Letter From Washington

My Day as a Murder Suspect

A harrowing tale from the Seattle manhunt.

I like to think of myself as a responsible, upstanding guy (even though I sell advertising for Slate). So it was a bit of a shock yesterday to find myself detained as a suspect during a manhunt for a killer.

My troubles started on a flight home to Seattle from Washington, D.C. I wanted to check in on my brother, Joshua–who lives in a sailboat on Seattle’s Lake Union–so I tried to call him from the plane. Over the phone, I got word that Joshua had sailed out from the marina around 5 p.m. the night before, and nobody had seen or heard from him since. This is unlike Joshua–or any other Krohn boy, for that matter. We’re the sort who will let someone know if we think we’re going to be late for work, much less out on an all-night boat ride.

Things got worse after I landed in Seattle. At the airport I saw President Clinton on television saying something about senseless acts of violence, and I assumed he was referring to the shootings in Honolulu–until he mentioned Seattle. I made a few calls and learned that four people had been shot at the Northlake Shipyard, which is less than two blocks from the marina where my brother keeps his boat (and where I dock my houseboat). What if Joshua has been shot? I thought.

I took a cab toward the scene of the crime. As we pulled up, I saw that the police had blocked off the road near the marinas. An officer told me that we couldn’t drive any farther, although pedestrians were allowed in the area, and I was free to walk home. It did strike me as strange that the police would grant public access to the area where a lunatic shooter was still on the loose. But the place looked pretty safe–it was crawling with SWAT teams, helicopters, rifle-toting policemen, cop cars, police dogs, and armored vehicles–and I needed to get home and search for my brother, so I started walking.

Not far down the street, an officer stopped me and, to my amazement, got ready to draw his pistol. “You’ve got the wrong guy,” I said. “I’m just coming home from a business trip.” “Shut up,” he said. As he barked instructions–keep your hands in the air, spread your legsI felt helpless. I was just an innocent civilian trying to get home. But I’m a twentysomething white male, and yesterday I happened to be unshaven and wearing a trench coat, so I fit the description of the shooter–though I didn’t know it at the time. Officers interrogated, thumb-cuffed, and body-searched me. I was patted in places I’ve never been patted before. “I’m not the guy,” I said again. “For your protection and mine, stop talking and let me finish my job,” the officer replied.

Once he’d checked the address on my driver’s license, the policeman realized that my story made sense. He let me go and suggested I proceed with caution: “You fit the description of the suspect.” When I told him I was trying to get home to find my brother, who’d gone missing, we started all over again. “What does he look like?” he asked, apparently now wondering whether Joshua might be the shooter. “He looks just like me,” I said, “but he’s probably drowning if I can’t get him some help.” The police started asking questions about Josh: Does he do drugs? No. Is he mentally stable? I think so. Did he ever serve in the military? Well, yes–he attended the Merchant Marine Academy and was in the Naval Reserves, which (as one officer pointed out) meant he had experience with guns. But apparently I said something that eased their minds about Joshua; they told me I could go, and they’d get in touch with me if necessary.

Once I got home, friends told me that the engine on Joshua’s boat had died the night before, that he’d been rescued by a branch of the Coast Guard, and that he was sailing his boat in instead of letting the Coast Guard tow him. Several hours later we watched with relief as he sailed into the marina. Not a bad alibi.

Editor’s Note: At the time of posting, no arrests had been made in the Seattle shooting. Check MSNBC’s news page for updates.