Kyle Huff Never Found a Place to Fit In. Last Saturday Morning He Murdered Six People Who Had.
Kyle Huff grew up on a large plot of land just outside Whitefish, Montana, in a two-story brown house abutting thick woods and set far apart from any neighbors. The woods are part of the lightly forested lowlands of Flathead Valley, a topographic dip in the northwest corner of the state just west of the Continental Divide. It's a region put on the map by the Great Northern Railway, which in the late 1800s began running trains between Minneapolis and Seattle, trains that stopped, along the way, amid the high peaks that make up the valley's borders. Later came the timber industry, and more recently, outdoor adventurers, who now arrive in the valley to ski or visit Glacier National Park, where Kyle's father, Willis, worked doing maintenance while Kyle was young.
Kyle's mother, Mary, a metal worker, opened a small art gallery in Whitefish that she still runs, selling folksy crafts and ceramics. She is now divorced from Willis, who moved away from Montana some time ago, and on Monday, two days after their 28-year-old son committed one of the worst mass killings in Seattle history, Mary's store, Artistic Touch, was closed. On the answering machine, a woman's voice said it would remain that way for days, "possibly longer."
Kyle Huff was born on September 22, 1977, along with his identical twin, Kane, and throughout their youth the brothers were, by all accounts, inseparable. They went to school together, they played together in nearby wheat fields with their good friend Dustin Hoon, and they looked and acted so much alike that their names became one sentence: "Kane-and-Kyle."
It was a reflection of the fact that the twins seemed, to many, as if they were the same being. "They were almost like one person," an acquaintance told The Stranger. "You never knew which one was Kane and which one was Kyle."
One way people could tell them apart, however, was by their different gradations of shyness. Among those who knew them, both brothers had a reputation for being socially awkward and introverted—"painfully shy" and "really, really quiet," as friends put it. But Kyle was more so. He seemed to need to follow Kane's lead in social gatherings, and in life, too, moving to Seattle about four and a half years ago because Kane wanted to go to school here.
"If anyone were to talk to Kane, he'd be a little more social, a little more talkative" said the acquaintance, who was in the same high-school class as the twins and did not want to be named because she still lives in tiny Whitefish. "It was like he spoke for Kyle, almost."
The twins were large boys, and tall, and at school they were picked on, called "ogres" because of their size and made fun of because of their clothes: black trench coats, black combat boots, Metallica T-shirts, sometimes army fatigue jackets. Their address later in life would give people further fodder: 2275 Sasquatch Hollow.
"I remember them being teased a lot," said Elizabeth Hanson, 31, who was a few years ahead of the twins at Whitefish High School and now lives in Washington State. "They were social outcasts."
When the twins were teased, people who attended school with them said, they wouldn't react. It might seem counterintuitive, given their intimidating size, but Kane and Kyle let the jocks call them ogres until the jocks got bored with calling them ogres. Then, their high-school classmate said, "everyone left them alone" and the twins retreated into their group of misfits—skater kids, punks, arty kids like their childhood friend Dustin.
After he graduated from high school with the twins in 1996, Dustin went off to Missoula, where he studied fine art at the University of Montana, according to his father, Mick Hoon. But while Dustin studied art, worked at his oil painting, and went on to pursue a masters in education, Kane and Kyle drifted.
"I think it was a regular teenage type deal of not knowing what they wanted to do," said Mick Hoon, who watched Kane and Kyle grow up with his son. "They were just trying to find their direction, I guess."
In 1997, Kyle enrolled at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, just south of Whitefish. He was on track for an associate's degree in art, while his brother Kane, who enrolled at the same time, was focusing on "general studies." The degrees the twins sought usually take two years to complete, but both dropped out after one year.
Kyle, according to an employment history obtained by The Stranger, was working at the time for Stageline Pizza in Whitefish, delivering and helping cook the pies. It was the beginning of what would be a long-running connection between the twins and the roaming, low-paying trade of pizza delivery. In fact, Kyle's known job history involves exclusively pizza delivery—in Whitefish, in Kalispell, and then, later, in Seattle.
"I don't know why they stayed in the pizza deal," Mick Hoon said. "Liked to drive, I guess."
The twins also liked guns, particularly Kyle, although Cheryl Frye, who used to own the Stageline with her husband, said that Kyle liked firearms "no more than anybody else that lives in the state of Montana."
As Lieutenant Dave Lieb of the Flathead County Sheriff's Department put it, the gun culture in rural Montana is "a little different" than that of urban cities like Seattle.
"We have always been a rural community, and hunting is a large part of the life around here," he said. "Shooting is an acceptable practice. Not in town, and certainly not in urban neighborhoods, but guns are a pretty accepted thing and always have been."
In the summer of 2000, however, Kyle violated the prohibition against shooting in town, driving into Whitefish in his mother's minivan and firing his 12-gauge Winchester shotgun at a fiberglass moose that was part of a community art installation. Witnesses reported hearing laughter as the shots were fired around 2:00 a.m. one weekend morning, and the incident apparently gave investigators at the Whitefish Police Department a bit of a chuckle too as they noted the fake moose's injuries: "Suspect(s) shot moose 12 times causing damage to right shoulder and head."
Kyle was caught through ballistics tests and a Crime Stoppers tip, and although he had initially lied to investigators about his involvement in the moose shooting, when presented with the evidence he admitted his guilt. In response, authorities in Whitefish gave him the leniency one might offer a prankster who is perceived to be harmless. County prosecutors reduced Kyle’s felony criminal mischief charge to a misdemeanor as part of a plea bargain in which Kyle agreed to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and do 50 hours of community service. With his crime now a misdemeanor, Kyle got back his shotgun and his .40-caliber Ruger pistol, the very same weapons he would later use to kill six young people at a Capitol Hill house party before taking his own life.
It’s unclear from court records whether Kyle ever completed the required community service before he left Montana, sometime in 2002, for Seattle. His failure to comply with this part of the plea deal could technically have landed him in jail, or at least led to a warrant being issued in Montana for his arrest—if Flathead County officials hadn't closed the case before it was clear that Kyle had done his full 50 hours.
The plea deal also required him to write a letter of apology to the creator of the moose. In the letter, obtained by the Seattle Times, Kyle explained the shooting as a "stupid, drunken act."
The twins' move to Seattle coincided, roughly, with another murder-suicide conducted by a graduate of Whitefish High School who was a friend of both Kane and Kyle. In 2002, at the age of 24, Jared Hope used an illegally purchased .357 Magnum revolver to kill his parents. He shot his father in the neck and his bathrobe-clad mother in the chest. Afterward, he walked into the basement of his family's home, sat down, and put the gun to his own head.
In the wake of that shooting, people said about Jared what they now say about Kyle: He kept to himself and didn't talk much, but when he did speak he had deep things to say. Jared, however, was being treated for manic depression before his shooting. Kyle, according to a friend from Montana who e-mailed The Stranger, was neither medicated nor troubled.
In Seattle, Kyle lived with Kane in a two-bedroom unit at the Town & Country Apartments, a drab complex of stucco-and-wood-sided buildings in the northern part of the city. The twins had a top-floor apartment, and practiced drums on a shared drum kit, though they weren't in a band. As in much of their lives, Kane and Kyle appear to have had only modest ambitions for their music. They were satisfied, it seems, simply to be drumming together.
Regina Gray, a manager of the apartments, said Kyle told her he wanted to get into the culinary school at the Art Institute of Seattle, and she assumed he had. But he hadn't; officials at the Art Institute said he never attended. Instead, while Kane finally completed his associate's degree at North Seattle Community College, graduating in the fall of 2003, Kyle worked nights delivering pizzas, making minimum wage, plus tips. His employers were a North Seattle Pizza Hut, a Domino's, and, reportedly, a Pagliacci Pizza.
One of Kyle's former employers described him as a model worker—honest, diligent, and not much of a talker. He was "the kind of person who would come in, do his job, and that was it," according to a former coworker, who asked not to be named. But he was not always entirely truthful, nor was he always the "gentle giant" his friends remember. In an application for a pizza-delivery job obtained by The Stranger, Kyle lied about his criminal history, saying he had not been convicted of a crime in the last seven years, when in fact he had been, for shooting the fiberglass moose in Whitefish. Kyle also gave the false impression in this application that he had graduated from Flathead Valley Community College. And in 2004, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Kane and Kyle were involved in a bar brawl at the Lobo Saloon, located near Capitol Hill, after Kyle was warned not to talk to an annoyed bar patron anymore. The shy Kyle reportedly responded, "I can talk to anyone," then threw the person who was warning him to the ground and broke two of his ribs by punching him.
At one of his Seattle pizza-delivery jobs, Kyle would take the manager's son along with him on delivery runs. "It gave me something to do," said the young man, who is now 15 and asked to remain anonymous. "It let me get out, and not sit around in here all day."
In Kyle's Chevy Camaro, which the young man remembers as black or silver, Kyle would tell stories about his party days in Montana, and told the young man that he drank and smoked weed then, although he added that he'd stopped smoking weed since moving to Seattle. Kyle's description of his outgoing past doesn't mesh, however, with what those who knew him in Montana remember: Kyle standing awkwardly at high-school house parties, talking mainly to his brother, his friend Dustin, or other people with whom he was comfortable.
Kyle also told the young man he had a girlfriend, but, the young man said, "I never met no one he knew."
That Kyle Huff could be letting a teenager ride around with him on pizza-delivery runs in his Camaro on one day, and on another day, not long afterward, be shooting six people dead at a Seattle house party, is confounding to those who knew him, especially the young man. "He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would do that sort of thing," the young man said, echoing others. "He seemed like a nice guy."
Because Kyle put his shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger when a police officer confronted him during his Saturday morning rampage, it's impossible to know what kind of trajectory his mind might have been on as he drifted through his life in Seattle. So what remains is grief and haunting questions: What makes one man—or one half of a pair of twins, for that matter—become a killer? What makes him assemble an arsenal in his pickup truck that includes a machete, a baseball bat, and an automatic rifle, then strap ammunition belts across his chest before barging back into a home he has been invited to as a guest, a home full of sleepy young people coming down after a night of dancing?
Perhaps the toxicology report, which has not yet been released by the King County medical examiner, will provide some clues. Or perhaps his twin brother, Kane, who disappeared after being questioned and released by police on Sunday, knows something about the anger that motivated Kyle to take so many lives in such a ruthless fashion. Or, perhaps, the clues lie in the way Kyle Huff spent the months and hours leading up to the murders.
Since the shootings, members of the local rave community have been scanning their memories, and the web, for evidence that Kyle attended raves before last weekend. They're wondering if he targeted them for some particular reason, or just happened upon the zombie-themed rave at the Capitol Hill Arts Center on Friday.
A woman who wanted to be identified only as Michelle, and who runs the local blog desktopdetective.blogspot.com, said she has talked to three different young people who believe they may have seen Kyle at a few raves and electronic-music parties over the past three months. She could not immediately make those people available to The Stranger, however. More compellingly, a post dated February 1 from email@example.com was found on the guest book of a local woman's website after the killings. The message asks for information about upcoming parties. "Hey, I've never been to a rave in Seattle," it reads. "Was wondering if anyone could tell me when one is coming up." Kim Dietemann, who operated the site, contacted the police about the message.
Whether Kyle stalked ravers or stumbled into their world only this past weekend, he ended up spending his last night hanging out among people with whom he should have had a natural affinity, given his past. The people who lived and partied at the blue house on Republican Street were self-described misfits, kids from small rural towns like Milton and Mount Vernon who dressed strangely at school and certainly wouldn't have fit in with the jocks who teased Kyle back in Montana. They came to Seattle seeking the freedom to express themselves, and to dance late into the night.
But at age 28, living for the first time in a big city, Kyle appeared to be no more at ease in a raucous party atmosphere than he was at his high school. He didn't dress up for the rave, as others did, and he didn't dance. He stood awkward and alone amid the throbbing music, surrounded by more-outgoing people having fun. Due to someone else's friendliness, he got an invitation to the afterparty at the blue house, but he remained distant from the experience there, too. Kyle Huff set himself apart, still unwilling, or unable, to connect.
Then he went to get his guns.
Jen Graves and Kelsey Amble contributed to this story.