Ian Stawicki wasn't supposed to be at Cafe Racer. He'd been denied service at least once before—some say it was several times. Perhaps he showed up on Wednesday, May 30, with two pistols in his pockets to seek vengeance for that perceived slight. Or Stawicki, an Ellensburg man described by his family as being mentally ill, may have always carried firearms with him, and he may have been in a particularly volatile mood that morning. Police still don't know, but they say that surveillance footage taken inside the restaurant at 10:52 a.m. showed him walking in acting "calm."
Stawicki seated himself at the elbow of the green-top bar, where he could look down a line of patrons sipping coffee and reading the newspaper. A brief exchange between Stawicki and the barista was summed up in a few casual words and a nonchalant gesture, the video shows. "It appears that the barista is calmly declining him service," said Assistant Chief Jim Pugel, who oversees all criminal investigations for the Seattle Police Department. "He knew he wasn't supposed to be there." But Stawicki didn't leave. He sat on his bar stool for a few more minutes until Donald Largen, who was sitting just to his left, stood up and headed for the door.
In the next 40 seconds, Stawicki's .45-caliber semiautomatic pistols would shoot five people, killing two of them on-site, putting two in the hospital where they would die later that day, and leaving another man in critical condition. Both guns were registered in his name, legally, despite prior arrests and an allegation of domestic violence. Still, the 40-year-old man was able to carry those firearms into the cafe on Northeast 59th Street and Roosevelt Way—a place that welcomed artists and oddballs and even seemed to tolerate outcasts.
"I have had the unfortunate opportunity to see the video of what happened at Cafe Racer," Seattle Police Department deputy chief Nick Metz told reporters. "In my almost 30 years in this department, I have never seen anything more horrific, callous, and cold."
Largen fell before he reached the door. As customers scrambled to get away, another customer who had been sitting to Stawicki's right picked up a stool and hurled it at him—and then another stool—in an attempt to distract him. "I just threw the frigging stool at him, legs first," that customer, Lawrence Adams, told the SPD. "My brother died in the World Trade Center. I promised myself" that if something like this ever happened, "I would never hide under a table."
Pugel called Adams a hero, explaining that in those few moments, "two or possibly three people made their escape—he saved lives." Four people made it out of the restaurant in all.
Adams told police that Stawicki "looked at me like he didn't [care] at all. He just moved toward the rear of the bar instead of dealing with me at all, and I just brushed past him. He was on a mission to kill my friends."
The four remaining people were now cornered. Stawicki advanced alongside the bar, placing the nose of his gun less than a foot from their heads and pulling the trigger, one by one, police say. "He was trying to get everyone he could, as close as possible," Pugel said. The barista had hidden on the floor behind the bar, according to police, and Stawicki walked around the bar's service entrance and shot him in the head, too.
Stawicki then walked out into the restaurant in front of Largen's body, leaned down, and grabbed his hat. He wore Largen's hat out of the restaurant.
Pugel called that "sickening."
Throughout it all, a man was hiding in the bathroom, and he made a call to 911 at 11:01 a.m. Five minutes later, officers arrived to a room awash in blood. Largen, Drew Keriakedes, Joseph Albanese, Kimberly Layfield, and Leonard Meuse had all been shot. But Stawicki was gone.
Sirens howled to the scene and investigators went into overdrive—the first responders giving CPR to the victims, then patrol officers launching a citywide manhunt. The first shift of the day was just ending and the next shift was coming on, so commanders deployed everyone: the first shift, the second shift, more officers who came in on their day off, other cops who came in early. At least 200 Seattle officers began working on the search for Stawicki, along with King County Sheriff's deputies, state patrol officers, and University of Washington Police.
But at first, patrol officers had no idea who their suspect was or even what he looked like.
As detectives tried to extract the surveillance video from the cafe's office, Detective Rolf Norton was interviewing a female witness. She was familiar with Stawicki but only knew his first name, Ian. So Norton did something unusual: Some of the law-enforcement databases were down that day, so he quickly searched for people named Ian who had been booked into King County jail and cross-referenced their photos with the video footage from inside the cafe. When Norton found a match, they distributed his name and photos to all the officers in town. Callers deluged 911 with sightings or tips on a suspect with a particularly broad description: white, tall, slender, bearded. He looked like half the city.
Police got a 911 call about a second incident at 11:32 a.m.
Gloria Leonidas had been returning to her car after paying for a parking receipt outside of Town Hall at Seventh Avenue and Seneca Street when Stawicki approached her. (Police still don't know how he got there. The number 66 bus that runs past Cafe Racer could have taken him downtown in less than 25 minutes, but police are also looking for a missing truck belonging to one of his relatives.) In a scuffle, Leonidas knocked the gun out of Stawicki's hand, but he recovered the handgun and shot her in the head. According to witnesses, police say, he ran over her with her vehicle as he left the scene.
Again, officers arrived within minutes to provide CPR and interview witnesses, but again, Stawicki was gone.
This time, however, police knew the getaway vehicle: Leonidas's black Mercedes-Benz SUV.
They don't know the route he took, but with a citywide search under way, the SUV was spotted 30 minutes later in the Delridge neighborhood in West Seattle with one of Stawicki's guns left inside. Until then, police weren't even certain that the shootings were connected.
By this point, Stawicki had contacted an acquaintance in the area. "The former acquaintance was not aware of what happened but said he was acting erratically, said he was talking nonsense," Pugel explained. After the acquaintance broke off contact and heard the news of shootings, that acquaintance called 911.
Stawicki began wandering through crowds of people in West Seattle, including scores of students at South Seattle Community College. "He roamed in very crowded areas for some time," according to Pugel, eventually leaving the campus and reaching the quiet residential intersection of at 37th Avenue Southwest and Raymond Street.
At last, a plainclothes SPD officer spotted him and called in a SWAT team. When Stawicki saw the uniforms, he knelt down in the middle of the street, put the gun to his head, and shot himself. It was just after 4 p.m.
"People say you can't solve a crime as fast as they do on TV, but this is about as quick as on TV," says Pugel. He points out that the police made a full-court press for their killer, the same way they did in 2009 when Maurice Clemmons shot four officers in Lakewood, and also in 2009 when Christopher Monfort shot a Seattle cop. "The cops don't care who the victim is," Pugel explains.
SPD's efficient police work doesn't jibe with the portrayal of the SPD as a "broken" department, which was an accusation leveled by the United States Department of Justice in a report last December.
"Anyone who thinks that this is a 'broken' department is so far off base," says Pugel. "There are people saying that people don't trust the cops and that they don't come forward. But these people came forward and did the right thing. We were able to move so fast because of the community out there."