Police: Store shooter fired first

Associated Press

BELLEVUE – A robbery suspect shot and killed by police in an upscale mall here fired the first shot, police said Wednesday.

A 23-year-old Bellevue man was fatally shot Tuesday at the Nordstrom Grill restaurant while officers were trying to arrest him after a bank robbery earlier in the day.

The dead man was Airen Lee Weaver, a King County medical examiner’s spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Bellevue police identified the two officers as Mike Hetle, 33, and Dwight Hunter, 30. The officers fired about four times after the man they were pursuing fired at least two shots at Hunter, said Marcia Harnden, Bellevue police spokeswoman.

Lunchtime diners and employees ducked for cover.

“We were just enjoying our soup, and police stormed into the place and told everyone to get down, and the shooting started,” customer Kathryn Akita told a Seattle newspaper.

The restaurant is on the second floor, near the men’s suits department, in the upscale apparel store at Bellevue Square, a 200-store mall in the center of this city east of Seattle. Police were searching the mall after the robbery of a Bank of America branch a few blocks away.

A man entered the bank branch at 11 a.m. Tuesday, displayed a gun and told everyone to get down. He ran off with an undisclosed amount of money.

Shopping center officials were told shortly thereafter that he was seen heading toward the mall, said Jennifer Leavitt, mall vice president for marketing.

A man matching the robber’s description entered the Nordstrom Grill, changed clothes in a restroom and took a table at the rear, facing the swinging saloon-style doors. He ordered a soft drink, vegetarian sandwich and a dessert and sat at a back table, fidgeting.

When the man saw the police, “he jumped up and pulled his gun and tried to make a break for the restroom. But he didn’t get that far,” Akita said.

Harnden said the man was sitting in the cafe when police arrived and then ran to the back hallway, where another officer was waiting.

Hetle and Hunter were described as veterans. Neither had been involved in a shooting before, Harnden said.

Both officers were placed on paid leave. An internal police committee will evaluate the shooting.

“The chief is standing 100 percent behind the officers and their actions,” Harnden said. “We’re very sorry that the suspect had to die in this, but he left us no other choice.”

Harnden said money was found in the man’s backpack, but she did not say how much.

Because of the money, the man’s description and the type of handgun he was carrying, police said they were certain he was the bank robber.

“You realize when you go out and you drive or fly in an airplane that something might happen, but not while having lunch in Nordstrom,” Akita said. “It was a surreal experience.”

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