Weyerhaeuser property, murders dominate Federal Way headlines in 2016

While Federal Way had a busy 2016, the sale of the former Weyerhaeuser campus and the plans for its development as well as the tragic murders of eight area residents dominated the headlines.

Things kicked off in February when news broke that Industrial Realty Group, a real estate investment and development firm based out of Southern California, purchased the 430-acre Weyerhaeuser property for $70.5 million.

“The architecture and surrounding land is impressive and will be highly desirable for future tenants,” Industrial Realty Group CEO John Mase said in a press release at the time.

According to the release, company officials announced intentions to “accommodate tenants who would be a positive mix for the region,” and who would understand the value the property has and who would be a fixture in the community.

The sale gained the community’s notice and started talk about what tenants would be appropriate for the land and Federal Way. In August, the Mirror broke the news that Chill Build Seattle, LLC, wanted to develop on a 19-acre parcel of the former Weyerhaeuser property with a 7.2-acre warehousing, distribution and processing center for two seafood companies. Plans included a 239,000-square-foot freezer warehouse and offices and docks for Preferred Freezer and an additional 75,000 square feet for Orca Bay Seafoods for seafood processing, offices and dock space. The two seafood facilities were expected to provide 300 new jobs.

Many residents were not pleased with that news, however, and more than 300 people crowded a City Council study session on the proposed Weyerhaeuser development to voice their opinions on the matter. The majority who spoke shared that the proposed developments were wrong for Federal Way and took issue with the projects being considered; others pushed for a moratorium on campus development.

Things simmered down until December, when city officials released a letter from Industrial Realty Group stating that it terminated its contract with Chill Build Seattle, LLC, for the sale of the land, and thus halting the proposed plans for the property, at least temporarily. Shortly after that announcement, city officials convened in an emergency meeting, where the majority of the council opposed enacting a moratorium that would ban development on property in certain zones, including all of the Weyerhaeuser land, after discussing the possibility of litigation, presumably from IRG.

Federal Way also experienced a record number of shooting deaths — eight — this year, sending the community reeling and prompting calls for reform.

The tragic events began with the murder of 16-year-old Decatur High sophomore Wesley Gennings, who was shot and killed in a Taco Bell parking lot Feb. 13. Federal Way Police Department Commander Brett Hatfield said in an email, investigators believed the incident was not random “primarily as the suspect(s) is/are believed to have been in the car with Wesley at the time of the murder.” King County prosecutors proceeded to charge two teenage boys, Diante Pellum, Tacoma, and Michael Rogers, Federal Way, with first-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm for Gennings’ death. According to charging documents, the shooting death came during a marijuana robbery.

April also started on a somber note with the shooting death of a 19-year-old Federal Way man at The Cove Apartment Homes. Jeffrey G. McLaren was found between two vehicles in the parking lot dead from an apparent gunshot wound.

McLaren was reportedly shot multiple times. That was the second shooting that weekend. A day earlier, a 23-year-old man was shot in the abdomen at a different apartment complex, but he was taken to Harborview Medical Center and survived.

Three murders in 48 hours in Federal Way stunned residents and sent city officials into a panic in May. Federal Way resident Alex Kelley was killed early May 9. He was found shot to death at Arcadia Townhomes and Apartments. Tacoma resident Frank Cohens was killed that night. Officers found Cohens slumped over in a vehicle, dead of an apparent gunshot wound, in the 2200 block of South 33rd Street. Northeast Tacoma man Adam Gutierrez was killed the night of May 10 after officers found him with multiple gunshot wounds in the 1800 block of Southwest 356th Street. Gutierrez, who died on the scene, was apparently jogging with his dog when he was shot.

Following the spree killings, Mayor Jim Ferrell and Police Chief Andy Hwang pledged all the city’s resources to solving crimes. Hwang said the police department would increase patrols and utilize all available resources in investigating the three murders, and city officials pledged to start an anti-violence coalition and host a forum for people who wanted to get involved. Federal Way’s sixth murder of 2016 rocked the community at the end of August when a 24-year-old man, Deverrion L. Barber, was shot multiple times in front of a duplex driveway on 25th Place South. Several witnesses saw two people running from the area, but police could not make any arrests.

The last two shooting deaths took place the following month when Tabitha Apling, 33, was shot and killed Sept. 24. Her ex-boyfriend and father of her two children was charged in the killing. Then, Sept. 26, 33-year-old Dennis Sloboda was shot and killed in his vehicle in the 32800 block of Hoyt Road Southwest. Police suspected Sloboda was the victim of a road-rage incident.

Federal Way residents received some answers about the murders of four people in Federal Way in April and May when Hwang announced in early October the suspects police believe responsible for the shooting deaths had been arrested for unrelated crimes. He did say police will release more information when “investigations are developed to the point of viable prosecution.” In the same statement, Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell announced, in addition to filling the currently authorized 131 positions in the police department, he intended to propose funding in the 2017-18 budget that would provide for nine additional officers.