Just before 11 a.m. on Saturday morning, March 17, 2004, a call went out: A man at the Miller Community Center on Seattle's Capitol Hill was armed with a shotgun. Shots had been fired and someone was down.
Two blocks from the scene, Officer Mike McDonald and Officer Richard Pruitt of the Seattle Police Department were directing traffic around an accident. A 16-year veteran of the Seattle PD and an acting sergeant, Pruitt didn't know what to make of the call.
Gunshots weren't common in this part of the neighborhood and, from his close proximity, Pruitt was reasonably sure that he would've heard shots fired. All the same, he knew the dangers of such assumptions and rolled to the location with officer safety at the forefront of his mind.
In recent days, the community center had served as a makeshift evacuation center for some 40 victims who had made the place their home in the aftermath of a large apartment fire. On this day, the Red Cross announced that they'd arranged for permanent housing for many of the evacuees.
Among their number was 31-year-old Dori Cordova, a single mother with a 10-year-old son. Unfortunately for Cordova, she had recently garnered the attentions of another displaced victim, Lawrence Owens, 43, and had only that morning told Owens that she and her son would be relocating without him. Cordova had learned that Owens had a violent past, and her maternal instincts had led her to tell Owens in no uncertain terms that she did not want him in her life or her son's life.
Owens, a Class 3 convicted rapist, had not taken the news well.
The two officers parked in the street just southwest of the community center and exited their cars. McDonald had been with the squad for four years, but Pruitt had only recently transferred back after having worked a variety of other assignments. Neither had had much contact with one another during the intervening time and there was little time for introductions.
They simply started down an exterior staircase together. As they made their descent, the officers believed that the call must have been a hoax. There was simply no screaming, no yelling, nothing to suggest that there was anything other than peace this Saturday morning at the community center. But they changed their minds as they looked over a hedge at the base of the stairs.
A woman's body lay on the landing, a large duffel bag nearby. As Pruitt made his way to check on the woman's condition, McDonald took cover between the staircase and the front doors of the community center.
Checking for a pulse on the woman was a formality. Pruitt knew that Dori Cordova was dead. Three gaping holes were in her chest cavity, and steam was still rising from her body. The shooting had preceded the officers' arrival by mere seconds.
Glancing inside the abandoned duffel bag next to the victim's body, Pruitt took a quick inventory: open boxes of shotgun ammunition.
Not good. That means he's got extra ammunition, Pruitt thought.