Friend: Shooting suspect was turning life around after run-ins with cops

KIRKLAND, Wash. - Police say the suspect in a shooting at Seattle Pacific University was hospitalized twice in recent years for mental health evaluations, but a friend says the suspect had been turning his life around and had recently gotten a new job.

The friend, Nate Flesch, said he was "flabbergasted" when he heard the tragic news that Aaron Ybarra was accused of being the gunman who killed one student and wounded two others in a shooting at the SPU campus.

"For the past year and a half or so he's been trying to turn his life around," Flesch said of suspected gunman Ybarra. "He attends the same (Alcoholics Anonymous) classes as I do in the Lynnwood area. He's a kid that I think has been sober now for a little bit over a year."

Flesch describes Ybarra as being "socially awkward" but a "sweet kid."

"He's a sweet kid, he's a nice kid, very thankful, very appreciative, and I'm just kind of shocked to hear it was Aaron who was involved in this," he said.

But police in Mountlake Terrace, where the suspect lives, say they twice had run-ins with Ybarra, in 2010 and 2012.

Mountlake Terrace Assistant Police Chief Pete Caw says both times, Ybarra was severely intoxicated and taken to Swedish Hospital in Edmonds for evaluation. In the October 2012 incident, police found him lying in a roadway.

Flesch, who works a bartender at the Dub Pub in Kirkland, said Ybarra had given up drinking. He said he would often come in to the bar but always ordered a non-alcoholic beverage - usually a cranberry-flavored drink with Dr. Pepper.

He also said Ybarra had just started a new job.

"He was proud that they were starting to like him at his job. They were giving him more hours, and he was excited that he would have more money," says Flesch.

He said he was "flabbergasted" when he learned that it was Ybarra who is suspected of gunning down students at Seattle Pacific University.
"It runs the gamut of emotions - just kind of shock and disbelief."

"I have no idea what set him off," says Flesch. "That's why this whole thing kind of surprises me - that he was trying to turn his life around, that he was trying to be a better person, and he was kind of working on his social skills, too."

He said he had dinner with Ybarra on Wednesday night, and saw no signs that he was any different than usual.

"It's a little eerie, a little scary," he says. "To be honest with you, I'm a little heartbroken. It breaks my heart to see a kid like this, who was turning himself around, kind of just go off the deep end. I don't know what triggered it.

"He was pulling it together and making a better life for himself. So for this to happen is mind-boggling, and I don't know what else to say."