LYNDEN, Washington — Last Friday, Naveed Afzal Haq was stopped by a Seattle police officer for turning onto a street that was closed to traffic. It was one of those might-have-been moments, where a little suspicion could have spared us a lot of grief. But police chief Gil Kerlikowske insisted that everything checked out, and that the officer shouldn’t be faulted for ticketing Haq and then sending him back on his way. Who could have known?
Haq continued on to the Seattle chapter of the Jewish Federation, an umbrella Jewish charity, on Third Avenue. He found the offices were pass code protected and fortified, so he improvised. He hid behind a potted plant in the building’s foyer and took a 13-year-old girl hostage at about 4 p.m. Haq put a gun to her head and used the threat of violence to force his way through the security door.
Once inside, Haq announced that he was (a) a Muslim and (b) fed up with Israel. He started firing two .40 and .45 caliber handguns that he had picked up the day before from two separate gun shops. The Federation was mostly staffed by women and so every last shooting victim was female.
Haq shot mother of two Pam Waechter twice, in the stomach and the head, killing her. He drilled three women in the abdomen, winged a fourth, and took aim at Dayna Klein, who was clearly pregnant. She managed to save her unborn child by deflecting the bullet with her arm.
Klein has emerged as the hero of the story, and not just for her mama bear reflexes. Kerlikowske praised her for calling 911 and connecting Haq to a police dispatcher. The gunman decided to chew the fat for a bit rather than continue shooting people, and that seemed to make all the difference.
Haq explained that he had no beef with any particular worker in the building. He had targeted them, he said, because “these are Jews and I’m tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.” He claimed sole responsibility for the shootings, insisted he wasn’t drunk, and told the dispatcher to call the press. And then he turned himself in to the SWAT team.
In the three days since, police have been working overtime to gather evidence and to keep the mass mourning from spilling over into violence. Details have been assigned to guard both Jewish and Muslim organizations, and spokesmen for SPD have been skittish about Haq’s motivation.
The local press has been doing its part to tamp down fires. Yesterday’s Seattle Times carried a statement from Haq’s Pakistani immigrant family on the front page that offered sympathy and condolences to the victims. They said that Naveed’s actions were “senseless” and “utterly contrary to our beliefs and Islamic values.”
Reporters and opinion slingers have also been trying to make sense out of the episode, with little success. The emerging consensus is that Haq was nuts, and that recent world events drove him to violence. He just snapped.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. referred to Haq as an “unhinged soul” who perpetuated a “tragic act of exceptional rage.” Reports have focused on his career frustrations, his spiritual meanderings (from Islam to Christianity and, well, back, apparently), and his anger problems. Haq’s mother told reporters that she had begged her son not to return to Seattle from their home of Pasco, in Eastern Washington, because she thought he was too emotionally fragile to take it.
Many will argue that the place for Haq is the loony bin, not death row. After all, he once checked himself into a mental health clinic, and he was set to stand trial for having exposed himself in public. Therefore, the person who shot up the Jewish Federation did so in some kind of religio-war induced haze.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office is set to make a determination by Wednesday on whether to file capital charges against Haq. Initial reports had them leaning against but I spoke to spokesman Dan Donohoe yesterday and he assured me it could go either way.
I hope they go ahead and seek the death penalty. It seems to me that what Haq did was demonstrably planned and premeditated, that he knew the moral gravity of his actions, that he did this thing to make a very public statement, and that it would be wrong to allow him shelter under dubious claims of diminished capacity.
Let’s hear the man out and let a jury decide his fate. Haq will get the chance to persuade them to spare his life and then he’ll have a decade or more of hearings and appeals. That may be cold comfort but it’s more of an opportunity than he gave Pam Waechter.
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