Crime

Man faces charges for allegedly shooting at preacher in Bellingham church

Washington state crimes by the numbers

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs 2017 Crime in Washington Annual Report details crimes against persons, property and society statistics from agencies that serve about 92% of the state.
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The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs 2017 Crime in Washington Annual Report details crimes against persons, property and society statistics from agencies that serve about 92% of the state.

A man was transferred back to Whatcom County from prison to face charges in a 2016 case where he allegedly shot at a preacher inside a Bellingham church.

Steve Ibarra, 25, pleaded not guilty Friday, Aug. 30 in Whatcom County Superior Court to first-degree assault while armed with a firearm and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. A no-contact order was put in place between Ibarra, the church and the preacher, court records show.

Ibarra’s jury trial has tentatively been scheduled for Oct. 21.

Ibarra was incarcerated at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton and was transferred back to Whatcom County to face charges in the case. He will be held in the Whatcom County Jail pending trial. No information about why Ibarra was incarcerated in Shelton was immediately available.

The shooting

Minutes before 9 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2016, Bellingham police were called to the Roca Fuerte Ministries Church in the 3600 block of Bennett Drive for the report of a shooting. Ibarra was sitting in the second row of pews at the center of the church with his mother and girlfriend. His mother was a regular attendee at the church and various people knew her and her son, according to court records.

According to court records, a witness sitting behind Ibarra heard a gunshot and saw Ibarra had both arms outstretched pointing toward the front of the church where the preacher was delivering a sermon. The witness saw that Ibarra had a baseball cap covering his hands.

The preacher heard the gunshot and saw that Ibarra had a “shocked look on his face,” according to court records. Ibarra’s mother also heard the gunshot just before Ibarra stood up, which she said sounded like a firework. She said he looked scared before he fled the church on foot, records state.

As he was fleeing, witnesses told police they saw Ibarra holding his baseball cap over his waist area with two hands.

An impact point was found in the cinder block wall behind where the preacher was standing during his sermon, and a deformed bullet was found on the carpet nearby, according to court records.

Police attempted to find Ibarra, but couldn’t. His baseball cap was found north of the church and appeared to have a bullet hole in it, court records show. Ibarra’s girlfriend was also found, but refused to speak about what happened.

Ibarra has previous convictions for second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, third-degree assault, fourth-degree assault and malicious mischief, according to court records.

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.
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