Grisly Man

Lessons of a predator.

Werner Herzog made a documentary about a hippie-dippy surfer dude who lived with grizzlies in Alaska. He petted them and gave them names like Mr. Chocolate until, one day, the "grizzly man" was eaten alive by one of his furry pals. The lesson, Herzog explained, was that it's dangerous to make friends with an indifferent predator.

The events of Saturday, March 25, convey something of the same message. Not that the enormous, bearlike Kyle Huff—6 feet 5 inches and some 280 pounds—was as obvious a danger as a griz, but he was a predator nonetheless. He stalked his prey, young people he'd met at a zombie-themed rave. These kids invited this oddball loner to party with them. He returned the favor by drinking their beer, smoking their pot, and then blowing them away with his 12-gauge shotgun and semiautomatic pistol. He killed six and wounded two critically. Then he blew his own brains out.

We're lucky he did. With our justice system, even with a conviction it's unlikely Huff would have wound up on death row, and even if he had, it would have been many years and many appeals before his date with a lethal injection or the hangman's noose. He did us all a favor.

Still, he left us with questions about why he became a cold and calculated killer who taunted his victims as he gunned them down. These unanswered questions would likely have remained had he lived. After reading transcripts of the interrogations of Green River Killer Gary Ridgway, you get horrifying detail but never closer to what makes him tick. His acts are too heinous and he, least of all, has any clue of who he is. A predator just is.

That's a hard fact to accept because we want to believe the best in people, even at the expense of believing in the best of ourselves.

There are two typical reactions in the wake of last weekend's murder spree.

One is the impulse to turn this into a morality tale of drugs, guns, and out-of-control youth. The Nannytownies are already finding it hard to resist a story line that suggests our collective guilt is due to a failure of public policy. If only we had the proper restrictions in place, we could have saved the lives of these young people. The Seattle Times argues for a new, tough look at the teen dance ordinance; antigun groups are using the events to appeal for tougher gun laws. But raves don't kill people; people kill people. And if you think gun control could have prevented this crime, consider that Huff's arsenal included a baseball bat and a machete. This guy was going to find a way to kill, no matter what.

Others are tsk-tsking about the age of some of the victims: How could such young teens be allowed to stay out all night? Where were their parents? Fair questions, but as anyone who has parented teenagers knows—indeed, as anyone who has been a teenager should remember—there are lots of holes in the net where kids can and will slip through for the sake of a thrill. Perhaps I am forgiving because not too long ago, I helped my daughter move into the Town and Country apartment complex on Roosevelt Way Northeast, where Huff and his twin brother lived and stockpiled weapons. I remember thinking it seemed like a good, decent place for someone to start out on their own—a nice spot for what passes as affordable Seattle. Maybe I was fooled by the swimming pool. At any rate, I can identify with those parents who realize that when it comes to their children, they are not omniscient, let alone omnipotent. A dead 14-year-old girl. There but for the grace of the gods.

Raves don't kill people; people kill people. And if you think gun control could have prevented this crime, consider that Huff's arsenal included a baseball bat and a machete.

Another reaction is to indulge the liberal's impulse to try to understand the killer. The headlines have asked, What was his motivation? But there's a sense of guilt that lurks here, too, as if knowing the motive will tell us how we might have read the signals better. Perhaps the killing could have been stopped.

It's natural to want to grasp the motive behind such an appalling act. It has helped us understand other local crimes that have shaken the city to its core. The Pang warehouse fire in 1995, in which four firefighters were tragically killed, was set for the insurance money. The slaughter at Chinatown's Wah Mee gambling club in 1983, which left 14 dead, was a robbery motivated by the need of one of the killers to pay off, yes, a gambling debt. And when a right-wing nut named David Rice beat to death the four members of the Charles Goldmark family in Madrona in 1985, we learned it was because the killer mistakenly thought attorney Goldmark was a Jewish communist. Greed, fear, insanity: The killers live, but none of their motives gives us a very satisfying answer.

Less satisfying is the truth we all must live with: There is evil in the world and no amount of legislating or second-guessing will snuff it out. An Alaskan grizzly might be a deadly predator, but it acts out of instinct for its own survival. We expect more of our fellow humans. Kyle Huff may have had his reasons for doing what he did, but even if we had the answer, it wouldn't save us from the stark reality that there are predators among us who feed on the innocent.

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