What drove a 54-year-old Aberdeen man to fire his gun multiple times around his South Aberdeen home, then engage police in a standoff for more than 18 hours is still a mystery.
Michael Watson was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, arrested on charges of displaying a dangerous weapon and discharging a firearm within city limits, Aberdeen Police Department Officer Wayne Schmidt said.
More charges related to the standoff may follow. “All of that is going to be reviewed by the prosecutor,” Schmidt said.
Officers from the Aberdeen Police Department responded to the house in the 2000 block of Harding Road at about 8 p.m. Tuesday after neighbors reported that Watson had been walking around the neighborhood firing a gun, Aberdeen Police Capt. John Green said. Neighbors also reported hearing Watson shouting that he was a “warrior of God.”
When police arrived, Watson retreated to his house, Green said. Officers saw him holding a large handgun. They later saw a green laser shining out of the house, but were unsure if it was attached to a weapon.
Officers attempted to contact Watson on his phone, but he didn’t answer.
Tanaia Prebe called police with her friend when they heard shots, eight by her count.
“That was really different,” she said. “It’s really quiet (in the neighborhood) for the most part.”
She knew the man living in the house down the street by sight but not by name until the Grays Harbor Crisis Response Unit spent the night calling to him on a loudspeaker.
“We just know it because they’ve been repeating it, over and over. ‘This is the Aberdeen Police Department…’ “
At about 10 p.m., members of the Crisis Response Unit — the Aberdeen, Montesano and Hoquiam police departments and the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office — also responded to the scene, Green said. Negotiators attempted to contact Watson using a loudspeaker, but didn’t receive a response.
Officers fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades into the house several times in an attempt to get Watson to talk, Green said.
The scene was mostly quiet overnight, but at about about 3 a.m. officers heard a loud, rhythmic banging coming from the house.
“It sounded like a person banging on a drum,” Green said.
After the banging stopped, officers didn’t hear from Watson again for several hours.
The Washington State Patrol SWAT team arrived on scene at about 8 a.m. to take over tactical operations from Aberdeen police, and other State Patrol personnel arrived a short time later.
The State Patrol relieved officers from Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Montesano and Cosmopolis police departments who had been on scene all night at about 10 a.m.
“The State Patrol did a fantastic job,” Schmidt said. “They were able to come out with their equipment, manpower and experience and bring this to a safe conclusion.”
Officers began firing tear gas and flash-bang grenades again at about 11:20 a.m. Aberdeen Deputy Chief Dave Timmons said he hoped the tear gas and flash-bang grenades would compel Watson to respond to negotiators.
“We’re just trying to make him as uncomfortable as possible,” Timmons said. “We’re not trying to make him angry, we’re just trying to make him come to his senses.”
At about 11:50 a.m., Timmons turned off the house’s electricity at the utility pole using a long, extendable pole. He was escorted by armed SWAT officers.
“I’d never done that before, but it’s something new to put on my resume,” said Timmons, who happens to be a PUD commissioner.
The City of Aberdeen turned off Watson’s water at about 12:15 p.m.
In the end it seemed the conversation with the State Patrol’s negotiator and exhaustion led Watson to put his gun down and leave the house.
“I know you’re a peaceful man,” the negotiator told him over a loudspeaker. “That’s part of your heritage, it’s part of who you are.”
The Washington State Patrol Bomb Squad’s robot was sent into the house in order to use its camera to monitor Watson. It seemed to upset Watson. “We need you to come on out,” the negotiator said. “I know you want the robot to leave, but the robot’s not going to leave. But it’s not going to harm you.”
At about 2:15 p.m., Watson appeared in the doorway with his gun still in his hand.
“Put the gun down,” the negotiator said. “I need you to put the gun down now.” After a tense moment, Watson complied, then followed instructions to lay down in his yard and wait for officers.
“I don’t want to f——— hurt anybody,” Watson shouted as SWAT members led him away from the house.
Schmidt said Watson was reportedly in good condition when he was arrested.
“Obviously tired after being at this close to 24 hours,” he said. No one knows what caused Watson to fire his gun or square off with police.
“There’s some issue there. … He has some medical issues and possible mental issues,” Schmidt said.
Watson’s daughter and niece, who requested their names not be released, said they had spoken to Watson as recently as Sunday and he seemed fine.
Neighbors and family described Watson as a kind, giving person.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” his niece said. “So we have no idea” why he would be in this situation.
“It just doesn’t seem real,” his daughter said.
Neighbor and friend Jesse Weir said he had been through an alcohol treatment program with Watson, and often spent time with him in the neighborhood. He said Watson would help him and his children put up their Christmas lights.
“He’s a good guy. He was outgoing, he would help anybody. That’s why I don’t understand what’s going on,” Weir said during the standoff. “He’s not all there right now, obviously, or he wouldn’t be doing this.”
An Alaska native, Watson has lived in Aberdeen more than 26 years. He was a longtime employee of the old Weyerhaeuser Pulp Mill in Cosmopolis, a cook in the acid plant. “Highly intelligent. Unbelievably intelligent,” his niece said.
After the mill’s closure, Watson went through a worker retraining program and did some work in the Ocean Shores area.
Neighbors were allowed to return to their homes within about 30 minutes of Watson’s arrest, after police searched the home for any other weapons or traps.