Unlike other recent mass shootings, the assailant at Seattle Pacific University was not armed with semi-automatic weapons. The time to reload gave college senior Jon Meis a critical opening to take down the gunman and prevent additional deaths.
Tales of a student hero who disarmed a shotgun-wielding gunman with a can of pepper spray emerged in the wake of Thursday’s shooting on a Christian university campus in Seattle, which officials say had been regularly conducting drills to prepare for such a scenario.
One person died and two others were wounded before Mr. Meis subdued the alleged shooter with pepper spray as he was attempting to reload. Several other students helped to restrain the suspect for several minutes until the police arrived, while other students rushed to the aid of four gunshot victims.
Meis is an engineering student who was working as the building monitor when the gunman entered the hall. So far, Meis has not spoken with reporters, but his friends paint a portrait of a studious, athletic, and gentle young man with deep Christian faith, The Seattle Times reports.
Fellow classmate Rebekah Ogimach told the Seattle paper, “It doesn’t surprise me that he would step in to do something like that. He’s a selfless guy.”
“He is very quiet, very devoted to his family,” Meis’s family friend Melissa Engstrom told the Times. Ms. Engstrom attributed his selflessness to his devout faith in Jesus Christ.
SPU is a private Methodist university located on a 40-acre campus in a residential neighborhood 10 minutes from downtown Seattle.
“We’re a community that relies on Jesus Christ for strength, and we’ll need that at this point in time,” SPU President Daniel Martin said Thursday, according to AP.
In the hours after the shooting, students overflowed the campus's First Free Methodist Church and held an impromptu prayer service on the lawn. Classes were canceled Thursday evening and Friday. Friday would have been the last day of classes for the semester.
Jillian Smith, a Seattle Pacific sophomore, told AP she was taking a math test on the second floor of the building where the shooting occurred when a lockdown was ordered.
“We were pretty much freaking out,” Ms. Smith told AP. “People were texting family and friends, making sure everyone was OK.”
Another student, senior David Downs, told AP that he left campus just 30 minutes before the shooting started and that he was in “utter shock” that the incident had occurred at his university.
“It puts things in perspective,” he said. “Anything can happen, even on a small Christian campus.”
The shooting came just two weeks after Elliot Rodger went on a murder spree near the University of California at Santa Barbara, killing six people. Police say Mr. Rodger, like the perpetrators of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the 2007 mass killings at Virginia Tech, used semi-automatic handguns.
Seattle Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonagh identified the alleged gunman as Aaron Ybarra and said he is not a student at the university. The assistant chief said Mr. Ybarra was armed with a shotgun, a knife, and additional shutgun shells.
“He was hell-bent on a killing a lot of people today,” a law-enforcement source briefed on the investigation told the Seattle paper.
“But for the great response by the people of Seattle Pacific, this incident might have been much more tragic,” Assistant Chief McDonagh said Thursday, the Associated Press reports.
President Martin told The Seattle Times that the school developed an emergency-response system several years ago and regularly conducts drills designed to train faculty and staff for this kind of scenario.
“We are a community and we care for others,” Martin said, according to the Seattle paper. “Those that were involved did just that.”
Material from The Associated Press and Reuters is included in this report.