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The Capitol Hill Stabbing

February 2, 2008

With only a few hours remaining in 2007 a young woman named Shannon Harps was stabbed to death three blocks away from my apartment. She was carrying groceries to her newly purchased condo. The police quickly concluded that this was most likely a stranger to stranger killing – making Capitol Hill residents like myself, a little on edge. See my neighborhood is nice. And this random stabbing made me uneasy. Her death was senseless. A manhunt ensued.

From descriptions of eye witnesses on that cold new years eve night they developed a composite sketch of the killer.

After the stabbing, the East Precinct Officers held a community meeting at the neighborhood Group Health Center where they stated that they didn’t have the resources to prevent crimes like this from happening. They told us not to walk alone. To be on the lookout for anything. Days after this meeting, I saw the stabber everywhere. He was walking his dog on Pine. He was getting a cup of coffee at Fuel. He was even following me into Safeway. The sketch was meaningless. Everyone in Seattle has facial hair and wears a stocking cap in winter. I didn’t feel safe.

A break in the case happened. The news reporters and cameras returned to our quiet neighborhood. A man was arrested. The community sighed in relief. East Precinct officers sent DNA from the man to the lab to compare it to DNA found on the knife. The results came back and the man was innocent. He was no saint but he was no stabber. The East Precinct released the sketch again.

Weeks pass again. And candles for Shannon still burn outside of her apartment. Then out of the blue, officers announce a press conference for Friday afternoon. They caught him. DNA proves it. And he confesses. It turns out the man was not the clean cut slender man in the sketch. But a psychopathic, mentally ill man who has spent the last two years in and out of state mental hospitals.

He has a history of violence – especially toward women. There have been 300 notations about the man from police and correction officers since 2006. His mother died when he was 8. His aunt raised him and by the age of 12 he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He spent most of his life homeless and spent time in prison when he shot a stranger at a bus stop. Three days before he stabbed Shannon Harps to death he was seen by his probation officer. He evaluated him and handed him a pair of metro tickets and sent him on his way.

Shannon Harps was an avid hiker. She was an organizer for the Sierra Club in Seattle. She was well like by her employees, friends and family. Her family didn’t think anything of it when she didn’t answer her cell phone New Years Eve. It wasn’t until a local police officer arrived at their Florida home early on New Years Day until they realized Shannon was gone.

I walk past Shannon’s condo every day to work. And flowers still lay there in memory of Shannon. Shannon’s stabbing makes life seems tragic, so frail. Shannon had her life in front of her when it was ended so abruptly. Eventually Shannon’s death will fade from my memory but it is our responsibility to lead meaningful lives, to better our community and to make a difference. That is how we can honor her death.

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