By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
At the heart of a meeting tonight in Fairmount Springs was not a victim, but a person – a neighbor in the hospital, for reasons not yet understood, fighting to recover from serious injuries she suffered in some kind of attack.
She’s in stable condition, reported neighbors at the meeting’s start. Then at the meeting’s end, a prayer for her physical and emotional recovery was offered, by the pastor of the church where about 50 neighbors gathered.
And the neighbors’ condition was a source of concern too. Don’t be frightened, exhorted police. “It’s not the one who did this that’s the powerful one – you are,” asserted Mark Solomon, the Southwest Precinct‘s Crime Prevention Coordinator.
He spoke along with the top two Seattle Police leaders from the precinct, its commander, Capt. Steve Paulsen, and operations Lt. Pierre Davis. Before the meeting was out, City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen had offered a few words too.
The gathering at West Seattle Church of the Nazarene was the first major neighborhood meeting since another one sparked by crime concerns a year and a half ago (here’s our report from that night). And as it concluded, neighbors agreed they would like to meet more often – maybe quarterly – though they already are bound by strong Block Watches and a much-used mailing list. But first: What police said tonight about the Sunday morning attack, reported in the 5900 block of 41st SW – ahead:
“About 4:30 Sunday morning, one of your neighbors was assaulted,” Capt. Paulsen began. How that happened, and why, he didn’t know and/or couldn’t say. But he made it clear the case is top priority for the precinct. He reiterated some of the information we reported earlier today – that a person of interest was questioned but not arrested, on Wednesday. “We have to take great care to make sure we have a successful resolution (to the case),” he said. That person was noticed early in the morning, in the neighborhood, and that’s all he could say. “We’ve got to wait until we have a good strong case before arresting anyone … we are methodically moving forward.” Responding to a question about the attacker’s description, Capt. Paulsen said he could only say it was a “male” and he was “disguised.”
Overall, he insisted, the area is actually quite safe and low-crime, aside from car prowls. He also warned neighbors not to take too much stock in citywide-media reports (an apparent reference to a television station that had done a story on the case and included some neighborhood speculation), saying some of “that information (was) not correct.” He later said they could not state definitively so far that this was a burglary – it is classified right now as an assault. (He did also note that the spike in residential burglaries reported around West Seattle a few weeks back has subsided.)
But in the absence of additional details, neighbors could only continue to ask questions even knowing they weren’t likely to be answered. At one point, Capt. Paulsen introduced Det. Shane St. John, lead detective on the case, who was standing in plainclothes at the back of the room.
“My gut tells me this is not a random type of incident – specifically, that’s (because of) how we perceived the crime scene itself – specifics we can’t discuss because of how it might affect the outcome of the prosecution,” said Det. St. John, before urging neighbors, “If you heard or saw anything suspicious Saturday night or Sunday morning, please call us – call the precinct and leave a message for us, and we’ll call you back. We are essentially treating this as a homicide investigation, not because it’s a homicide, but because of the seriousness of the crime, we’re pulling out all the stops on this one.”
When crime-prevention coordinator Solomon took the floor, he offered information about staying safe. Fairmount Springs already has “one of the best defenses a neighborhood could have” – watchful neighbors. Then there’s common sense; he noted a burglary wave in another area of the city where half the cases can be attributed to intruders sneaking in through doors and windows left unlocked.
Capt. Paulsen reiterated that most break-ins are during the day because burglars generally don’t want to come face-to-face with the people whose homes they are ripping off. – that’s why most break-ins happen between 11 am and 6 pm.
If you see someone on the street you don’t know, “make eye contact with people, acknowledge their presence, say hi, let them know they’ve been noticed,” advised Solomon. “Lots of times, burglars have been scared away by somebody saying, hey, whaddaya doing?”
Other questions involved self-defense: How far can you go? “Whatever is reasonable for the circumstance you’re in,” said Capt. Paulsen. “You have a right to protect yourself.”
But, “the power of your voice more often than not is going to make that person want to go away,” suggested Solomon.
Block Watches were mentioned again; meeting co-organizer Pia said she had “founded a Block Watch because (I) saw a guy outside my house in the middle of the night. First I was scared and then I got pissed off. I’m not going to live in fear in my own neighborhood. We can stand up for ourselves, and we will!”
Solomon brought along stacks of handouts regarding crime-prevention specifics (many of which you can find online). He also recommended the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network, in terms of staying connected with the rest of the area. “And if you don’t know who your Block Watch captain is, please find that out.”
He was followed by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen. “I’m very sorry about your neighbor. I know how unettling this is … it’s disquieting for a neighborhood to have an experience like this.”
He voiced his belief that “it’s important for a councilmember to help neighborhoods feel safe and be safe. I’m glad somebody contacted me to come to this meeting … If there are other things we can do, lights in the alley … call or e-mail me about anything the city can help with.” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Applause from attendees suggested his words were appreciated. And then the neighborhood leaders stood up again: “Also pay attention to the sunshine, and the good things that happen.”
And out into a night of rapidly improving weather they went, hoping to soon know more about what happened to their neighbor and why, and also resolute in neighborhood solidarity.