BELLINGHAM - Gunfire at an apartment building on Sunset Drive led to a seven-hour police standoff Tuesday, June 10, that ended with one man dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to Bellingham police.
The daylong stalemate began around 9:30 a.m. when someone fired a gun in a second-story apartment at 1716 E. Sunset Drive. The bullet passed into an occupied unit next door, Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht said.
A woman fled the neighboring apartment unharmed, and police evacuated everyone from surrounding homes.
The man in the apartment where the shot originated didn't respond to officers' entreaties to come outside. So a SWAT team fired tear gas and rounds filled with pepper spray at the apartment. But there was no response.
About four hours into the standoff, the SWAT team and a police dog rushed into the apartment. The dog found the man tucked into a small closet. As the dog tugged on the man's leg, he screamed at the police. Officers didn't know if he had a gun. They decided to leave the apartment for their safety, then try to convince the man to surrender, Vander Yacht said.
That was the only contact they had with him. He never responded by phone or to the many efforts police made to contact him, yelling through a megaphone, Vander Yacht said.
The SWAT team entered the apartment a few more times but bolted outside each time, some members coughing as they came out. They were not wearing gas masks.
They used robots to explore the apartment. Officers shot out the apartment windows to toss in a small dumbbell-sized robot with a camera and possibly to ventilate the lingering tear gas. Police tore apart parts of a staircase railing so a large robot had room to make a turn up the stairs.
Shortly after 4 p.m. police re-entered the apartment, with the robots still inside. They found the man's body in the same closet. They believe he shot himself.
The man's body was expected to be removed from the apartment Tuesday night. Crime scene technicians are expected to go over the apartment on Wednesday, after the tear gas and pepper spray dissipate.
An autopsy will be performed to confirm how the man died. A 37-year-old tenant lived in the unit, police said, but the deceased man's name had not been released Tuesday.
Four blocks of Sunset Drive were shut down for the duration of the standoff, leading to traffic gridlock on surrounding streets. The road reopened around 5 p.m.