Aaron Ybarra told detectives that he had been "planning a mass shooting and wanted to kill as many people as possible before killing himself," according to court filings by Seattle police.
His eyes downcast, a dark-haired Ybarra made a brief appearance in court this afternoon, shackled and wearing a forest-green "suicide smock" designed to prevent him from injuring himself. A portion of a tattoo on his back peeked out, mostly covered by the smock, as he faced King County Judge Mark C. Chow.
When a prosecutor announced charges of one count each of first degree assault and first degree murder—which she said was pre-meditated and involved a statutory maximum penalty of life in prison without parole—Ybarra didn't visibly react. His public defender, Ramona Brandes, did not contest a move to deny bail. Ybarra let himself be guided by two court security personnel to a stand where he signed papers, before being returned to the jail.
Brandes then emerged into the cramped hallway outside. She cast her client in a deeply sympathetic light, explaining that he "suffers from significant and longstanding mental health issues including delusions that were in play during yesterday's tragedy." She said he'd been treated for these issues in the past, though she hadn't seen his medical records yet. And she had no information about why Ybarra wound up at Seattle Pacific University yesterday with a shotgun. One wonders, too, how the question of pre-meditation will be reconciled with claims that he was deluded.
But to the victims, Brandes said, Ybarra "is sorry for their pain." In the midst of his delusions yesterday—she did not explain what those delusions entailed—"he mentioned specifically hearing a female cry out." I asked her to elaborate. "He heard her suffering and that brought him to awareness," Brandes said. She believes that victim was shot in the torso and is now intubated and unconscious at Harborview Medical Center. (Reportedly after five hours of surgery.)
I asked her to describe her conversation with her client. He was "placid... stunned, almost," Brandes said. "Accepting of what he's facing... and [that] there will be significant consequences."
Then Brandes, like Mayor Ed Murray, pointed to the need for action. "Until we have universal background checks," Brandes said, "we're going to continue to have weapons in the hands of the mentally ill." For good measure, she slammed how America treats the mentally ill, calling it "a travesty."
Ybarra is scheduled to be arraigned on June 10. Until then, he'll remain at the King County jail in downtown Seattle. Brandes says he remains on suicide watch, meaning he's checked on every fifteen minutes on the jail's seventh floor, apart from other inmates.
"We are so very shocked and sad over yesterday's shootings at SPU," Ybarra's family said in a statement today. "We are crushed at the amount of pain caused to so many people. To the victims and their families, our prayers are with you."