A man armed with a rifle throwing “incendiary devices” at vehicles and buildings was shot and killed at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma Saturday morning. The facility is a privately run U.S. Department of Homeland Security detention center that holds migrants pending deportation proceedings.
According to the Tacoma Police Department, four officers responded to the detention facility around 4 a.m. after an employee reported a man outside armed with a rifle.
Police said a vehicle was set on fire and the man attempted to ignite a large propane tank and set buildings on fire.
Officers arrived and shots were fired. The armed man was killed in the shooting. The Pierce County medical examiner identified the man as 69-year-old Willem Van Sponsen.
Along with a rifle, police said Van Sponsen was wearing a satchel and had flares.
Tacoma police spokesperson Loretta Cool said all four officers fired their weapons. She said the officers weren't wearing body cameras, but the area is covered by surveillance cameras from the detention center. She said she didn't know if Van Sponsen fired at the officers.
Authorities said investigators are processing the scene and police are continuing to investigate. No law enforcement officers were injured. The four Tacoma police officers who fired their weapons have been placed on paid administrative leave as is standard in officer-involved shootings.
A friend of the man says that she thinks he wanted to provoke a fatal conflict, the Seattle Times reports. Deb Bartley, who tells the Times she has been a friend of Van Spronsen's for about 20 years, described him as an anarchist and anti-fascist, and believes his attack on the detention center intending to provoke a fatal conflict.
"He was ready to end it," Bartley told the Times. "I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs . I know he went down there knowing he was going to die."
She says that she and other friends of Van Spronsen got letters in the mail "just saying goodbye." He also wrote what she referred to as a manifesto, which she declined to discuss in detail, the Times reports.
Detectives searched Van Sponsen's house on Vashon Island for evidence of the crime committed at the detention center.
A Lights For Liberty gathering in solidarity for detained immigrants that was planned for Saturday afternoon outside the facility has been postponed due to the shooting. Organizers hope to hold the event on Sunday, July 14.
GEO Group, which runs the 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center, in an email to The Associated Press said baseless accusations about how detainees are treated at its facilities "have led to misplaced aggression and a dangerous environment for our employees, whose safety is our top priority. Violence of any kind against our employees and property will not be tolerated. We are thankful for the quick and brave action by the Tacoma Police Department, which prevented innocent lives from being endangered."
GEO Group said the detention center in Tacoma has modern amenities with air conditioning, recreational activities, a bed for every individual and medical care available at all hours.
Last year, a federal judge ruled that Washington state could pursue its lawsuit seeking to force GEO Group to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees at the detention center.
In November, a Russian asylum-seeker who conducted a hunger strike to protest the conditions at the detention center died by suicide, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office ruled.
Mergensana Amar, 40, was taken off life support after attempting to kill himself while in voluntary protective custody at the detention center on Nov. 15, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.