FEDERAL WAY — Police said the shooting that left five people dead at a Federal Way apartment complex began when the gunman fatally shot his girlfriend and then killed three other men who had either witnessed her slaying or may have tried to intervene.
The suspected gunman, a 27-year-old man who has not been identified by police, was then shot by responding officers.
Officers responding to an emergency call at 9:35 p.m. Sunday at the Pinewood Village Apartments in Federal Way encountered a chaotic scene, with bullets flying.
“When officers arrived, there were still shots being fired,” said Federal Way police spokeswoman Cathy Schrock.
The responding officers encountered a man armed with a shotgun in a stairwell of one of the apartment complex buildings, Police Chief Brian Wilson said during a news conference Monday morning. They ordered the man to drop the shotgun, but when he refused they opened fire, he said.
The man, who was wounded by the officers’ gunfire, dropped the shotgun and fled.
During a search of the complex, police found two wounded men, including the suspected gunman, on the ground in a parking lot. The suspected gunman reached for a handgun as police moved in, Wilson said. The officers fired multiple times when the man refused to put down the handgun, Wilson said.
The suspect died, but police said it wasn’t immediately clear if it was from their gunfire. The man lived in the complex with his girlfriend, according to Wilson.
The other man on the ground and a third man in the parking lot were found dead, police said. Those victims were 23 and 46 years old, Wilson said.
In a search of the complex, police found a fourth man, 62, dead in one apartment. It appeared the gunman gained access to the slain man’s apartment by firing the shotgun into the door.
Wilson identified the slain woman, found in another unit, as the suspected gunman’s 25-year-old girlfriend.
The suspected gunman was armed with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun and a pistol-grip shotgun, police said. He had a concealed-weapons permit and the handgun appears to be registered to him, Wilson said.
He had no criminal history, but had been the subject of two previous domestic violence calls, Wilson said. Neither of the two earlier calls involved the woman who was killed Sunday night, he said.
The suspected gunman formerly lived in a Kent, Wash., apartment complex, but moved about a year ago, according to an apartment manager. A cousin, reached by phone, refused to comment Monday morning.
A total of eight officers fired their weapons during confrontations with the man, Schrock said. All have been placed on administrative leave, per standard policy, as the investigation continues.
One of the dead was identified as Ceasar Valdovinos, 23, according to family members who said police confirmed the young man’s death Monday morning. The names of the other four people killed were not immediately available.
After police flooded into the area and carried out searches, authorities said they were confident there were no more casualties.
They said they did not think another shooter was on the loose or that there was an immediate threat to the public.
No officers were injured.
Sylvia Valdovinos said her son had attended a barbecue at a mobile-home complex near the Pinewood Village Apartments Sunday night, but left abruptly about 9 p.m.
“I feel very numb, like this is not happening,” said Valdovinos before it was confirmed that her son was one of the victims.
Lorrena Almeida, one of his sisters who was at the party, said he just disappeared. “We knew he had some friends over here (at the apartment complex). He was in a bad place at the wrong time.”
Ceasar was one of seven children, she said. The family had moved up from California in 2006.
“The reason we came up here was to find a better life and avoid all this — the guns and drugs and all that,” she said. “I will remember my son as a kindhearted, caring person.”
She said her son is an unemployed warehouse worker and delivery driver who has a girlfriend and a child.
Residents of the apartments and some neighbors said the incident is out of character for the complex.
Jennifer Brown, 37, who has lived in the apartment complex with her husband, two sons and a daughter for three years, said she went out on their porch about 9:30 p.m. to smoke a cigarette.
“That’s when I heard the first round. I thought it was firecrackers at first because it was an awful lot of them,” she said.
A few moments later, she heard several more shots, and then her 14-year-old son saw a man in the street running from the complex.
Police arrived in about 10 minutes, and Brown heard them tell people to get back into their apartments.
“I could hear a police officer over a speaker say, ‘Stop or we’ll shoot. Get down.’ They said it over and over.”
She then heard another burst of gunfire.
“I’ve seen police activities out on the streets, but nothing to this extent,” she said of her time at the apartments. “The apartments are actually pretty safe. But after this, I definitely want to move.”
Officers on Monday morning were using a metal detector to search a grassy bank across the street from the apartment complex.
Sunday night was Jane Friedman’s first night as a resident of the apartment complex.
“I can’t believe it. I’m in shock. This was my first night here,” said Friedman, who said she had just sold a family farm near Enumclaw, Wash.
“I was in my bedroom and I heard pop, pop, pop, pop. Then, pop, pop, pop, pop.”
Soon, she said, “There were police officers all over the place. They said get back into your apartments. We have someone running around with a gun.”
She then heard more shots, but did not go out to investigate, but only learned of the deaths when she went out to talk with reporters today.
“It’s absolutely devastating.”
Kristina Braun, 23, said she, her husband and 3-year-old daughter went to the movies and dinner Sunday, arriving about home 9:30 p.m.
“We saw and heard a ton of ambulances and police cars everywhere,” she said this morning.
Her family was still not allowed to return to their apartment this morning, awaiting police to give the OK.
“It’s actually really calm, normally … This is the first huge issue,” said Braun, who’s lived in the complex for two years. She said about 6 months ago, a lot of police responded to the robbery at a nearby grocery.
Sung Yang, who runs a motel nearby, said he and residents heard the gunfire.
“I heard gunshots. Lot of gunshots. It was scary,” Yang said.
There was a series of shots at first and then after about 10 minutes, more shooting, he said.
“Everybody staying here came out to see what it was,” but they got little information.
Kelly Burki, a resident of the complex, said Monday morning, “I’ve lived here five and a half or six years, and I’ve never had a problem. I just don’t understand it.”
Burki, 51, was out for the evening and was returning home about 11 p.m. to find her street closed by police. She said she was told she could return home in a couple of hours, but at 8 a.m. Monday, police still had the street closed.
Burki said she is a bartender who frequently doesn’t get home until around 2:30 a.m. “But even at that hour, I’ve always felt safe. I’ve never had fear.”
Wilson, the Federal Way police chief, said Sunday’s shootings resulted in the largest loss of life in a single incident in the city’s history. The city of about 91,000 residents had three homicides in 2012 and one in 2011.