Tacoma Hilltop neighbors robbed of a favorite son’s smile, helping hand

He was the heart of the Hill.

It could have been the hugs Steven Speakman greeted everybody with. How eagerly he volunteered to help business owners. The trusting smile permanently affixed on his face.

For all those reasons and more, the 26-year-old was well-known and well-loved in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

He had the intellectual capacity of a 10-year-old and spent his days wandering the neighborhood, chatting with residents and offering to sweep floors or wash windows inside stores.

“Steve was one of the most loved persons I ever met,” said Bill DeMulling, his stepfather.

Speakman was found shot to death Nov. 3 about two blocks from where he lived.

A man returning home about 6:15 a.m. after walking his wife to work found his body in front of a business in the 1000 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

Neighbors reported hearing gunshots about 5:55 a.m. but said they were too afraid to look outside at what was happening.

Police are at a loss to explain the death because it doesn’t appear Speakman was killed in a robbery and he had no known enemies.

Detectives are asking the public to come forward with any information by calling Tacoma-Pierce County Crimestoppers at 800-222-TIPS. The case is being featured on “Washington’s Most Wanted.”

“He was robbed from this entire community,” said Kenton Dale, who owns Hilltop Loans on South 11th Street and knew Speakman nearly his entire life.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t like him. If you met Steven, you liked him.”

The neighborhood’s response to the shooting shows just how much Speakman meant to the residents.

A memorial continues to grow with candles, balloons, stuffed animals and flowers. Someone lights the candles daily.

Business owners have put out donation jars to collect money for his funeral expenses, printed T-shirts in Speakman’s honor and set up a bank account for his family.

“He did everything he could for anybody in the community,” said his mother, Kim Nystrom. “He loved to walk. That’s how he met so many people and friends.”

Speakman graduated from Foss High School in 2008. After that, his disability kept him from working, so he stopped into several stores daily so he could vacuum, run an errand for the employees or just chat.

Dale said the last time he saw Speakman, he’d stopped at a neighborhood pub to say goodnight. He walked down the line of patrons and told each person he loved them and gave them a hug.

“Even though he was an adult, he was still very much a kid at heart,” Dale said. “He wanted to help people and didn’t have anything bad to say about anybody.”

Speakman enjoyed shining tires or washing windows on vehicles at the Hilltop Street Fair’s car show each year. He had a soft spot for the Seattle Mariners and Seahawks and attended monster truck shows every year.

He listened to hip-hop and AC/DC and loved crabbing with his family and learning about his Native American heritage.

“He was special. He had a good heart,” friend Matt McNaughton said.

Speakman loved his friends and took pride in his family. He always wanted to hold his niece, and he idolized his grandfather, who works in naval shipyards. The two were planning a trip to San Diego on Dec. 1.

“If I’ve heard one term since this happened, it’s that he was the heart of the Hill,” Dahlberg said. “That conveys how well he was loved here.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

To donate:

Contributions can be made at any Columbia Bank branch to the Steven Speakman Memorial Fund. Donations also can be made at

Memorial service

The public is invited to a memorial service Saturday for Steven Speakman. It will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Allen AME Church, 1223 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma.