This article originally appeared in the January 28, 2008 edition of the Portland Observer.
No logic found in club scene shooting
The Portland Observer
Portland Police Detective Ken Whattam has never had a call like the one that erupted last Saturday night.
A vicious and deadly act that seemed to have no logic behind it shattered a downtown district often praised as a “clean and safe” urban environment. A 24-year-old Milwaukie man opened fire on a line of people outside The Zone, an underage nightclub, killing two teenagers, leaving another teen critically wounded and injuring six others before he turned the gun on himself.
The shooting has left city leaders shocked and law enforcement officials scrambling.
Investigators have determined that Erik Salvadore Ayala, the suspected shooter, parked his Kia on the corner of Southwest Fourth Avenue and Main Street, and approached the night club on Southwest Second Avenue where he fired an Italian-made 9mm at the crowd of young people and then on himself. The incident lasted seconds.
The suspect, Erik Salvadore Ayala, survived, but was in critical condition Tuesday. Six of the victims were foreign students, part of a Rotary Youth Exchange program.
They included 18-year-old Ana Zambrano Soledispa, from Ecuador; 18-year-old Gonzalo Vasquez Orozco, from Guatemala; 18-year-old Trista Chang, from Taiwan; a 16-year-old from France and 18-year-old Susanna De-Sousa from Italy.
A 16-year-old Portland girl was wounded as was Brad Yoast, the general manager of Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub, next door. Ashley Lauren Wilks, 16, was pronounced dead at the scene, and a 17-year-old Peruvian girl died of her wounds shortly afterward.
“I’ve never seen anything where there’s absolutely no reason for it,” said Whattam, an 18-year veteran of Portland law enforcement.
Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer called the carnage the worst shooting the city has seen because of the body count and “apparent randomness” of the incident.
Authorities are trying to reconstruct the event and establish some sort of motive for the crime. So far it doesn’t seem racially motivated or gang-related.
On Sunday, police officers searched Ayala’s residence where they found a case for the handgun, ammunition, an assortment of video games, and a note he left for his roommate.
“It was like any other apartment for someone in their mid-20s,” said Whattam.
The note didn’t express what Ayala was going to do, but bequeathed his possessions to his roommate hoping they could “bring in a few bucks.” He ended it with, “I’m sorry to put all this on you buddy, good luck.”
The police have interviewed Ayala’s neighbors and roommates, who described him and as “gloomy” and “quiet,” said Whattam. He added that none of them saw this coming.
Rob Ingram, who heads the city’s Office of Youth Violence Prevention, described the incident as “tragic.” However, he said that the shooting falls outside of his office’s purview because it doesn’t appear gang related and there is no clear motive behind it.
According to Portland Police Bureau statistics 12 murders have taken place in downtown between 2003 and 2005.
The Portland Police do not know where Ayala got the weapon. Portland Police are currently waiting for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to hand to finish tracing the gun.
Whattam said that the police do not yet know Ayala’s mental health or criminal history.
Brian Renauer, the chair of Portland State University’s department of criminology and criminal justice, said that based on the present information, the incident is “unexplainable and is outside of the typical pattern of violence.” He said that there was no apparent motive in the shooting.
Renauer added that this incident does not neatly parallel school shootings, like the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, because from what he’s heard this individual didn’t seem to be the victim of bullying or was socially isolated.
However, he stressed that there is still relatively little information on the case making it difficult to draw any conclusions.
“It’s a mystery to be solved,” he said.