TACOMA, Wash. - A gunman shot and killed a special education teacher at a Tacoma elementary school Friday morning, shortly before students began arriving for school. The suspected shooter was shot and killed by police shortly after the incident at Birney Elementary School.
The teacher has been identified as Jennifer Paulson, 30, a special education teacher who had been with the school district since 2004 and Birney Elementary since 2007. School District spokesman Dan Voelpel said she worked in the language resource center helping students one-on-one with reading problems.
Tacoma Police spokesman Mark Fulghum said the shooter, identified as Jed Ryan Waits, had waited for Paulson for several hours when she arrived around 7:35 a.m. Fulghum says Waits shot her multiple times as she was trying to enter the school. Fire crews responding to the call found Paulson dead in the staff parking lot. She suffered two fatal gunshots wounds, one to the head and another to the chest.
Omar Moreno, 22, who lives across the street from the school, said he heard three gunshots.
"I heard a teacher screaming at the top of her lungs -- just screaming," he said. "I looked out my window and I saw the guy. He started running down the middle of the street and got in his car."
Moreno said the man, wearing a white snow cap and white gloves, drove off in a tan car. Soon after, Moreno said, a custodian barreled out of the school screaming for someone to call the police.
Moreno said he saw the victim lying on the ground, bleeding from the mouth. It was clear to him she had died, he said.
Witnesses were able to give police a description of Wait's vehicle.
A Pierce County deputy later spotted the car about 10 miles from the school and pulled over the car in the parking lot of a daycare, said Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer. Troyer said Waits came out of the car firing a handgun. The deputy returned fire and killed the suspect.
"We're lucky our guy's OK. The guy did have semi-automatic and did fire a round," said Troyer.
No children were at the school when the shooting happened and no one else was hurt. Most students were on buses, which were rerouted once news of the shooting occurred. The shooting with the suspect prompted the evacuation of the daycare.
Years of stalking
The two had known each other since she was in college, when they worked together at a cafeteria at Seattle Pacific University.
In her petition for the anti-harassment order filed in Pierce County District Court, Paulson said she and Waits occasionally socialized with co-workers and friends outside of work as a group but "never had any sort of romantic involvement."
She said she heard from Waits about once a year since she graduated from college in 2003 - and on that annual occasion he sometimes called her 10 to 15 times in one day.
Things became more intense in spring 2008, when he showed up her school, walked into the building and passed the office, where he was stopped by a secretary. Later that year, she saw him sitting in his car near the school.
"I never told him where I work and do not know how he found out," Paulson wrote.
"He didn't attend the school - they just met," said Ken Paulson, her father. "They never dated. It was a co-worker. She graduated, he disappeared - never met, never called, nothing after that. A few years later, he called her. She had moved out of our house. He had called our house, and I didn't give him her number."
He also sent roses and a bear to her at the school. Paulson's principal called Waits' commander in the National Guard to inform him of the harassment, she wrote.
Fulghum said Pauson had gone to court to get an anti-harassment protection order against him within the last few weeks.
A Tacoma Schools spokesperson said the staff at Birney was well aware of the history between these two. They apparently had a description of Waits at the front desk and his license plate number. If he was ever seen on campus, staff was supposed to call 911.
Waits lived in Ellensburg and had multiple orders filed against him by the victim and another woman.
In September of 2008, Paulson had filed a protection order against him in Pierce County. In November 2008, another woman who lived in Ellensburg had filed a protection order against Waits. That order was dismissed when the woman failed to appear in court.
At that time, Waits was charged with 4th degree assault and was given a deferred adjudication, which allows the offender to avoid a formal sentence if conditions of a probation are met for a period of time handed down by the court. Waits was put on probation, which was extended for six months.
Ken Paulson said his daughter filed a two-year restraining order against Waits a year and a half ago. In December, she thought she saw him at the school. Last Friday, she thought he was following her and called 911. Dispatchers told her to drive to the nearest police station, where he was arrested by police.
Authorities say Waits was jailed Friday through Monday; he posted $10,000 bail and was released.
"She was very kind and merciful, loving person. That's probably why she was a special ed teacher," said Ken Paulson. "What happened today was evil - a terrible thing."
Dennis Waits, Jed's father, described his son as a non-violent person. Waits said his son had been in the army and even had high security clearances.
Waits said they had no indication that anything like this was going to happen. He issued a heart-felt apology to Jennifer's family.
"I wish he had turned the gun on us instead," Waits said.
Meanwhile, staff at Birney Elementary are stunned by the shooting.
"This is a situation that doesn't cross your mind, that you don't think is going to happen. When it does, it knocks everybody flat," said Voelpel. "You can see that on the faces of the teachers as they were arriving and hugging one another and trying to support one another. It's a terrible blow."
Birney Elementary school, which has 400 students in grades K-5 and is located in the 1200 block of South 76th Street in Tacoma, has canceled classes for Friday and Monday as investigators process the crime scene. There will be a family gathering at the school on Monday at 6 p.m.
Statement from Seattle Pacific University
"I was profoundly saddened to hear of the senseless shooting death of SPU alumna Jennifer Paulson this morning in Tacoma. Her work teaching special education students provides just a glimpse of the loving, quality person she was, and the positive influence she has had in the greater community and among her family and friends. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family in their time of grief. We are proud to remember Jennifer as an SPU student and graduate." --Seattle Pacific University President Philip W. Eaton
Life Center, Jennifer's church, will have a memorial in Tacoma on S.Union Ave. on Tuesday, March 2 at noon. It will be open to the public.
KING 5's Deborah Feldman, Karin Czulik and Drew Mikkelsen contributed to this report.