VANCOUVER, WA (KPTV) – Residents of the Smith Tower Apartments were given the all-clear to return home about five hours after a gunman opened fire, killing a man and injuring 2 others.
The gunman, identified as 80-year-old Robert E. Breck, surrendered to police following an hours-long standoff Thursday.
Breck, a tenant at the apartments, opened fire in the lobby, police said. At the time of the shooting, many of the residents were home.
“When I opened the door, there was two officers with two guns,” Trish Gatley said. “And they said just stay quiet, put your hands up and go downstairs, don’t go on to any of the floors.”
According to its website, 170-units fill Smith Tower, comprising a senior housing community serving those aged 62 and older.
One woman, who identified herself only as Anne to a FOX 12 reporter, said following the shooting there was at time chaos and confusion throughout the building.
“Somebody at the door, and I think it was a policeman, said to evacuate,” Anne said. “And then a few minutes later, another policeman said to stay put. So, I didn’t know what to do.”
According to Vancouver police spokesperson Kim Kapp, some residents were evacuated while others were asked to shelter in place. Some of those evacuated were taken to Vancouver City Hall, where the lobby turned into a reunion center.
Multiple witnesses of the shooting were also taken to city hall to be questioned by police, a city hall staffer said.
Some people waited in the parking lot for word on the status of friends and loved ones that live inside Smith Tower.
“I’m just concerned that she’s okay,” said a woman named Beverly.
All residents were allowed back inside their apartments by 7 p.m., police said. However, the lobby of Smith Tower remained closed for several more hours for the investigation and tenants were asked to use another entrance.
One tenant, Heather Branchflower, returned home to see the front of the building still surrounded by crime tape.
“I don’t believe it,” Branchflower said. “I just don’t believe something like that could happen here, it’s unimaginable.”
Branchflower, who was out to lunch when shots were fired, said she has lived at Smith Tower for 12 years and described it as a tight-knit community. Such violence, she said, was unexpected and shocking.
“I got a horrible feeling in my stomach when I heard about it and wondering who died - and who got hit,” she said.
Other tenants, unfortunately, saw the result of the shooting up close.
“A gentleman was on the ground,” Gatley said. “And they were taking a woman, putting her in a stretcher, giving her aid.”
Grief counselors and a chaplain were seen inside Vancouver City Hall speaking to evacuees and those who witnessed the shooting.
Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.