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Community seeks closure in aftermath of shooting rampage

Sylvia Valdovinos, mother of shooting victim Ceasar Valdovinos, attended Wednesday
Sylvia Valdovinos, mother of shooting victim Ceasar Valdovinos, attended Wednesday's community meeting at City Hall.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

Residents of the Pinewood Village Apartments are still in shock — and struggling for closure — after the deadliest shooting in Federal Way history.

Dozens of people packed City Hall on Wednesday for a community meeting just days after 27-year-old Dennis Clark III went on a homicidal rampage.

Around 9:35 p.m. April 21, Clark shot his live-in girlfriend, Justine Baez, 24, multiple times before killing three more people. Clark was shot dead at the scene by Federal Way police after ignoring commands to stop reaching for a handgun.

One of the victims, 62-year-old Roland Scobee, was known among neighbors as an advocate who watched over the apartment complex. When the shooting broke out Sunday night, Scobee urged another resident to call 911. In an attempt to kill witnesses, the gunman breeched Scobee's door with a shotgun blast, then shot him.

"He used to walk me to the store to make sure I was safe," resident Linda Phillips said of Scobee, who often chatted with folks outside when he smoked. "He was just a really good guy."

Phillips and Mike Mellema have lived at Pinewood Village for four and a half years. They once lived in the same apartment unit where the gunman later resided, and had seen him around the complex.

Fear and sadness now ripple through the apartment complex in the shooting's aftermath.

"I can't see how a guy with that history can be allowed to have guns or rent an apartment," said Mellema, concerned about criminal activity in the complex and nearby motels despite a steady police presence. "We were planning on moving when our lease was up. It's a sure thing now."

Details revealed in the days since the shooting have highlighted Dennis Clark's tendencies for domestic violence, even though the gunman had no past criminal charges. As a juvenile in Snohomish County, Clark faced assault charges for allegedly shooting a girlfriend with a BB gun after a breakup, but those charges were dropped when he turned 18.

Just last month, Federal Way police responded to a domestic dispute at another apartment involving Clark and a different woman. No charges were filed, but the police report notes that at the time, Clark was driving a car that belonged to Justine Baez, his girlfriend of five years who died Sunday of gunshot wounds.

At Wednesday's community meeting, Cmdr. Kyle Sumpter praised the multiple apartment residents who called 911 after the first shots were fired. Calling 911 takes courage, he said, but more importantly, it was a sign that people were taking control of their neighborhood.

Sumpter also praised victims Ceasar Valdovinos and Bradley Fischer, whom police believe confronted the gunman in the parking lot before they were killed.

"For me, those people are heroes," said Sumpter, referring to 911 callers as well as all four victims.

The Valley Investigation Team, comprised of detectives from local police departments, is handling the case. Sumpter expects the investigation to continue for several weeks.

Mayor Skip Priest offered condolences to the friends and families on behalf of the city, and vowed to overcome the tragedy.

"We are a strong city, we are a strong community, and as a city, I promise that we will do everything we can to ensure that in fact we achieve that goal," Priest told the residents. "We will overcome."

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell lauded the efforts of police and first responders, along with the community members who tried to assist at the scene.

"I cannot even imagine the terror and the fear that must have gone through your hearts and minds as you were huddled in your apartments or watching the horror that transpired," Ferrell told residents, relaying the notion that domestic violence tears at the fabric of the community. "We're going to heal this community back. We're going to bind the fabric of our community back up. And that starts today."

FYI

• The Pinewood Village Apartments are at 33311 18th Lane S., located near South 333rd Street and Pacific Highway South.

• Among those providing support at Wednesday's community meeting were Grace Church Chaplain Jon McIntosh and Christian Faith Center Pastor Casey Treat.

• Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson noted that the department received multiple inquiries from media outlets around the world, asking if there was a link to the recent Boston Marathon bombing tragedies. There is no direct link. However, at Wednesday's meeting at City Hall, Wilson said the Boston and Federal Way tragedies demonstrate the impact that such an event can have on a community. "There's also the recognition that this could happen anywhere," Wilson told residents. "To the friends and neighbors in this apartment complex, there's nothing else you could have done or should have done."

• The gunman had a concealed pistol license. Two weapons were found at the scene: a .40-caliber Taurus semi-automatic pistol, and a pistol-grip Mossberg 500 pump shotgun with a four-round saddle. Click here to learn more about the gunman's past.

• The eight Federal Way police officers who discharged weapons at the crime scene were placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard protocol. The Auburn Police Department and the Valley Investigation Team are handling the case. Click here to learn more.

 

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