Monday, May 21, 2007

Moscow Shooter Revealed; Another Victim Found

Jason Hamilton was 36 years old and worked as a janitor for American Building Maintenance.

Law enforcement officials revealed today Hamilton killed his 30-year old wife Crystal in their home before going on a shooting rampage downtown.

Hamilton fired 125 shots at the Latah County Sheriff's office, using 2 semi-automatic weapons. Two law enforcement officers and a University of Idaho student were shot. Hamilton then ran into the Presbyterian Church across the street. He knew that church - it was part of his janitorial assignment.

Hamilton also knew the 62-year old sexton, Paul Bauer, who lived in an apartment in the church.

Hamilton killed Bauer before turning the gun on himself.

At a somber press conference this morning, it was revealed Hamilton killed his wife, 30-year old Crystal, at their home with a single gunshot to the head.

The FBI is investigating the scene at the Hamilton home, about four miles east of town. It's just across the highway from my house. I never knew the couple. I drove right by the house after 5AM on Sunday, just hours before Crystal's body was found there.

Law enforcement officials revealed more about Hamilton at this morning's press conference in the Moscow City Hall.

Hamilton's family moved to Moscow in the late 90s from the Kuna, Idaho area. Police listed a rap sheet on him involving many acts of violence committed here over the last two years, including a strangulation incident against a girlfriend with whom he was living during a separation from his wife. He was in court as recently as last week on a probation violation. Being a little hard of hearing, I missed what police chief Dan Weaver said but it was about a suicide attempt and the St. Joe Hospital mental facility. UPDATE Assistant police chief David Duke said Hamilton had attempted suicide through an overdose of prescription drugs, but told the psychologist that “if he wanted to commit suicide he wouldn’t do it this way, but he would take a whole bunch of people with him, either by shooting or by a bomb.“vvvvvvv

Are we looking at another disturbed person in the mold of Cho Seung-hui, or in cases closer to Idaho, and Moscow in particular, John Delling?

Police still don't know the motive for Hamilton's ambush-style shooting. They said no note has been found.

County Commissioner Tom Stroschein said Crystal, who worked as a janitor in the courthouse, was very well liked by everyone there, but kept to herself, so any troubles she may have had with her husband were not known. UPDATE I just heard today that Crystal had just started work right here at Washington State University, in the Murrow building at WSU which houses the Northwest Public Radio studios and offices. She'd been working for just a couple of weeks, and hadn't even picked up her first paycheck.vvvvvvv

Almost everyone I've spoken to is shaken by this seemingly random violence. This is Moscow, for goodness' sake, where people slow down their cars to give a friendly honk or wave to a friend on the sidewalk, where people don't lock their doors, where hugs are generously shared, where citizens of all ages will happily dance at public music performances without a hint of self-soncsiousness, where strangers will come to your assistance in a heartbeat.

We're especially troubled because of a string of recent deaths, beginning with the disappearance of well-liked City Councilman John Dickinson last winter; the murder of University of Idaho student David Boss by John Delling, and the recent death of a U of I student in a mountain climing accident.

UPDATE From a newspaper commentary this morning:

"Moscow is a small town with a big wound. And it will take a long time to mend.

"It would be easy to pick at that sore and never let it heal. To be afraid and watchful and suspicious. To fear the person who might be hiding. Or the person who is hiding their potential for brutality."

I seriously doubt it. My sense is that if anything, citizens of this community will become even more caring, more close-knit than ever, and mindful of one another.vvvvvvv

The weekend shooting took the life of Sergeant Lee Newbill, the first Moscow police officer to be killed in the line of duty.

Officer Newbill was a well-liked member of the community, with a lifelong devotion to public service, from military to law enforcement. He's been part of the Moscow police force in 2001.
Yesterday afternoon, several bouquets of flowers were laid at the roadblock near the Presbyterian Church where the carnage occurred.

As for those semi-automatic weapons, it appears Hamilton obtained them legally over the last few years.

Sunday was a strange day for me. I was scheduled to work the 6AM shift. While I was in the shower, my friend Tina in Florida called and told my family what was happening. She saw it on CNN, so I switched it on first, then Spokane station KXLY. A Moscow woman called in to the live broadcast and said she heard the gunshots from her home, about 2 miles away from the scene. They were so loud, at the time she thought they were explosions.

I watched in disbelief.

At the time, the news was confusing. First it sounded as if 4 people has been shot, then they said 3, and the shooter was cornered in the church.

I had to go through Moscow to get to work, but drove around the donwtown area to avoid the roadblocks between 3rd and 6th, Howard and Washington, but still saw police all over - with cars from Pullman, Washington State University, Lewiston and Clarkston; all these forces lending a hand to Moscow. I made it to Pullman in a bit of a daze. At 6AM it sounded as if police were still trying to get the suspect, but now we know they went into the church 10 minutes before 6AM, and found Paul Bauer's body. Jason Hamilton was in the sanctuary, with single self-inflicted gunshot to the head, weapons beside him.

For more on this tragedy, Officer Newbill, the Moscow community and more, read Joan Opyr's excellent piece.

UPDATE A memorial service for Officer Newbill will be held on Friday at 1PM at Kibbie Dome. Thousands, including law enforcement officials from many cities in several states, are expected to attend. More

A Spring Walk on the Latah Trail.

UPDATED with plant identification help from Gerry Queener, of Troy, ID - many thanks! See his information in the comments following the post.

I've been battling a nasty bug that's been making me cough and sound hoarse for days, with limited results. But on Monday, I decided a breath of fresh air and some good Palousian scenery was just the medicine to set me right - so I drove eight miles east from my house to Troy, Idaho, to walk on the stretch of the Latah Trail beginning at the city park, in the roughly northwesterly direction towards Moscow.

I couldn't have hoped for a better day. The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and it was about 68 degrees. Woodpeckers, magpies and many other birds were all over. There were butterflies - blue, orange, yellow, white; and many dragonflies, which made me recall Gerard Manley Hopkins: As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame. (Forced reading way back in junior college.)

This wildflower really caught my eye. UPDATE: Thanks to the anonymous reader who helped me identify this as trillium (see the comment at the bottom of the post); also known as wakerobin. vvvvvvvvvvvADDED 5/25: Carol Gosseen of Pasco wrote: "Your picture of the trillium has a pink flower because it has been in bloom for a long time. When they first come out, it is the most pristine white, sitting on the brightest dark green. They knock your socks off. I transplanted mine from my sisters yard in Marysville, WA about 35 years ago and they mulitlplied some, and are still blooming. I was told that if you pick the bloom, it would not bloom again for years."vvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Gerry Queener identified this plant as Woolly Mullein (Verbasum thapsus), "an introduced "weed" from Europe, but now common over most of temperate N.A. In times past, the leaves of this plant were gathered for the skin softening chemicals used in lotions and medicines to sooth inflamed tissues. Small birds utilize the small seeds in winter."

Lichens, mosses, horsetails and more; and I also spotted little striped shoots in the soft spring grass, looking a little like skinny raccoon tails. UPDATE: I've been told that these are, indeed, young horsetail shoots. As they get older they develop their distinctive feathery green leaves (fronds? what are they called?)vvvvvvv

When I stopped a little after one mile, I looked out over a lush meadow and out toward a distant mountain.

On this walk I saw two chipmunks, and some little critters. This beetle is a common sight, but for some reason, this particular one impressed me with its shiny black surface and a stalwart scuttle along the pavement.

I was just thrilled to see this little woolly worm! My son and I were chatting just recently about how we hadn't seen any of these in quite a while. There's some folklore associated with this worm - the size of the orange band on its body, when observed in the fall, is supposed to be a weather predictor.

From the Green Line: "The woolly worms of winter weather forecasting fame are black at each end with a reddish brown band in the middle. The size of the brown band is said to be an indicator of winter's severity. The narrower the band, the harsher the winter. If woolly worms are more brown than black and the middle band tends toward orange, that indicates the winter will be mild. Well, that's a fun bit of folk wisdom, but it's simply not true."

So there!

On closer inspection, I see that my little specimen has a different order of colors than stated in the Green Line, so maybe it's something other than a woolly worm. Any entomologists care to share some information?

When I reached the two mile point up the Troy side of the trail (or 9 miles from Moscow, as the opposite side of the marker indicates, in the picture) and walked a little bit further before I decided to head back down. What a great way to clear my lungs, get some sun and recharge my batteries to start a new week.

If you've never walked, run, biked, scootered or roller bladed on the Latah Trail, you're really missing out on a wonderful resource. Get on the trail anywhere between Moscow and Troy, and celebrate the beauty of the Palouse.

Gerry Queener corrected me on the yellow flowers pictured below: NOT arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), but Heart-leaf Arnica(Arnica cordifolia).

They look very similar; I should've paid more attention to the leaves - in this picture you can clearly see they are heart-shaped. Gerry says, "you may find Arrowleaf Balsam-root along the trail. The latter grows in a clump and has wooly leaves. Arnica prefers shade. Another medicinal, but these two are native. The French sell Arnica based salves for muscle aches. They work well."

Many thanks, Gerry! I'll need some of that arnica for my muscle aches and pains soon, after working on my garden!

P.S. Still some plants and critters in this post need identification, so if you can help, please share! Meantime, here's are two very informative sites: one on Palousian flora, and another on wildflowers of north Idaho.