The man held in the shootings at Seattle Pacific University could go to prison for life.
Aaron Ybarra was charged in Superior Court on Tuesday with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of assault for the shootings last Thursday. If convicted as charged, he could face up to 86 years in prison.
But King County Chief Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg said he plans to invoke a rarely used aggravating factor to seek a life term: the crime's destructive and forseeable impact on people beyond the victims.
The shootings last Thursday left a 19-year-old man dead, three wounded and a university community in shock. Satterberg said the impact of the crime extended beyond the immediate victims.
"Our entire community suffers a profound loss each time there is an incident of mass violence,” he said at a news conference to announce the charges. “We each lose a sense of personal security that is a basic part of our community."
Satterberg said Ybarra's statements and his own diary show the shootings had been planned for weeks. Ybarra chose Seattle Pacific University, toured it, and picked Otto Miller Hall as the place of his attack, Satterberg said.
Ybarra told police he was off his medications and had stopped going to therapy, according to the charging documents. His lawyer, Ramona Brandes, has reportedly blamed his mental health issues for the shootings. She did not return calls from KUOW.
Satterberg said it's natural for people to want to know why the shooting happened. But, he said, "we must realize that there can never be an adequate answer. An act of random mass violence can never make any sense."
What matters, he said, is that the shooter intended to harm many people. But he fired only two shots with a shotgun.
The first passed through Paul Lee, who died, and then hit a second man in the neck.
The second bullet hit a woman who remains hospitalized. She went through five hours of surgery on the night of the shooting. Satterberg said the gunman also pointed his weapon at a young man who had been studying with his headphones on, oblivious at first to the danger. The assault charge refers to this incident.
But the shooter’s gun malfunctioned; one of the barrels jammed. This forced Ybarra to reload the upper barrel of the shotgun after firing the weapon. It was this delay that gave student Jon Meis the chance to fire pepper spray into the shooter’s eyes. That halted the rampage and ended the killing.