SEATTLE (Reuters) - The man accused of killing one person and wounding two others in a shooting spree at a small Christian college in Seattle suffers from “significant and long-standing mental health issues” that were a factor in the tragedy, his lawyer said on Friday.
Speaking to reporters after a court hearing in which a judge ordered the suspect, Aaron Ybarra, 26, held without bail on suspicion of first-degree murder and assault, defense attorney Ramona Brandes also said her client had been involuntarily committed in the past because of mental illness.
She added that Ybarra was sorry for the victims’ pain.
The probable-cause statement filed in court by prosecutors said Ybarra confessed to police detectives that he was the gunman in Thursday’s incident, that he had been planning a mass shooting and wanted to kill as many people as possible before killing himself.
Local media reports citing unidentified police sources have said Ybarra, who is not a student at the college, was fascinated with mass shootings at other schools, including the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
Police offered no public explanation for why the suspect might have singled out Seattle Pacific University, a Methodist liberal arts college of some 4,000 students.
Ybarra is accused of walking into an academic building on the campus armed with a shotgun and opening fire on three people before pausing to reload his weapon.
At that point, police said, a student building monitor doused the gunman with pepper spray and tackled him. Several bystanders jumped in to help, seizing his gun. He was arrested minutes later by police, who said the suspect also was carrying a hunting knife and at least 50 rounds of shotgun ammunition.
In a statement read to reporters on Friday, Brandes said: “Mr. Ybarra suffers from significant and long-standing mental health issues, including delusions, that were in play during yesterday’s tragedy.
“I do not know at this point in time why Mr. Ybarra’s illness brought him to Seattle Pacific University, but I can tell you that he recognizes the suffering of the victims and their families. He is sorry for their pain,” she said.
Brandes said she did not know the circumstances of his prior involuntary commitment.
One man who was shot during the rampage died a short time later, while a badly wounded woman remained hospitalized on Friday in serious condition in the intensive care unit, although she was conscious and breathing on her own.
A second man was in satisfactory condition with pellet wounds. A third man was treated for minor injuries suffered in the scuffle with the suspect, police said. All four were in their 20s. The bloodshed in Seattle marked the latest in a series of mass shootings at schools and other public places across the United States in recent years that have renewed a national debate over gun safety and mental illness.
“When something like this occurs in our midst, it reminds us that we live in a world that is broken, and there are not easy answers,” Bob Zurinsky, assistant director of university ministries, told hundreds of mourners gathered on Friday at a Methodist church near campus for a special prayer service.
Additional reporting by Jimmy Lovaas and Bryan Cohen in Seattle; Writing by Steve Gorman and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney