Gun control advocate shot to death

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Thomas C. Wales, a high-profile gun-control activist and well-regarded federal prosecutor who specialized in fraud and white-collar crime, was gunned down at his home and died early Friday.

Wales, 49, was shot in the neck and side late Thursday. He died at Harborview Medical Center at 1:17 a.m.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft opened a Friday news conference in Washington, D.C., with an announcement of the "tragic death in the Justice Department family."

Federal agents were assisting police in the investigation, and the city block including the Wales home in the city’s Queen Anne Hill neighborhood was sealed off by police tape at midday.

The FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to prosecution of the gunman, Carl Florez, assistant special agent in charge of the local FBI office, told a Friday afternoon news conference with city police.

"We’re trying to get as much information as fast as we possibly can," Florez said of the decision to offer a cash incentive.

"This is a unique type of investigation" given Wales’ 18 years as a crime-fighting prosecutor and his gun-control activism, said Seattle police Capt. Brent Wingstrand, whose violent crime unit is in charge of the case.

"Any number of personal, business or professional issues" could have prompted the attack, he said, adding that authorities are sure Wales was targeted and not a victim of random violence.

The shots were fired from outside, through a basement window into a home office, a Seattle newspaper quoted unidentified federal sources as saying.

A neighbor, Emily Holt, said she heard the shots and saw a man walking away quickly.

"He wasn’t running, just walking real fast. He got into his car," parked about a block away under a tree and a streetlight, she said.

"He took off like a bat out of hell," said Holt. She declined to describe the car to a reporter, though she said she’d spoken with investigators.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who considered Wales a close friend, was "saddened and shocked not only in hearing the news but also the manner in which it happened … considering his strong advocacy for gun control," said spokesman John Larmette.

Gov. Gary Locke echoed those sentiments, saying he respected Wales’ "tireless gun-control advocacy and work to prevent violence."

Wales was a member of the fraud unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office here, specializing in criminal prosecution of banking and business crime.

Interim U.S. Attorney Francis Diskin said Wales’ contributions to the Seattle office were "incalculable. Tom was a superb trial lawyer … (and) handled some of the most complicated and difficult cases ever brought by the office."

Wales was board president of Seattle-based Washington Ceasefire, a gun-control group that in 1997 sponsored Initiative 676, which would have required handgun owners to undergo safety training and use trigger locks. The National Rifle Association mounted a $2 million campaign to defeat the measure.

"We don’t know who killed Tom, or why, but we know that our community has lost a kind, compassionate man and … our nation has lost a courageous leader in the movement against gun violence," said a statement from Bruce Gryniewski, Ceasefire’s executive director.

In his professional life, Wales "spent his time trying to put people in prison who deserved to be there," said Trevor Neilson, vice president of the Ceasefire board.

His death was "a terrible loss to our movement," said a statement from Michael Barnes, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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