The two houses are about 100 yards apart in a quiet gated neighborhood called the Buttes on a wooded plateau just outside Orting.
In one lived a 21-year-old man who neighbors and authorities said was mentally unstable and who sometimes fired a gun in his backyard.
In the other house lived a 35-year-old Fife police officer.
After two brief confrontations in the officer’s driveway Tuesday night, the 21-year-old man was shot dead and the officer placed on paid administrative leave, standard procedure after a police shooting.
The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the dead man as Ben Ellett.
Fife police identified the officer as Jake Stringfellow, who the department said has worked in law enforcement for 11 years.
According to a statement by the department, Ellett fired at the officer’s residence, prompting Stringfellow to shoot him.
“While I do not have all the information at this time, this preliminarily appears to be an unfortunate situation where this subject chose to confront the officer at his home resulting in his death,” Fife Chief Brad Blackburn said.
Sheriff’s deputies were already searching for Ellett when the shooting occurred about 10 p.m. because he called 911 earlier in the night and threatened to shoot people he knew, spokesman Ed Troyer said Wednesday.
They were called to the Fife officer’s home in the 19600 block of 207th Street Court East, where they found Ellett dead in the driveway near a rifle, Troyer said.
Ellett did not know the officer but might have been drawn to the home because of the marked patrol car in the driveway, Troyer said.
“He showed up with weapons and was talking nonsense and was told to leave,” the spokesman said.
Ellett briefly left in his car and the officer went inside to call 911. Then, Troyer said, Ellett returned and shined his car’s headlights into the officer’s house, revved the engine and fired a rifle.
That’s when the officer, believing the man was firing at his home, shot from his window inside the house and killed Ellett, Troyer said.
Several rifle casings were found at the scene but it was unclear where Ellett fired, Troyer said. The officer was not wounded and nearby houses were unscathed.
Jason Davis, who lives in between the two men’s houses, said Wednesday he talked to Ellett a few minutes before the shooting and watched the incident unfold.
“I went out to empty my garbage and saw the kid walking past,” Davis said. “He said, ‘Hey, did you hear about the shooting in Puyallup?”
Davis told him he hadn’t, and the young man said, “Do you want to help?”
Davis and his wife have lived in the neighborhood for only about a month, he said, but they had been forewarned about Ellett, who appeared tense.
Davis said watched Ellett walk back to his own house and a few minutes later saw him in his car, slowly idling downhill toward the policeman’s house.
He pulled into the policeman’s driveway, Davis said, got out and went to the door.
“He either knocked or rang the bell and then turned around and got back in his car,” Davis said. “He didn’t leave enough time for somebody to answer the door.
“Then he backed up. That’s when I heard the four to six shots.”
Davis went inside and told his wife to call 911. He said all of the shots came from a single weapon, which he believed was a handgun and not a rifle.
“I’m a hunter,” he said, “and I know the difference.”
Ellett called 911 earlier in the night and threatened to kill or claimed to have already killed his girlfriend and members of his family, Troyer said.
Deputies checked on everyone threatened, including in Puyallup, and found everyone OK, Troyer said Wednesday.
Ellett’s parents took several weapons away from him earlier this month after noticing his behavior becoming more erratic, and last month, his family filed a missing person report about him, Troyer said.
His relatives were not immediately reachable for comment Wednesday.
Ellett appears to have been living with roommates in the neighborhood where he was killed, Troyer said.
He said police reports show Ellett destroyed computers and cell phones in the past, because he thought authorities were following him.
On what appears to be Ellett’s facebook page, he posted July 8: “My apologies friends and family.”
Then he clarified: “I just want to not be selfish but conscious is as conscious does. For my actions and words, past present and future.”
“I love you, brother :)” a woman with the same last name posted in response.
“Love you, Ben” someone who appears to be his mother posted July 13.
“Love you too Mom!” he wrote her.