The suspect, Aaron Ybarra, was not a student at Seattle Pacific University, police told reporters Thursday night — but the man who stopped him was.
Local media have identified Jon Meis, a 22-year-old engineering student, as the hero. He is known to be quiet, gentle and outdoorsy.
Seattle Police Assistant Chief Paul McDonagh said the suspect was armed with a shotgun, knife and rounds of ammunition when he opened fire at the university’s Otto Miller Hall.
Meis was armed, too, with a can of pepper spray, which he used to subdue the suspect as he was trying to reload the shotgun. He then put him in a choke hold and took him to the ground, the Seattle Times reported.
Other students and faculty members helped hold the suspect until authorities arrived moments later, handcuffed and arrested the suspect, witnesses told reporters. Meis had been working as a building monitor, sitting at a desk near the front door.
Student Chris Howard was inside working when he heard the shots. He told KOMO News he saw a woman on the ground with an apparent wound to her chest.
“She was in shock and thought she was going to die,” he said. “We had to reassure her several times, no she’s going to get through this.”
Witness Briana Clarke, was also inside the hall, told KOMO News she saw the injured students inside — and then outside — the building.
“When I walked outside and saw someone down, that was disturbing seeing a bunch of bullets around, the blanks all around and red that was a very disturbing image,” she said. “Seeing my friend outside being treated that was hard to swallow, that a fellow student, that it could have been you.”
The shooting occurred about 3:30 p.m. at the small Christian university near downtown Seattle. The university remained locked down for about 90 minutes after the incident.
After the shooting, Meis reportedly recounted those moments to Ryan Salgado, his roommate for the past several years. Salgado, who was also in the building during the shooting, told the story to the Seattle Times. He said Meis usually keeps pepper spray with him because he likes to be prepared. Salgado said Meis seemed to be in shock and, though he was not injured, went to the hospital after the shooting to be examined.
A message sent to Meis early Friday morning was not immediately returned.
But others call him a “serious student,” “physically and spiritually strong,” and a “selfless guy.”
Melissa Engstrom, a family friend, told the Seattle Times: “He is very quiet, very devoted to his family … He had a lot to lose. He is getting married this summer.”
The other man — Ybarra — has been booked in the King County Jail. According to his booking record, he is being held as part of the homicide investigation.
Police did not disclose a motive but said it appeared the suspect was acting alone. Police did not yet know where the shooter got the firearm or how many shells he had, but McDonagh said the investigation is ongoing.
The shooters in most of the sprees in recent years have used semi-automatic rifles or pistols which can fire dozens of bullets before requiring reloading. Police at the University of California-Santa Barbara shootings that left seven dead, including shooter Elliott Rodger, recovered semi-automatic handguns and magazines that could hold ten bullets.
The capacity of the shotgun used in Seattle had not been disclosed by police. Reports from the scene said the gunman shot three people before he had to reload.
A 19-year-old man died at the hospital and a critically injured 20-year-old woman was taken to surgery, Harborview Medical Center spokesman Susan Gregg said. A 24-year-old man and a 22-year-old man were in satisfactory condition. None of the victims was immediately identified.
Patrick Maguire, a friend of Meis, told KOMO News that he was not surprised Meis put his life on the line to save others.
“He had a lot to live for and he just acted quick,” he said. “I owe him a beer. A lot more people wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done that.”