Burying Aaron

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SEATTLE — A man has died after being shot in the head in the city’s Leschi neighborhood on Wednesday night.

Police said the victim was sitting in a car with two others when he got into an argument with another man. That man went into a home in the 800 block of 32nd Avenue South, came back out with a gun and opened fire around 8:30 p.m.

The suspected gunman fled the scene, detectives said, and is believed to have run inside a house in the 700 block of 31st Avenue South. Officers surrounded the home and tried to communicate with the man for several hours, but received no response.

A castle made of sand on a beach. My mind draws that image, embodiment of the transient nature of any creation. An errant wave can wash higher than other waves to destroy what we try to maintain. You can build moats around the sandy structure, pack the turrets firmly, pile driftwood as a bulwark against the wide moving water, situate your fantasy on just the right damp sand, far from the perceived patterns of waves. And a rogue wave on a rising tide melts imagination away.

I get my last fix of local news before sleep comes by visiting the Seattle ABC affiliate KOMO website. July 22nd, a week ago Wednesday, I caught a “breaking news” item. A familiar parental chill went down my spine. That block, just three blocks down the street from my old house, in my old neighborhood, my old community, my former haunting grounds across the lake, Craftsman houses and 50’s style wood frame boxes with lanai decks tucked together on a steeply terraced neighborhood sloping down to the western shore of Lake Washington. Streets I walked on, drove on, carpooled kids on, taught teenagers to drive on every day for four years at the turn of the century.

A shooting, young adults around my own kids’ age. Do I know the shooter, the victim?

Leschi is a community rich with diversity and age and profession, blue collar, white collar, artists and eclectic lifestyles, architecturally both historic and modern, close-knit in some ways, unobtrusive and somewhat unknown – as contrasted to other, more familiar Seattle neighborhoods like Wallingford or Queen Anne. Not many shootings that I can recall over the last twenty years, not like there are a few blocks away towards downtown, or in the Central District (CD) near Union and 23rd Avenue.

Witnesses reported

Witnesses reported that the suspect retreated to his residence in the 800 block of 32nd Ave following the shooting. A massive and heavily armed police response flooded the area, locking down streets for a couple of blocks in each direction, and resulting in a lengthy stand-off as they attempted to get the suspect to surrender. That stand-off continues as of 11:30pm.

The suspect is described as an 18 year old white male, 6′ tall, muscular build, blonde hair, wearing a black tank top and shorts. He is possibly associated with a tan 2001 Chrysler Voyager Minivan possibly associated with the suspect. Police consider the suspect to be armed and dangerous.

Update: The SWAT stand-off ended at 1:45am, more than 5 hours after the shooting. The house was found to be empty, with no sign of the suspect. Officers finally gained access to the house after firing a large number of flash grenades, smoke grenades, wooden dowels, and other devices at it over the course of several hours. The suspect is assumed to be at large, armed, and dangerous, possibly driving the tan van describe above.

In the course of a week, so many erroneous details have been reported and re-reported. I knew Aaron Sullivan, though I knew more of his older brother and his mom and dad. I remember his young sister, Siobhan, as a beautiful little girl of about 7. She must be nearing the teen years now. We were all a part of the same church and school community at St Therese in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle for a few brief years. Aaron was in the grade just after my youngest daughter. A small parochial Catholic school, very diverse – in fact possibly the most diverse school within the region of the Seattle diocese. Each grade had between 22 to 32 kids. Every parent involved knew other parents in surrounding grades; we shared coaching duties, field trip carpooling, fundraising assignments, designed sets for plays, organized gift drives at Christmas, activities for Wednesday youth groups, on and on.

Debra, Aaron’s mom, is an educator and PhD in early childhood education, and was a regular at school activities.

Family of slain teen says murder charge not enough

Debra Sullivan, a black woman, questioned why the picture of her son’s killer, a white teen from Leschi, hasn’t been shown on local television news. Friends questioned if the case had been downplayed — by the media and authorities — because of the race issue, as opposed to the recent South Park case, in which a black man killed a white woman.

She worries people will rush to judge her son.

“No one’s going to say my son’s half-white,” she said. “He’ll just be that black kid. People need to know my son.”

Scott, Aaron’s dad, formerly a lawyer, occasionally substitute taught at St.Therese until he got a full-time teaching position at another diocese school in South Seattle. I believe he was able to teach for just one year. Scott was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in his early forties, a rapidly progressing form of the disease. Scott died in 2005 at the age of 47.

Aaron’s older brother Porter is a friend and former classmate of my middle daughter, a consistently warm young man of generous nature in a city and a community where acting tough amongst peers is more highly valued. I remember the younger Aaron much as I remember his older brother. It’s possibly life had changed Aaron. Surely life had not changed him that much.

He was in the right place (Leschi, a neighborhood familiar to him), at the right time (8:30 on a warm summer night, still light out, the sun not yet set), and the wrong thing happened. Tristan came out of his house with a semi-automatic, ancient rifle. He didn’t know Aaron. He shot Aaron in the back of the head, through the rear window of the car.

Why? The story that has now developed is that Tristan’s (the shooter) friend was in an ongoing argument over a girl with a friend of Aaron’s. So easy, too easy. The hyperbole roils. Aaron had family, community, a rich network of support, a shared ethnically diverse history. This wasn’t a gang thing. This wasn’t a drug thing. This wasn’t a “group” thing. When is there ever a good reason?

As far as local media goes, the white shooter was a “young man”.

Young man charged in deadly Seattle shooting

SEATTLE (AP) — A 19-year-old man has been charged with second-degree murder in a shooting that led to a police standoff in Seattle.

Tristan Nevins Appleberry remained in jail Monday with bail set at $1 million. Arraignment is set for Aug. 10 in King County Superior Court.

If convicted, Appleberry faces 15 to 23 years in prison for the killing of 17-year-old Aaron Sullivan.

Initial media reports clearly danced around the “idea” of gangs.

Seattle man, 19, charged in last week’s fatal shooting in Leschi

Members of the two rival groups had run into each other earlier in the day at the Blue Water Dock in Leschi and Sullivan and some of his friends ended up going to Appleberry’s house in the 700 block of 32nd Avenue South to wait for him and his friends, court documents allege.

Sullivan and his friends were about to leave, according to court documents, when Appleberry walked up behind the car with an assault-style weapon in his hand.

As Appleberry allegedly approached the car from the rear, two of his friends ran up to the car and one of the men punched the passenger side window of the victim’s car, prosecutor said. The victim began to drive away, according to his girlfriend and his other passenger, when a shot came through the back window and struck Sullivan in the head, prosecutors said.

(emphasis mine)

And a question on justice. What is justice?

Prosecutor’s office on second-degree murder charge

Why was the 19-year-old shooting suspect charged with second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder – a charge that shows premeditation – when he retrieved a high-powered rifle, chambered a round and fired?

“The charge we selected is in no way a comment on the value of this young man’s life,” said Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. “We will work hard to help the Sullivan family navigate through the criminal justice process in order to achieve a just result on behalf of their son.”


The racking and firing of the gun constitutes strong evidence of intent, prosecutors say, but premeditation is different from intent. Prosecutors explain that to show premeditation, they need evidence of a plan or more than brief consideration. Goodhew said the rush filing required a quick decision and that the investigation is ongoing. The amendment of charges is possible.

This was a stupid-ass, fucked-up murder. A random and terrible act perpetrated by a young man disconnected from the effect of his actions; an act aimed at another kid who just happened to be in front of his gun, who didn’t even know the kid who shot him. Who was trying to drive away from a kid with a gun pointed at his car. Tristan shot Aaron for no good reason. No good reason.

Of course. When is there ever a good reason? Why must we ascribe the death of a youth to gangs or drugs or …women? In this case, was it because a black kid was shot? Simple. Profiling, even in death, makes it easier to dismiss a life.

With family in Redondo, he’d dig up clams and make a meal with garlic and onions. He’d bake muffins, though he might not have had the patience to read a cookbook.

When his fifth-grade class at St. Therese School, which he attended through eighth grade, studied aviation, he went to neighbors near their Capitol Hill home asking for old electronics. His goal was to construct an airplane cockpit.

At 14, Sullivan decided he’d eventually get a motorcycle. “Just prepare yourself now,” he told his mom, who smiled with the recollection. When he got a car, Sullivan reminded her he hadn’t given up on the idea.

I can’t dismiss Aaron.

One kid was white and one kid was black and the usual, often uninformed, noise has been generated across blogs, on Twitter locally, in comments attached to local news articles. “It’s gang-related.” “It’s drug-related.” “It’s over a girl.” “Where are the parents?”

For no good reason. No good reason.

” I would rather watch a a sunset, and look over the water then anything else.. listening to someone speak some poetry.”

About Aaron

The fire, and sand

And beach and wind.

Grains, so many in the palm of a hand.

Leschi Dock

Clams, blue water, white sun on the horizon

Sunset smoke drawn from driftwood.

The scent of night in the breeze.

Islands, fat like giant sleeping otters flattened plump against the western sky.

People live there, too.


Of air, in water, the very core of life.

The waters lap against the cobbled shore.

Like kissing, like dancing, a rhythm, a beat

laving the low bank, teasing the dry earth.

Grains of sand and salt, washed away.

Cold, clear, gone.

A life, the fire, and sand

And beach and wind.

Of air, in water, of tears.

Wash away now.

“People need to know my son.”

July 31, 2009 (reprinted from Aaron’s Seattle Times obituary guestbook)

Debra and Family,

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite Aaron memories. This was years ago, out at the beach, before Scott’s passing.

It was a very hot summer day, I remember thinking, “Who IS that out there in that boat”…all day, I kept looking out there and thinking to myself, “Who IS that out there fishing in that tiny boat so long…” I figured whoever it was, they must be awfully hot. It was hours and hours until that boat came in. Well, of course it was Aaron, and I saw him come up the stairs looking very very hot and very very proud and so I asked if he’d caught anything. “Oh yeah!”, he said, filled to the brim with pride and happiness. “I’m gonna have my grandma cook ’em up for me”, he told me.

Well, later on I snuck over and took a look in the bucket sitting over there by the stairs to see what he was gonna get for dinner, and I tell you…I had never seen any sea creatures like it. I’m not quite sure what they were or how they’d taste but I knew for damn sure that he’d enjoy every single bite.


Rest in Peace, child.

Aaron  is survived by his mother Debra, brother Porter, and sister Siobhan; grandmothers Ruthie Porter and Shirlee Sullivan; many aunts and uncles; and numerous cousins. (Services were at 11:00 a.m. Saturday, August 1, at St. Therese Catholic Church.) Donations may be made to the Aaron John Sullivan Memorial Scholarship at St. Therese School, 900 35th Avenue, Seattle 98122.

(crossposted at Dailykos)


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  1. Everything I do nowadays is delayed. I’d just like time to slow down for a minute or two, please.

    I’m out of the practice of blogging, I guess.

    Rest in peace, Aaron.

    • sharon on August 3, 2009 at 03:46

    i can’t imagine debra’s agony.  a tragedy.

    hope you’re health problems are better, exme.

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