For decades Walt knew there was something wrong with his son.
Even though he’d go out with friends, read books and tend a garden with his mother, he also became angry easily, ranted about conspiracies, and was discharged from the Army because he was unsuitable for the military.
Dealing with his son was like trying to reel in an “800 pound fish on a two ounce line.”
The line snapped one year ago today.
Ian Stawicki took the lives of four people at Cafe Racer near Seattle’s University District and one woman in downtown Seattle. When surrounded by police in West Seattle, he killed himself.
The eclectic cafe will be closed today to honor shooting victims Donald Largen, Joe Albanese, Drew Keriakedes, and Kimberly and Leonard Meuse who was injured. Gloria Koch Leonidas was killed downtown during a carjacking.
The killer’s father, Walt Stawicki, is horrified by what his son did. Like any parent, he wishes he could have done more to control his mentally disturbed son. But what?
“He had a lot of learning disabilities. He would come home crying from school,” Stawicki says. “Within the month before he went to the Cafe Racer he was talking to me. We didn’t really have a conversation he just mentioned ‘remember that teacher that teased be about being stupid’ and I think I know now what he was talking about.”
When Ian was in seventh or eighth grade in a south Seattle school, he came home “bawling his head off and thrashing about.”
Walt Stawicki wrestled his son to the floor and told his wife to call the police. By the time officers came a half hour later, Ian had calmed down.
“We never found out what that was about,” he says.
Whether it was because classmates picked on him in school, older kids pushed him around on the bus, or a teacher labeled him “stupid,” Ian seemed to have a lot of reasons to be upset.
His parents thought “things would eventually get better.”
“He started drawing away a bit more, being private about his life, saying things like ‘please don’t contact any of my friends’ but without the ‘please’ it was more of an order,” Walt says.
Ian got through school and eventually joined the Army, only to be discharged a short time later. After that, he started collecting guns. His family knew he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but they thought he’d “gotten away from guns” in recent years.
Sometimes we know the least about people we’re closest to.
Walt says he realized around 1990 that his son had a “serious” problem of some kind.
“When I was working in a men’s shelter and I saw what people were like who were schizophrenic and who were manic-depressive and had psychotic episodes, I realized how broke the system was at that point,” he says. “I think it was the experiences in that shelter that made me see or think at that time that there was nothing the system was going to do until there were crimes and blood.”
At some point in a parent’s life they have a moment when they realize their child is going to make it in the world. Walt never had the feeling that Ian would be okay.
On May 30, 2012, he talked to his son early in the morning and everything seemed fine.
Then Walt got a call from his wife.
“Get down here, I just saw our son on TV,” she told him.
“What happened?” he asked.
“He shot people,” she said.
Stawicki still grieves for the victims, including his family.
The Stawicki family thought they were coping with Ian’s undiagnosed mental illness the best they could.
“What I learned was to lie,” Stawicki says. “My son had been through several domestics (domestic violence charges). I wasn’t in any of them. I stayed away from it because I didn’t want to bump up against my son and be on his bad side. I stayed away.”
Not knowing what to do, Walt says all those years with Ian he did the best he could to calm him.
He’s learned that wasn’t enough.
“We need to have assisted outpatient treatment with a court mandate that has a hammer that can drop,” Walt says. “You can either obey and live your life out there, or you can be locked up until you come around and understand what’s going on. Or else, this will happen again.”
By LINDA THOMAS