LYNDEN, Washington -- Saturday night, as the Northwest Washington Fair was winding down its six-day run, gunshots disturbed the peace of my small town. One early observer said that over the din of the Fair the shots sounded like balloons popping.
The scuffle was what local police are calling "gang related." Hispanic youths in this Canadian border town started fighting near the front entrance of the fairgrounds. It was one of the hottest days of the year, which didn't help matters. Fisticuffs were followed by a knife and then a gun.
Police have released very little information thus far. We do know that the victims were between 18 and 23. A man was stabbed, then two men and a woman were shot. Fire chief Bill Boyd tweeted early on about the condition of the victims in the St. Joseph's Hospital, in nearby Bellingham: "All stable at this point. 2 shot in trunk, 2 shot in extremities." Boyd proved wrong about one gunshot, right about everything else. Two victims were treated and released, two were still in the hospital at this writing but likely to make it.
As for their identities, multiple people said in the comment threads of the Bellingham Herald that the person shot "in the extremities" was an innocent bystander who took a bullet in the leg near the mini-donuts stand. Apparently the bullet -- probably from a Glock, because .22s don't usually have so much stopping power -- went clean through the abdomen of another victim and decided it wasn't finished yet.
There's a good chance that the person whose abdomen that bullet passed through was an "18 year old kid named Isaac." The quote is from the Facebook page of Rev. Sean Taylor of Big Oak Ministries, who must have experienced the best of times and the worst of times that day. Taylor organized the world's largest hayride, which will be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, and then ended the evening holding the hand of a scared, badly injured youth while they waited for the paramedics to arrive.
Taylor asked his Facebook followers to "pray for Isaac today," adding "today's his birthday." He thanked his "crew," noting that "they sprung into action to help the kid and secure the area," which, in turn, helped to hold back mass panic. Taylor posted a coda to the whole experience the next morning, stating simply: "We all need Jesus."
And vigorous law enforcement, Lyndeners might add. I got wind that something was wrong as I was walking home from the Fair a little after 10 Saturday and saw two Border Patrol SUVs, lights flashing, sirens sounding, booking it toward the carnival.
When they got there, the situation was already well in hand. Local cops had tackled and disarmed the shooter, a 15-year-old boy whose name has not yet been released to the public. He will face one count of attempted murder and two counts of first degree assault, at the very least. Other assailants may be charged as the investigation progresses.
Fair manager Jim Baron will probably catch heat for his gloss on events. He told the Herald Sunday that this was the first time a shooting had happened and then, well, he said this: "It's a bummer that it got marred by that, but I don't think it takes away from the fact that we had a great fair this year."
In one very narrow sense, Baron was right. Attendance was up this year, the year of the Fair's sort-of 100th anniversary. The weather was actually warm and sunny for most of the week. Several barkers told me selling had been so good that they had very little inventory left to unload. And, while there is never a good time for a shooting, late Saturday night is the least economically damaging time to do it.
In the more important sense, it could prove absolutely fatal. The chief draw of the Fair has been that it's a safe, family friendly place to have some post-raspberry-harvest summer fun. Many locals scoff at the Fair but then show up anyway because it's the one time when all of Lynden really comes together. And we invite the rest of the world as well.
Until this weekend, that had worked out just fine. Now, that's not so certain. The comment threads of the Herald were quickly clogged with calls for the mass deportation of Mexicans, and worse. That's a non-starter, but the Fair could implement bag checks, pat downs or even install metal detectors -- in addition to the inevitable and necessary beefing-up of security.
It certainly has the right to do so, but then it will have to count this Fair diehard out. If the Fair can't find some way to restore confidence without morphing into the TSA, then it will become a rather empty celebration.
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