The 17-year-old teen shot in the head by a Seattle police officer last night as he ran away from police had been armed only with a gun-shaped commercial paint sprayer nozzle when he robbed a customer at an automated teller machine in Wallingford.
Police leaders this morning said the 31-year-old SWAT officer who pulled the trigger justifiably believed the teen was an armed and dangerous felon who had committed an increasingly violent series of nearly a dozen ATM robberies.
"You've got a situation of escalating, serious, violent confrontations with citizens, and he is caught in the act, fleeing and getting away," Deputy Police Chief Clark Kimerer said. "And he's on his way to a densely populated part of town. I'm not seeing a lot of alternatives in this scenario."
The shooting occurred about 9:20 p.m. near the Bank of America branch at 36th Street North and Stone Way North. The teen was in critical condition this morning at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center.
Police had been staking out the bank because it was one of three banks in Wallingford and Capitol Hill that have been targeted since Halloween by what police believe were the same young robbers. An ATM stick-up had occurred at the Stone Way bank Monday night, police said.
In last night's holdup, officers saw two men approach a man who was using the ATM, police said. One of the young men, wearing a ski mask, grabbed the customer, slammed his face against the wall and stuck what looked like a chrome pistol in the man's back.
The customer "felt there was a weapon at his back and the suspect said he would kill him," said Kimerer. Police moved in immediately and confronted the robber, who ran north on Stone Way.
The robber's accomplice, who was serving as a lookout, ran in a different direction but was captured by police nearby.
The robber was running away as well and clearly running faster than the officers.
"He was winning the race," Kimerer said.
Officer William Geoghagan who has been on the force for about eight years, fired twice, striking the teen in the head. He fell about a block from the bank.
Police found that the robber's "weapon," a silver paint-sprayer nozzle covered with a stocking hat, had been dropped back at the ATM. The suspected accomplice had been carrying an identical spray nozzle, covered in a red stocking hat.
Officers didn't know the guns were fakes as they pursued the young man, and they didn't know he had dropped the phony gun, Kimerer said.
"A fleeing felon who represents a continuing threat to the community may be apprehended by using deadly force," Kimerer said. "What we were dealing with was a violent, predatory criminal who didn't care who his next victim was."
Police said this morning that the young men definitely fit the descriptions of the two robbers who have been sticking up ATM customers.
Police said there may be a third young man involved in some of the robberies, but they didn't have any clear indication that a third suspect participated in the robbery last night.
In the previous ATM holdups, victims told police they were approached from behind by two men and either saw a handgun or felt what they thought was a handgun. The robbers almost typically demanded the customers withdraw 300 dollars to give them.
Before targeting the bank on Stone Way this week, the robbers struck almost exclusively at a Bank of America branch in the 1300 block of East Madison Street on Capitol Hill.