Tacoma police shoot and kill attacker at center for ICE detainees

Tacoma police shot dead a man who was reportedly throwing incendiary devices at the immigrant detention center on the Tacoma tideflats early Saturday morning.

Tacoma police said they responded to a report of a man with a rifle at the Northwest Detention Center at 1600 East J Street at 4 a.m.

The man was allegedly throwing the incendiary devices at outbuildings and cars in the center’s parking lot. One car caught fire and burned.

He also attempted to explode a propane tank installed at the site, according to police.

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In a statement, police said shots were fired. After initially taking cover, police found the man. He was dead.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the man as Willem Van Spronsen, 69, of Vashon Island.

Police said he was wearing a satchel and gear that contained flares.

The four officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave.

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

A spokeswoman for ICE confirmed the shooting and referred media to Tacoma Police.

“No ICE employees were harmed nor involved in this tragic event,” said spokeswoman Tanya Roman. ICE closed the facility to visitors for the day.

The detention center is the scene of almost daily activity ranging from protests to aid stations set up by humanitarian groups. Ten people were arrested in June 2018 after about 40 protesters blocked the street leading to the facility.

Protesters object to the U.S. government’s policies toward undocumented migrants.

On Saturday morning, three members of the Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship were setting up an aid station with snacks and drinks as they have done once a month for the past nine years. But instead of staging outside the detention center’s entrance, the group were at a police roadblock at St. Paul Avenue and East Minneapolis Street.

The refreshments are for the families who visit loved ones inside the detention center.

“We didn’t know,” volunteer Robert Blauvelt said of the shooting. “We just showed up and an officer said it’s an active crime scene.”

A picnic, planned by resistance group La Resistencia, was planned for 12:30-4 p.m. on Saturday outside the detention center. On their Facebook page, the group said it had been moved to Sunday following the shooting.

ICE sweeps and arrests of undocumented immigrant families in major cities across the nation are scheduled for Sunday.

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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.