Reader report: Suspicious incident in Schmitz Park

April 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm | In West Seattle news, West Seattle parks, West Seattle police | 51 Comments

Police are investigating a suspicious incident that happened in Schmitz Park this evening. The person who reported it has just sent her story, and we’re sharing it, not in the interest of panic, but in the interest of “knowledge is power,” particularly since we have unsolved incidents including last Tuesday’s California SW attack. Here’s what she wrote:

I was walking with my 3-year-old son just inside the entryway to Schmitz Park behind the elementary school. We wanted to see some big trees, but I had a strange feeling that we needed to turn back. I heard some rustling and had an urgent feeling we needed to get out. We had to maneuver around a puddle, and I glanced over my shoulder. A man with reddish hair, a slight build, with a brownish sweater, tan pants, and brown shoes was running straight at me. If I hadn’t turned around and looked him in the face, he would have overcome me. When I looked at him, he stopped and turned sideways. He had something he put in his pocket. He sort of made another move forward, because as I looked around, we were still out of plain view. So I used a very loud voice to tell my son we were going home now. My son made a lot of noise complaining that he didn’t want to go home. I kept my eyes on the man and picked up my protesting, screaming son. And the man literally ran back into the park.

Police reiterate that they want to be notified, via 911, when something suspicious happens – and that’s exactly what this mom did.

51 Comments

  1. Way to follow you gut feelings! Good for you, and I’m glad that you were “only” shaken up and not otherwise hurt- though shaken up is still a nasty feeling….

    Comment by happy — 7:55 pm April 10, 2013 #

  2. C R E E P Y. I’m glad you trusted your instincts and I would HOPE the police are out at this moment looking for this guy. While he committed no crime, everything about your story points to some very scary behavior. Glad you’re okay and thank you for sharing!

    Comment by Chuck and Sally's Van Man — 8:05 pm April 10, 2013 #

  3. Do we know if the perpetrator is related to the California SW attack? I didn’t see a detailed description in the previous story. Either way, this has me worried for my friends, family, and community at large. What the hell is going on in West Seattle these days?

    Comment by JB — 8:09 pm April 10, 2013 #

  4. Did the cops come to investigate? As a neighbor near there it would be good to know. Also, when exactly did this happen?

    Comment by alki neighbor — 8:13 pm April 10, 2013 #

  5. I had a similar experiance last week in the same park while walking my dog. He was running up to us carrying a plastic bag and mumbling. He looked pretty disheveled and mentally unstable. I was under the bridge at that point and ran around the corner to a catch up with a person who I had been talking to a couple minutes earlier. It freaked me out too, haven’t been back since.
    Trust your instincts!

    Comment by Neighbor — 8:18 pm April 10, 2013 #

  6. My husband has lived in WS all his life and he has told me that when he was a kid in the 70′s/80′s things would go on in that park and he was forbidden to go there. I always think about it whenever I go.

    Comment by Bonnie — 8:45 pm April 10, 2013 #

  7. Could the man in Schmitz Park be the same person mentioned in the April 5th blog write-up of an incident in Admiral? Red hair, slight build…

    Comment by ws — 9:00 pm April 10, 2013 #

  8. Yikes! Maybe the school should lock that back gate at the alley during school hours.

    Comment by fj — 9:24 pm April 10, 2013 #

  9. I have lived in the area for over 20 years and have always believed that Schmitz Park, like secluded sections of Lincoln Park, can be potentially dangerous. I am an adult male and I still pay close attention to my surroundings whenever I walk through (only during broad daylight) and always have one ear unplugged from my headphones so I can be aware of activity. It’s a shame, but it’s reality.

    Comment by eaglewatch — 9:36 pm April 10, 2013 #

  10. Totally agree with eagle watch. While it’s a sad testament to the way things are today- we need to be aware- alert – cautious especially when going into secluded areas . Walking/ running with a buddy in those areas if possible is also a good idea. Please folks- be especially cautious if you’re out before sunrise or after dark!!

    Comment by Gene — 10:06 pm April 10, 2013 #

  11. As a father of two small children, living a couple houses away from Schmitz Park, I am highly disturbed by this report and really appreciate you sharing this story. I am glad that no physical harm came to the reader or her son. My wife is speculating that it might be a homeless person living in the park. Is there any way for the police to track down this individual, search for encampments, etc?

    Comment by Cheetah fast dad — 10:28 pm April 10, 2013 #

  12. This is extremely upsetting. Another area in West Seattle that we have to be weary of, nervous of, scared of.

    Comment by WSGal — 10:32 pm April 10, 2013 #

  13. I was walking my dog in Schmitz Park recently and it struck me that it could be a very dangerous area, I’d never thought about it before, especially when I was walking with my husband, but when it was just me I felt the need to be more alert. Something about the location of the park and the obscurity of the trails made me feel alone and vulnerable. Thanks for sharing your stories, neighbors!

    Comment by agree — 10:54 pm April 10, 2013 #

  14. I am so sorry that happened. Thank goodness your instincts kicked in. And, thank goodness your son started screaming. I know it is no fun when your child starts screaming because things aren’t going the way they wanted, but in this case his screaming probably helped make the guy think twice about whatever his plan was. So glad you both are safe.

    Comment by Nitro — 10:56 pm April 10, 2013 #

  15. I remember attending Schmitz Park Elem in the early ’90s and we were always warned not to go down there and even to stay away from that fence. I still won’t walk those trails! It’s always been a little bit of a blind spot because it is so secluded. It’s a shame – that’s such a beautiful area. :(

    Comment by Cait — 11:10 pm April 10, 2013 #

  16. Same Schmitz Park it was 50 years ago, just getting more publicity now, which is a good for it and WS.

    Comment by dsa — 11:11 pm April 10, 2013 #

  17. I’ve always been afraid of Schmitz Park. Too isolated for me. But then we must be vigilant in the open places as well. Thanks for sharing, neighbor. Way to follow your instincts. I’m glad you and your son are okay.

    Comment by Chris W — 11:18 pm April 10, 2013 #

  18. I would also be interested to know at what time this happened as I was there today after school with my kids and other families. I will also make sure the school knows due to kids running around at recess! Good grief!

    Comment by Mom of 3 monkeys — 11:22 pm April 10, 2013 #

  19. I would be willing to patrol the park. A few times a week, with my bicycle club members.

    Comment by Guy — 1:27 am April 11, 2013 #

  20. I have walked those trails a lot throughout my life. Including a lot of the little branch offs and stuff. I have only ever run into folks taking short cuts between Alki, other people walking their dogs, elementary kids doing plant ID classes, joggers, high school kids (up to the things that high school kids are up to which is healthy but shall not be named), native plant-life, Ravens, song birds, fresh air, an interesting steward of the park, all sorts of native plants, but most importantly peace of mind.
    I didn’t know that Schmitz Park had such a bad reputation to some people for SO LONG. (have there been any news articles about incidents of its scary past?) I am thankful that no harm came to the anyone in this awesome park. Geez I hope this guy wasn’t planning on causing her harm.
    But I am not really digging this victim mentality I keep hearing from people.
    That park belongs to me and all the other citizens who choose to use it. If there is any kind of attack on someone in that park I suggest we kick their butt and if you see anyone in trouble in that park I hope you will join me in kicking the perpetrators butt. And if you don’t feel confident you can do that then yell and scream at them (and run if you have to) and call the cops from your cell. But just don’t let fear rule your lives. The more people are ruled by fear, the worse this world gets. If you are afraid then don’t walk alone. But just don’t let fear win.

    Comment by Wild One — 1:57 am April 11, 2013 #

  21. Wild One, thank you. No, we haven’t heard any reports of park trouble recently, aside from one person who mentioned prolific tagging under the bridge in the park – that was during the graffiti vandalism/tagging discussion at the most recent West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting – and people who he perceived to be intoxicated while doing so, then getting into vehicles and leaving, driving drunk or drugged. I will ask precinct leadership tomorrow if there have been any recent incidents – I’m not seeing any on the incident map BUT it doesn’t always show everything. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 2:12 am April 11, 2013 #

  22. This is way too weird. Sounds like we all need to watch for this guy and contact the police whenever anything like what happened to this mother and also to “neighbor” surfaces. Given the attacks recently and other similar descriptions that are surfacing, not to mention an unsolved murder close to another park in the area, this could be a very dangerous person. I will definitely pay close attention when I’m out. I’m glad that this mother followed her instincts and very much appreciate that she reported it to the police and the Blog.

    Comment by WD — 7:10 am April 11, 2013 #

  23. Did the person reporting it mention the age of the person in the park? I too grew up here in the 70′s and 80′s and know why we were NOT to go into the park. Please, be very aware, and do not let your kids go there alone. Also, even in groups keep an eye out.

    Comment by sweetpea0821 — 8:04 am April 11, 2013 #

  24. I suggest we get together and start a group who volunteer to steward the park and let our presence be well known in Schmitz Park in our community old growth forest!

    Comment by Nw — 8:19 am April 11, 2013 #

  25. Good job mama!

    Never underestimate the power of your gut. I’ve worked with victims of crimes and cannot count the amount of times that they have said “I knew something was weird…” but didn’t listen to the message.

    Gavin De Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear” is a great read on this.

    Comment by wsMama3 — 8:51 am April 11, 2013 #

  26. Nw, I love your idea! Let’s get some volunteers and in the way that Wild One suggested, stand up and take ownership of our park and our community. I’m so sorry for the woman and her child who experienced this. I would be completely shaken. Stay strong!

    Comment by Anonymous — 8:55 am April 11, 2013 #

  27. It’s been true forever, and will be so going forward. Isolated, heavily wooded areas are places that people with problems (some of them not potentially dangerous) hang out. Homeless, mentally unstable, muggers, rapists, etc.

    More folks with issues are on the streets now. Some of them are off their meds, some of them have no other place to hang out and mean no harm, some of them are potentially very dangerous and mean to do bad things to vulnerable people. Discerning the difference between any of these is virtually impossible at first glance and no one wants to take chances. So…

    …it IS up to us as citizens to fill the gaps in our security blanket as best we can. We should try to organize periodic patrols to identify folks who frequent these areas and let them know that people are looking out for them. Can we legally take pix of people who look suspicious and post them someplace online? I suspect not.

    Can we ask the Park workers to post information if they know of things they’ve seen? Places that homeless folks camp, etc.?

    Comment by wakeflood — 9:10 am April 11, 2013 #

  28. Strength in numbers I am a follower not best at leading. Definitely one to be a worker among workers. Where do we start and get ideas together?

    Comment by Nw — 9:24 am April 11, 2013 #

  29. We can’t give in to this fear – the more people that visit the park the more safer it will be. Maybe go with a friend if you can. But we need nature in the city and we can’t abandon it because of a couple of incidents. Nice work, mama.

    Comment by RB — 9:28 am April 11, 2013 #

  30. So weird. When I lived down on Beach Drive I’d walk the Schmitz Park loop just about weekly, for seven years. Never had a problem with anyone; I still go there occasionally (even though now it’s a drive to get there) because the trails are heavenly – you walk in and within five minutes you see and hear no signs of civilization. It’s my favorite place to unplug, unwind, and appreciate Mother Nature. Based on the comments here I guess I’ll be even more alone on future walks. Suits me.

    Comment by RarelyEver — 11:48 am April 11, 2013 #

  31. At one point in the 90′s (I think) they found a “home” someone had made and was living in just off a trail. I remember cutting through there to Alki and seeing it. I get not letting fear take over but sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry.

    Comment by bsmomma — 12:38 pm April 11, 2013 #

  32. Thanks Wild One, your comment is perfect and sums up exactly how we feel. We moved from a place that has nothing like Schmitz Park, we are truly lucky to have it. I run through every morning and take my two SPE kids down in as often as possible and also let them go in with the Wilderness Awareness program.

    The curiosity of nature and the presence of those that respect and care for it are exactly what this park needs. Avoiding it out of fear and letting trouble move in is, I’m sure, not what the Schmitz family intended when they preserved it. I took the mom’s warning as just that; a reminder for awareness and following your instinct.

    Also I’m pretty sure that interesting steward of the park (perfectly put) has a lot to do with the park still feeling accessible and safe to so many. He’s a great example to follow.

    Comment by Joplin — 1:01 pm April 11, 2013 #

  33. Amazing how one persons account of getting “a strange feeling” in a park can get a a posting on WSB and over 30 comments on how the police should be out looking for him and others posting how dangerous it is outside. Sad

    Comment by CommonSense — 1:59 pm April 11, 2013 #

  34. As a Alki Elementary students begining 1960, I also was warned not to enter Schmitz Preserve.
    However, between a third and a half of the bird
    species in this neighborhood visit or live year
    round in Schmitz Preserve Park. We also have
    Seattle’s most intact remnant of old growth
    forest, original terrain, natural drainage, and
    peace and quiet. So if anyone does not have a
    friend to share SPP with, volunteer work parties
    continue on the last Saturday morning each month
    nine AM till Noon, begining at the Admiral Way
    and Stevens Street gate (just above the bridge).
    Tasks large and small await, and possibly also
    people who may wish to share the park on your
    schedule. Thank you all for communicating.

    Comment by Ken Shaw — 2:04 pm April 11, 2013 #

  35. I posted this incident after calling the police because it was truly out of the ordinary. I am not an easily shook woman. I know danger when it is near. And I have also worked with mentally unstable people and understand the difference between someone with chemical issues and a predator. We all do instinctively. This person was dangerous. I cannot allow even the idea that someone like that could hurt someone because I did not put my community on alert. Of course this park is not some horrible place to be feared. I put this out there so that we could talk about what we can do to keep this park beautiful and safe. I am personally calling the police back today to make an appointment to have a sketch drawn. And I am asking them that a cop w K-9 walk a beat through the park once a day for a while. Just to check it out. There are children taking field trips through that park and lots of mom’s walking solo with little ones. I know there are those who want to be out there for peace and the gorgeous nature and that should remain available to them as well. But West Seattle is full of crime lately. This is a fact. We need to take some action. I am lucky I’m a loud person. Some people are much more inclined to doubt themselves in these situations. Or don’t have a naturally booming voice that can freak people out. These are the friends and family I hope get to read this and just think about what they can do to avoid this or help change it. Much love to my West Side Community. Thank you for your responses.

    Comment by Mom — 2:12 pm April 11, 2013 #

  36. “Mom” glad you followed your gut. Could you tell the age of this person? There was someone bad in the park in the 70′s and 80′s and I am really hoping he is not back. He was never caught for his crimes.

    Comment by sweetpea0821 — 4:14 pm April 11, 2013 #

  37. Thank you, Ken Shaw! I had no idea about the monthly work parties.

    Comment by Chris W — 5:32 pm April 11, 2013 #

  38. As one of the Forest Stewards of Schmitz Preserve Park, I would like to encourage you all to continue to visit the park and walk the trails and volunteer at our restoration events. Many have cited the dark history of Schmitz Park – there was a period of time in the 70s when some violent assaults happened there. In spite of these due cautions, it is important to note why Schmitz Park has come to be a safer space: our community has reclaimed it.

    If you feel particularly vulnerable, I encourage you to visit the park with a group of people rather than by yourself. But please, please, keep coming back to this gem of a forest. It is one of the only remnant shards of old growth that we have left in the city and it has many beautiful things to share with you.

    Walk your dogs. Go jogging. Pull out some English Ivy. I’m happy even to see you smoking a bowl and enjoying yourself some nature time if that means building a stronger community presence in the park.

    If you see someone suspicious in the park – trust your instincts and call 911. Do remember that some of those ‘disheveled’ people you see in the bushes might actually be young folk going on a forest adventure or one of our volunteers restoring the forest.

    Comment by Dylan Mendenhall — 6:15 pm April 11, 2013 #

  39. Commonsense, common sense would tell you to finish reading the entire thing before commenting on only one aspect of what was said. A strange feeling was then followed by hearing some rustling and then seeing a man running straight at her and her child. Considering the man want wearing what could be called exercise attire and didn’t stop and apologize for startling them, I doubt he was out for a jog. Not to mention that this person fits the description of someone recently arrested and released on trespassing charges. I think it id worth mentioning

    Comment by Eric — 6:39 pm April 11, 2013 #

  40. Thanks for posting the information about the volunteering I will set a Saturday aside in the comming months to volunteer.

    Comment by Nw — 8:43 pm April 11, 2013 #

  41. I’ve often wondered whether the distant, but ever-present, creaking sound in the park was just branches moving in the wind, or bodies hanging from ropes high up the trees.
    .
    That place is scary.
    .
    Also, this one time I was walking near the school, uphill from the park, and I am 100% sure I heard very faint men’s voices singing coming from the woods… Eerie. That one turned out to be some sort of Christmas choral event on alki, but still, it weighs in favor of the ark being haunted in my mind.
    .
    All that to say, the suspicious dude with the slight build was mos def a ghost.

    Comment by Alex — 8:47 pm April 11, 2013 #

  42. In addition to the work parties, I think it would be great to schedule a Schmidtz Park ‘takeover’ in the very near future. Someone get it on the calendar and let’s see how many people we can get out to make our presence known and take back our park. Who knows what we may find but there’s definitely safety in numbers!

    Comment by am — 8:57 pm April 11, 2013 #

  43. There is an even more disturbing story embedded in the comment section of this story, having nothing to do with this particular event or those mentioned, but reported in local media during the past year. I wish that individual would come forward and give his side of the story.

    Comment by G — 10:22 pm April 11, 2013 #

  44. Can someone who knows the history comment more about what happened in Schmitz park in the 70s/80s? several of the comments above allude to it e.g. “I too grew up here in the 70′s and 80′s and know why we were NOT to go into the park.”

    Why – what exactly happened? I searched but can’t find anything on the web on this.

    Comment by peter — 10:48 pm April 11, 2013 #

  45. Is it the red runner from Delridge? Has he slinked into the forest? Haven’t seen him sprinting up and down Delridge in his parka in many months.

    Comment by jw — 8:03 am April 12, 2013 #

  46. many groups of high school and middle school girls were raped in that park. I do not think the man that did this was ever found. He would probably be in his mid 60′s by now.

    Comment by sweetpea0821 — 8:27 am April 12, 2013 #

  47. There was a rapist, described as having red hair and a beard, would grab one girl from a group of young middle school aged girls together in park, would hold scissors to the throat of girls in turn and force the others to do sexual acts upon him. this would have been 1979, 1980. There was no media coverage at the time, it was word of mouth from victims and their families.

    Comment by remembers when — 12:58 pm April 12, 2013 #

  48. Thank you sweetpea0821 for commenting on what has happened in the park. My mother was also raped in that park in the 1940′s. There was never any kind of media coverage of those kinds of things then. But still a girl having to live with that the rest of her life. I have lived in the Admiral area for over 40 years and have never been in the park.
    It is just too isolated wth many places for creeps to hide. I hate that park.

    Comment by Deblynn — 7:28 pm April 12, 2013 #

  49. sweetpea and remembers when– What in the world are you talking about?

    Comment by anette — 11:26 pm April 12, 2013 #

  50. I have to add a little in response to some of the comments-I have been walking Schmitz for over 16 years. I love this park, it’s one of my favorite places in the city. I have watched over the years as the restoration has increased the beauty and vitality of this special place. I am indebted to the neighbors and Earth Corps. who have taken it upon themselves to lug the water new plantings require, those who have gotten sore and filthy cleaning up trails, and showed all the dedication the park reflects.
    I do believe we need to be more alert and more cautious. I don’t think kids should be in there alone right now. The individual I saw did not have red hair nor was he of slight build. It was the crazed look he had while running towards me that was unsettling. This incident was the only time in 16 years I have ever felt put off by someone in the park, but you can get that walking in front of Macy’s on 3rd can’t you?

    Comment by Neighbor — 11:33 am April 13, 2013 #

  51. yes, you can get that at Macys, but you also have about 100 people around you at that time. I’m sorry I never went back into that park, as Deblynn or I’m sure her grandmother. but I never had reason or want to. Not scared of it. I’d go thru alone right now, but I’d also be ready for ANYTHING to happen. I’m glad the original poster trusted her gut and got the heck out of there. Probably saved her and her kid from something that nobody wants to happen to anyone in our community. And anette, if you read the whole thread, you will see what we are talking about.

    Comment by sweetpea — 11:10 pm April 13, 2013 #

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