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Timeline of a tragedy
A quiet Tuesday morning in Sequim turned into 26 hours of terror Feb. 21 when shots rang out at a home in the 3900 block of Woodcock Road.
A Sequim construction worker hired to rebuild the home’s garage, which burned down in December 2011, was busy at work with his business partner when John Francis Loring, 44, pulled up.
10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21
“John looked right at me and said, ‘Nice garage,’” the man recalled.
The man, who spoke to the Gazette anonymously because he doesn’t want his business connected with the crime, said earlier in the morning he’d seen Loring in a white Dodge pickup parked at a local minimart, heavy metal blaring from the car’s speakers.
The man said he tried to pretend he didn’t see Loring, who he knew had problems. But Loring said hello and made small talk, asking the man what he was up to. The man replied he was working on a garage.
The man knew Loring and the resident of the home, Shellie Gillis, had dated and that Loring had threatened her.
“I didn’t think he’d come to the house and kill someone,” he said.
But after Loring walked by the garage carrying a cardboard box, he knocked on the door, which was opened by 19-year-old David J. Randle, Gillis’ son, and a struggle ensued, the man said. Gillis and her boyfriend were inside, officials said.
According to court documents, Gillis called 9-1-1 at 10:03 a.m. reporting Loring was at her house in violation of a court order.
“David opened the door a crack and John pulled a gun and started forcing his way in,” the man said. “I yelled, ‘He’s got a gun.’”
The man and his business partner crouched down as Loring “went in blasting,” he said, recalling at least three shots initially and accompanying screams.
The man went first to his partner’s truck, where he normally keeps a gun, but he hadn’t brought it that day so he ran to the neighbors and called 9-1-1, he said.
Loring broke a side window of the house before going back to the front door, retrieving his box, and driving away toward Port Angeles, he said. Law enforcement wasn’t far behind.
“I just couldn’t believe how fast they (Sheriff’s deputies) got there,” he said.
Deputies found Randle lying in the driveway, dead of gunshot wounds from a .38 caliber pistol.
Gillis said she heard her son’s screams and the gunshots and when they stopped she thought he’d run away to safety.
When she came out of the house she saw emergency responders loading Randle on a stretcher and thought he was going to be OK, she said. She thanked God he was safe. She didn’t realize he was dead and wasn’t told until later.
Clallam County Undersheriff Ron Peregrin said Loring was prohibited by court order from going to the Woodcock Road residence. As investigators examined the scene of the shooting, a countywide manhunt began.
Through local media and an emergency communications system, the Sheriff’s Office asked people to be on the lookout for the 6-foot 6-inch suspected killer.
Sequim police notified the Sequim School District of the shooting and told officials they didn’t believe a lock-down was necessary, said Patsene Dashiell, community liaison with the school district.
The truck Loring drove was registered to 68-year-old Ray Varney in Diamond Point. Ron Cameron, Clallam County Sheriff’s chief criminal deputy, recalled the last Sequim murder, in September 2008, when Shawn Roe killed Forest Service officer Kristine Fairbanks, then shot and killed retired corrections worker Richard Ziegler and stole his truck.
At the request of the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, deputies with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office went to Varney’s residence on Fleming Drive, Peregrin said.
Loring dated Varney’s daughter, Andrea Varney, previously, he said.
When deputies weren’t able to contact anyone inside the home they forced entry and found Varney dead inside. An autopsy later revealed Varney died of multiple gunshot wounds from a .22 caliber gun around Feb. 18, or three days before he was discovered, Cameron said.
Officials later learned Loring was stopped by a Washington State Patrol trooper around 1 a.m. Feb. 19.
Leads poured in from throughout the county and an estimated 100 law enforcement officers were involved in the manhunt and investigation, Peregrin said.
“Nobody ever questioned what they could do for us,” he said of the collaboration.
A resident of Olson Road reported the getaway truck parked on the road and law enforcement responded cautiously, approaching strategically to see if Loring was inside, Peregrin said.
The truck was empty and one report connected him to a blue car so a new alert with an updated vehicle description was sent out to the community, he said.
An automated call went out, warning residents in the vicinity of Taylor Cutoff Road that an armed and dangerous suspect might be in the area.
Officials rerouted school buses so school children weren’t dropped off in that area and parents had to pick them up from the school, Dashiell said.
Law enforcement responded to several locations in Port Angeles and Sequim throughout the afternoon and evening after receiving tips from the public, Cameron said.
A resident of Victoria, British Columbia, reported receiving a phone call from Loring, Peregrin said. The number Loring called from was a landline traced back to an apartment on West 16th Street in Port Angeles.
The Port Angeles Police Department positioned officers around the apartment to help Sheriff’s deputies secure the perimeter.
2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22
Police officers contacted two people as they left the apartment and they confirmed Loring was inside, Peregrin said.
Law enforcement requested help from the Washington State Patrol SWAT Team to serve an arrest warrant on Loring, State Patrol Lt. Dan Hall said.
Two more people left the apartment after Loring told them to go, Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said.
Benedict said of the five people in the apartment, including Loring, none of them was the actual resident.
The resident was on vacation in Hawaii and any relationship among the five was determined to be extremely casual, he said.
With Loring the only person inside the apartment, law enforcement began to evacuate residents and get ready to act on the SWAT Team’s plan.
Clallam Transit provided buses to hold residents a block away during the standoff.
The State Patrol negotiator made phone contact with Loring several times over a period of an hour and a half, Hall said.
“For a while we thought communication was going very well and it would end without incident,” he said.
Loring told the negotiator he had a gun, Hall said.
A Port Angeles Police sergeant warned responding officers Loring was known for having “survivalist thinking,” said Brian Smith, Port Angeles deputy police chief.
“When we first got contact, we were encouraged,” Benedict said.
At one point, Loring even came to the door and was going to surrender but turned around and barricaded himself instead, he said.
Hall said when it became clear the negotiations were breaking down, the SWAT Team shot tear gas into the apartment after breaking the glass sliding door at the back of the unit.
As the tear gas deployed, Loring fired two shots from inside the apartment. An investigation by the Port Angeles Police Department revealed the shots were fired from Loring’s .38 caliber pistol at the SWAT Team but did not hit anyone. The SWAT Team did not fire back.
Wind blew the tear gas down the block where bystanders watched the standoff unfold.
The construction worker who had been on Woodcock Road the morning before was among them. He said he kept his gun close after the shooting and couldn’t sleep at all that night.
“I wanted to see him leaving in custody or in a body bag,” he said.
Cameron said Loring continued to talk to the negotiator after the tear gas filled the apartment.
When he stopped, the State Patrol Bomb Squad arrived and sent in a robot.
The robot, equipped with a video camera, couldn’t find Loring at first until it opened a door to a bathroom and found him dead with a weapon at his side, Hall said.
“We were surprised to find what we found,” Cameron said.
Loring died of a single shot to the head, Peregrin said.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Loring died during the standoff. Law enforcement prepared to process the scene for further investigation and officials called a press conference at 1:30 p.m. to disclose further details.
A few days later, the construction worker returned to the garage on Woodcock Road to finish the job. His tools were lying in the mud after days of rain. He said he grew up in a rough area of South America and he’s seen plenty of things in his life but nothing like that.
“I’m never going back there again,” he said.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.