man also had  a knife and ended up stabbing Stanley in the chest. He was only a few houses away from his last known address.

This was the fifth homicide for the city of Tacoma this year. Police arrested a man in connection with this murder shortly after it happened but after investigating, they’ve chosen not to file charges as it appears he acted in self-defense. The Hilltop neighborhood was once famous for its violent crime but in recent years has become a thriving community full of new shops, bars, and other businesses.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Stanley. I moderate all comments and try to keep things civil. Here’s hoping the next homicide I have to write up isn’t for quite awhile.

–          Jack Cameron

A Prayer Walk For South Tacoma Homicide Victims

I was contacted by Pastor Ken Sikes from Manitou Park Presbyterian Church. Tomorrow on Good Friday (April 6th) he is hosting a prayer walk for the victims of homicides over the last five years in South Tacoma. I grew up in South Tacoma on South 40th and Fawcett so I’m partial to neighborhood. Unfortunately,  I’m unable to attend, but I’m certain that many of the people who come to this site might be interested so I thought I’d share the event.

Here’s the list of times and locations. For more about the event or Pastor Ken Sikes, check out his website at: http://sotacsermons.blogspot.com/

Stop  Time  Mile             Location                                  Person

1        12:00                    Manitou Park                              Fernando Sandoval  (17)

2        12:20 1                 5004 S. 58th St (top of loop)       Teofilo Knight (28)

3        12:45 2                 5000 S. Tyler                                       Kyle Grinnell (21)

4        1:15   3.25             34th and S. Madison                    Terrance Sand (42)

5        1:45   4.75             S. Union and 45th St.                  Donald M. McCaney (17)

6        2:00   4.85             S. Puget Sound & 45th St.            James Smith (37)

7        2:20   5.25             S. Cedar and 43rd St.                  Dowell Davis Thorn III (20)

8        2:35   5.9               S. Pine and 50th                          Georgia Gunzer (33)

9        2:50   6.25             S. Oakes and 54th                       James A. Guillory (28)

A        3:10   6.6               5400 Steele St.                          Joshua Thomas Gatbunton(20)

B        3:20   7                 Shell Station at 56th Interstate     Julio Segura-McIntosh (3)

C        3:50   8.7               74th & Oakes                              Jonathan Ragland (27)

D       4:10   9.2               72nd & Lawrence                         Laura Anne Carlson (46)

E        4:25   9.4               70th & Puget Sound                     Saul Lucas-Alfonso (25)

F        4:40   9.7               Manitou Trestle (66th & So. Tac Way)

Finish 5:00   10.3             Manitou Park Presbyterian Church

– 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.

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

Visions of Tony

Tony McDougald

Tony McDougald

I think it’s important to remember people. TacomaStories.com is about the people of Tacoma and how our stories create the city we live in. When it comes to my writing about the homicides in Tacoma, I’m writing about stories that were cut short. They can no longer tell their story so someone has to do it for them.

Earlier this year, Tony McDougald was shot in the back while breaking into the garage of a house near South 38th Street. I personally knew Tony, but had not seen him since Middle School in 1988. Recently, I was approached by someone who was close to him once. She asked that she remain anonymous and wrote about her story of Tony.

I’ve chosen to post this because regardless of anything else, Tony deserves to be remembered. I do not vouch for the authenticity of what she has written. These are her words and memories, not mine but I will say that everything she says sounds like the Tony I remember.

If you have memories of Tony that you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comments. Or if you have something longer to share or if you have anything to write about anyone in or from Tacoma, you can email me at jackcameronis@gmail.com .

Thanks for reading.

–          Jack Cameron

When I first heard that Tony was dead, I was shocked and like many, I had and still have many questions. I first met Tony when we were just kids. Back then his brother was dating my friend and she introduced us. To be honest, I liked him for his attitude at first. I thought he was charming, sweet and funny. All that aside, I really hadn’t seen what his face looked like for the first 2 weeks I knew him. So I can say I honestly liked him for his personality. As timed progressed, I learned he was a renegade of his own kind. A true individual. A guy with a kind heart that would mumble “I love you” with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and then scream the F. word at someone driving past and flip them off. Oh, and did I mention what a sight he was? Yes, many people said “Bon Jovi”. Well if you call ratty, torn, bleached jeans, band t’s and well the “hair”. I suppose he was. Thinking back about how he was just really makes me laugh. He had wanted long hair and his mom wanted him to keep it short. They made a deal. He had to perm his hair or cut it off. Well, of course he opted for the perm. His mom’s plan backfired on her. His perm made him look more like a sheep dog, than a kid. Luckily for me, he wasn’t too bad under that mop of hair. Like many girls before and after me, he was my first love.

I had the chance to really get to know Tony before we started dating. And then during the 8 months or so of our relationship, Tony shared many things with me. He made me laugh, and he made me cry for him and his pain. One of the first secrets he shared with me was that when he was younger, he was a victim of abuse. That was very traumatic for him, as  am sure you can imagine. He also shared with me that his mom wanted a little girl so badly that she named him Anthony Lynn. Not “Len” like all the media has been calling him. God, that had to suck to know he could never be what she truly wanted. But that never stopped him from trying. The day after he had his tonsil’s removed, his mom’s dog, “Willie” got out and was headed for 56th Street. That dog was so stupid it would have ran right into the traffic. Despite the fact that Tony’s throat felt like it was on fire, he ran after that dog. Holy hell, that kid could run. He stopped that dog about three feet from the road. His mom was so happy she cried. It was heart wrenching to see that she was more concerned about her dog than her own son. My heart broke for him.

As you can tell his family was very dysfunctional, his dad was on the road driving most of the time trying to support a family of five. Which left his mom home alone to take care of three boys. She had her hands full with trying to work full time at Sears and taking care of the boys. Tony and I really ended up bonding over having a bad home life. He saved me on more than one occasion. My father would get drunk, and he would become verbally and physically abusive. I had no one to help me. My mom was working and I tried calling the cops. They just told me it was my problem and to call a crisis number to get counseling and “deal with it”. Tony was there to help time and again. Once, Tony banged on the front door to distract my dad so I could sneak out to the garage to hide. My dad always had a gun on him, and Tony knew this but he still chose to take the risk anyway. Yet another time my dad came home plastered and had been in a bar fight. He was angry and was going to take his rifle and go back to the bar with it. Tony stayed on the phone with me for three hours while I hid from him. I was terrified of what he was going to do, but Tony did his best to keep me calm. I could go on and on with examples but I won’t. This is about his tragic life not mine.

Towards the end of our relationship Tony lived with me for about a month. He had a friend over one night and the friend found my dad’s revolver. I freaked out on him and said it was loaded. He then aimed it at Tony and me and we both yelled at him. He pointed it up at the wall, about two feet away from Tony’s head. He pulled the first trigger and nothing happened. He said “Oh it’s fine. The safety is on!” Well if you know anything about a revolver, they have a double pull action trigger before it fires or you cock the hammer then pull the trigger once. There is no safety. As he was proclaiming the safety was on, he shot off a .44 hollow point bullet through the walls of my house and continued through my window. Only God knows where the rest of the bullet went. Because of this incidence, this was the final straw, Tony wanted nothing to do with guns. From what I have heard from others he still felt the same way all these years later. That window never has been fixed. Up until seven years ago I was blamed for it until I finally told my parents the truth about that night.
We had a less than stellar falling out. I found out through others that he had eyes for another girl. I confronted him and it started with him admitting to me he had kissed the girl. I was insulted and hurt.  I lost my temper and punched him in the face. I know it was childish. I am still ashamed of my behavior. So he hit me back and we scrapped for a few seconds in his kitchen. I actually remember thinking, ‘Crap we’re breaking the rules, fist fighting is supposed to be done in the back yard.’ Well then his dad jumped in. UH-OH! I thought I was in trouble! He actually popped Tony in the mouth and screamed at him, “You never hit a girl no matter the reason”. Hell, I felt I deserved it, I started it after all. So I walked out of his life. For forever, or so I thought.

After we parted our ways, I saw him here and there. As the years went by I had heard rumors that he was strung out on drugs. I wanted absolutely no part of that and still felt that way. So when a mutual friend would say that he had asked about me. My reply would always be no,no,no. Don’t you give my number to him. I want no part of that. I would make it very clear that they were not to give him any information out about me. A few years passed and one day he shows up at my work. Great, just fan-fricken-tastic! He ended up being the latest new hire. Well I guess sometimes you have to face your past whether you want to or not. I was married. He had his girl and they had just had a baby. So I made it very clear there would be no round two, now or ever. He was fine with that and we made a mutual agreement that we were there for work and nothing more.

It was during this time that we started talking again, just like the old times. I finally mustered up the balls to ask him why he was strung out and what the hell was he thinking. He basically told me about some hardship he had gone through, how he became so angry he didn’t even know who he was. And some other things. He confessed to me that he was responsible for killing a kid at Jack-In-The-Box. My reaction of course was something like “What in the hell are you talking about?!” He then further explained that he was working at Jack-In-The-Box as the guy who cooked the E-coli burgers. He said, “I was working that day, I killed that kid!” I said “Holy F. you have got to be kidding me.” He just looked up at me with tears in his eyes and shook his head. He sat and cried for a few minutes. He then went on to tell me that he had tried to go to the family to apologize. They told him that he was a murderer and it was his fault, that they hated him and he deserved the same thing. This totally devastated him. At first he tried to tell himself he was just doing his job. But that soon faded. It started with drinking and evolved from there to the hardcore drugs. He said he couldn’t handle having that on his conscience. He got to the point where he didn’t care if he lived or died. After his daughter was born that was the only thing that kept him alive. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know. He never lied to me before. I can’t prove one way or another, but I choose to believe him. He truly had a sad life.

Later, I called Tony on the phone when I found out that he had been clean and sober for quite some time and that his band had a cult following. I called to tell him how I was so proud of him and I had missed him (not the drug addict Tony). He bragged about how he was getting married and we laughed. His mom had always wanted us to get married. We laughed about the old times. I’m so glad I got to talk to him that one last time. Apparently this was just a couple of weeks before he found his mom dead, his woman left him, and his band had a falling out. The band was the majority of his support of staying clean. (I am NOT blaming anyone)! The only thing he had left was his daughter and I’m not really sure he got to see her. So again, his whole world came down around him and he did what most people in his situation do. They go back to their old bad habits, because it helps to dull the pain. No one could have stopped him, his path had already been written. My only regret in all of this, is that I never got to see him play a show. He made it. He was a real rock star! He lived by his own rules. He was like so many before him. They made it, then fell.
In closing I just want to say, Tony was a wonderful person with some very bad habits.

R.I.P. Toeknee, I Will Always Love You.

A Life Well Lived: The Jennifer Paulson Story

Jennifer PaulsonOn the morning of February 26, 2010, Jennifer Paulson encountered a man in the parking lot of Birney Elementary School on South 76th Street in Tacoma. She had met the man years earlier in the cafeteria at Pacific University. Since then, the man’s interest in her had become so unhealthy that she’d gotten a restraining order against him. He’d even been previously arrested for violating the restraining order when she found he was following her. The danger this man posed became all too real that morning when the man shot and killed her. He left in a ten sedan and was confronted by police officers  hours later where he died after a brief exchange of gunfire. His death was ruled a suicide.

By all accounts, Jennifer Paulson’s death was a tragedy. In her thirty years of life, Jennifer Paulson had touched hundreds of lives. She was a special education teacher at Birney Elementary and it is not an overstatement to say that she was beloved.  She will not soon be forgotten. And now, writer Eric Lundberg is giving those of us who never met Jennifer Paulson a chance to get to know her.

A Life Well Lived: The Jennifer Paulson Story isn’t about Jennifer’s death, but the life she lived and the people whose lives she changed. It is a Tacoma Story.

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to causes Jennifer’s family feel Jennifer would have supported such as scholarships and educational support for children.

For more information and to purchase the book, go to http://jenniferannpaulson.com

–       Jack Cameron


Third Tacoma Homicide of 2011 – Bridget 'Ginny' Thomas

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


Officer Involved Shooting In Tacoma

Last night brought the second homicide of 2011 in Tacoma. Two patrolmen found a suspicious person near a phone booth by the 76 Station near East Portland Ave. and Puyallup Ave. As they approached him, he pulled out a handgun and opened fire. The two patrolmen returned fire, killing him.

This is just the latest local police involved shooting and there are many people jumping to conclusions before all of the facts are in. At this point, there are very few facts. I’ll be writing about this in much more detail once more information has been released.

During KIRO 7’s newscast last night they talked to a guy who called himself ‘John’ who didn’t want his face shown and refused to talk to police. He said that the cops just walked up and shot the guy. There’s absolutely no reason to believe his story at this point. Let’s buy into his story for a moment.

Let’s pretend it’s true. You watch two cops shoot an unarmed man. Talking to the news is probably a good idea, but if you’re actually afraid of the police at this point, the thing to do is show your face to the world. If everyone knows who you are, then the odds of retaliation go down significantly. Of course this is all assuming you’re telling the truth and you really think the cops are just power mad killers. Then again, if you were just a guy who didn’t like cops and wanted to paint them in a bad light but didn’t really have anything on them, I’m willing to bet you might try to smear them with some made up story as to what ‘really’ happened.

Here’s a little secret. Cops are people. And they want to shoot people about as much as you or I want to shoot people. However, there are situations when the use of lethal force isn’t only okay, it’s outright necessary. A night where you’re fire your weapon at someone isn’t something any cop forgets. It’s a night that lives with them for the rest of their lives.

I’m not saying that every officer involved shooting is a good shoot. It’s just that there’s a fair amount of people out there that seem to assume the opposite. Too often people who weren’t in the situation and who don’t know the full facts of the case will spout off about how a cop didn’t need to use lethal force. Sometimes this is true. But the vast majority of the time the police officer involved used lethal force because their life or other lives were in direct danger.

This particular issue is a bit of a hot button locally. In 2009 six cops were killed in the line of duty in Western Washington. Four of them in an ambush in a coffee shop in Lakewood. In 2010, the amount of police involved shootings went up. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Any rational person could see and understand why a cop might be more willing to pull his piece after a year like that.

Of course, the first thing on anyone’s mind around here if they hear about a police shooting is John T. Williams, a Native American woodcarver in Seattle who was shot last summer by a police officer seven seconds after the cop got out of his car. An inquest into the shooting determined that it may have been a criminal action the part of the police officer.

Sometimes the police feel they have to use lethal force. Are they always correct? Of course not. No one is. However, jumping to conclusions and just assuming that police officers are just shooting people for the fun of it is just stupid. The facts of the case will reveal themselves. They always do. Even in the case of John T. Williams, what really happened has come out. Until then, let’s give the police the benefit of the doubt. I for one say they’ve earned it for putting their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect the people of Tacoma.

Update: Police have identified the man who was shot as 42-year-old Robert O’Connell. More soon.