Special Reports

Police chief dies after shooting wife, himself

With his young children nearby, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot his wife on Saturday, and then shot himself.

Brame died at 5:43 p.m., 2 1/2 hours after the shootings in a Gig Harbor shopping plaza. His estranged wife, Crystal Brame, was in critical condition late Saturday night at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The shooting occurred after the couple's stormy divorce proceedings became public.

Tacoma police, city officials and the entire South Sound community reeled after hearing that Tacoma's top crime fighter had committed such a horrifying crime. People converged on the scene throughout the evening to mourn and talk about the event.

Seconds after the 3:10 p.m. shooting, the couple's children, in Brame's car several spaces away, ran to their mother's sedan.

"I heard one of them say, 'Daddy shot Mommy. Daddy hurt Mommy,'" said Dana Mossman, who had come to the plaza to shop for groceries. "I saw this woman lying in a pool of blood."

Another female passer-by carefully pulled 8-year-old Haley Brame from her mother's side, Troyer said. The woman shepherded Haley and her brother, 5-year-old David Brame Jr., into a nearby video store. Their maternal grandmother came quickly to find them there.

Police chaplains staffed the Tacoma Police operations center to offer counseling.

A shocked and distraught City Manager Ray Corpuz could barely comment on Brame's actions.

"I am not prepared to say anything about this right now," Corpuz said. "It's very tragic what happened. Very tragic what happened."

Assistant chief Catherine Woodard becomes acting chief of police, Corpuz said. She is the first woman to head the Tacoma Police Department.

Brame had been chief since Jan. 14, 2002. He had worked his way up through the ranks of the department, which he joined in 1981.

Crystal Brame, 35, had been married to Brame, 44, for more than 11 years. She started divorce proceedings in February.

On Friday and Saturday, media outlets reported allegations made in divorce court records of mutual physical and verbal abuse. Neither ever filed charges against the other.

The Brames' divorce papers contained references to a difficult relationship. In declarations filed in March and April, Crystal Brame alleged her husband choked her, threatened to kill her, pointed his gun at her and said, "Accidents happen." David Brame alleged his wife physically and verbally abused him and threatened to destroy his career.

Each denied the other's allegations.

Brame denied his wife's allegations Friday afternoon during an off-the-record conversation with David Seago, The News Tribune's editorial page editor.

"I wanted to give Brame a chance to have his say," Seago said. "He did not seem angry. He didn't sound distressed."

Saturday's violent episode was a short one, according to witnesses and Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

David Brame met Crystal Brame at about 3 p.m. at the Olympic Plaza shopping center in Gig Harbor. The couple's children arrived in Crystal Brame's car, a black Toyota Camry.

Investigators don't know why the couple met in the parking lot. They don't believe it was a scheduled meeting to transfer custody of the children, Troyer said.

"We don't know why he was there," Troyer said.

The Brames were living separately in Gig Harbor (the Tacoma police department does not require its officers to live in the city), and David Brame was in the process of moving to a Tacoma apartment.

David Brame, who drove a burgundy Camry, parked about six spaces away and across the aisle from his wife's car. He walked to her car and took the children to his own vehicle. Then he walked back to his wife's car and got inside. They had a short conversation.

He shot Crystal Brame in the head just outside her car at about 3:11 p.m., Troyer said.

Brame immediately shot himself in the head with a Glock .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, Troyer said.

Herron Island resident Ray Lanier, an off-duty King County paramedic, said he found Crystal Brame facedown on the ground in a pool of blood. He tried to help both the Brames breathe.

Both Brames were taken to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, where David Brame later died. Crystal Brame was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. The children visited her there on Saturday evening, Troyer said.

Haley Brame is a second-grader at Discovery Elementary School in Gig Harbor. Counselors will be at the school on Monday to help students and staff, a school spokeswoman said.

People in Gig Harbor were horrified at the news.

"It was a horrible, cowardly thing to do, but he's still a human being who's not living any more," said Mossman, the shopper first on the scene.

A neighbor in North Creek Estates, where the Brames had lived, had heard the news and was crying on her porch early Saturday evening. She wouldn't give her name.

"What about those poor children?" she said.

Gig Harbor police officers, Washington State Patrol investigators and Pierce County sheriff's deputies worked throughout the evening at the scene. The Tacoma Police Department is not involved in the investigation, but sent over a mobile command truck to give detectives on the scene a place to work.

"Their people are hurting. It's a bad day for law enforcement," Troyer said of the Tacoma police force. "Nobody's prepared for this.

"We'll be treating this just like we would any other homicide."

"It's a tragedy for the department and all the officers and the community," said Pat Frantz, president of the union representing patrol officers.

Gig Harbor police are taking the lead on the investigation because the shooting happened within the city limits, Troyer said. Forensic scientists and crime reconstructionists from the Pierce County Sheriff's Department worked with Washington State Patrol investigators.

Sheriff Paul Pastor, who said he had a "close professional relationship" with Brame, announced the chief's death to reporters outside St. Joseph Medical Center early Saturday evening. "This hurts all our hearts terribly," he said.

Acquaintances in the Brames' North Creek Estates neighborhood, not far from the shooting, said David Brame wasn't talkative and the family was private.

Brame was protective of his children, said neighbor Deanna Robson.

"He was always outside with them when they were playing," Robson said. "He made sure they had all kinds of safety gear, even just for riding bikes around the cul-de-sac."

Crystal Brame had talked to neighbors about her marriage, Robson said.

"We knew they were having problems," Robson said. "We knew they weren't together. But this is just awful."

Larry Welty of Gig Harbor was at the shopping plaza after the shootings. He has a son in the Bellevue police department.

"It just kind of shows that police are people like anybody else," Welty said. "They have frailties like everyone else, and the chief has frailties like any of his patrolmen. ... They see things that you and I don't see, and sometimes they can become a little callous."

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said Brame had done well in a difficult job.

"He was appointed chief at a point at which the department was going through a very intensive and thorough performance audit, and he was then tasked with the responsibility of carrying out that performance audit," Baarsma said. "That called for some significant changes, and it required his working with the two unions that represent police officers.

"He was doing a tremendous job. It required a tremendous amount of time and effort, and it was very stressful," Baarsma said.

Staff writers Stacey Mulick, Jason Hagey, Bill Hutchens, Kris Sherman, Susan Gordon and C.R. Roberts contributed to this report.

Lisa Kremer: 253-597-8658

lisa.kremer@mail.tribnet.com

Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660

karen.hucks@mail.tribnet.com

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