Bullet holes and a vow for revenge mark detention center shooting scene

Tacoma Police investigate following fatal shooting at Northwest Detention Center

Tacoma police set up roadblocks limiting access to the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats as they investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting.
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Tacoma police set up roadblocks limiting access to the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma Tideflats as they investigate a fatal officer-involved shooting.

Bullet holes riddled the scene Sunday morning at a Tacoma immigrant detention center where Tacoma police shot and killed an apparent attacker early Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, police have searched the Vashon Island home of alleged attacker Willem Van Spronsen.

Police shot and killed Van Spronsen, 69, at the Northwest Detention Center on the Tacoma tideflats after he was reported throwing incendiary devices and carrying a rife.

Police fired at Van Spronsen, took cover and later found him dead.

The center is a site for immigrant detainees awaiting ICE deportation hearings.

Police recovered a rifle Van Spronsen was carrying at the scene. Police did not reveal the caliber and type of rifle.

The shootout apparently occurred around four portable toilets set up in a row on East J Street, directly outside the detention center.

Six bullet holes in a power pole were marked by investigators. The bullets were traveling in a north-south direction, in line with the row of toilets.

Next to the pole, a portable toilet contained 13 bullet holes. At least one had punctured the first toilet’s tank. Blue liquid leaked out onto the street.

Inside, at least four bullets were next to the toilet seat. Another hit just above a urinal.

It could not be determined by a reporter if the bullets were fired by the four Tacoma police officers or by Van Spronsen.

Outside of the fourth toilet, an absorbant material had been spread over what appeared to be blood.

None of the officers involved were injured in the shooting, Tacoma police said.

On the front of the toilets a message in duct tape had been placed.

“A enge Willem,” it read.

Another message, “RIP Willem,” had been attached to a fence surrounding the facility.

The burned vehicle Van Spronsen had allegedly set fire to had been removed.

On Saturday, Tacoma police detectives served an evidence warrant on Van Spronsen’s home in the 14400 block of West Side Highway SW on Vashon Island. Tacoma police and King County SWAT teams assisted in the search, Tacoma police said.

The detention center is run by the GEO Group for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It has a capacity to hold 1,575 people.

In a statement, ICE called Van Spronsen an, “Anti-immigration enforcement protester” and said he attempted to ignite a commercial-size propane tank attached to the facility.

“This could have resulted in the mass murder of staff and detainees housed at the facility had he been successful at setting the tank ablaze,” said Shawn Fallah, an ICE resident agent in charge. ”These are the kinds of incidents that keep you up at night.”

GEO Group, the facility’s owner, said their facilities had been the subjects of inaccurate portrayals.

“The outrageous and baseless accusations that have been leveled against our facilities have led to misplaced aggression and a dangerous environment for our employees, whose safety is our top priority,” a GEO Group spokesman said.

Craig Sailor has worked for The News Tribune for 20 years as a reporter, editor and photographer. He previously worked at The Olympian and at other newspapers in Nevada and California.