BURLINGTON, Wash. — A 20-year-old man accused of fatally shooting five people at a Washington state mall last week was charged with five counts of first-degree murder Monday morning.
The suspect, Arcan Cetin, appeared in Skagit County District Court, about 60 miles north of Seattle. Cetin answered calmly as he told a judge that he understood the charges against him, which each carries a minimum of 20 years in prison. His bail was set at $2 million.
The packed courthouse included tearful family members of some of the victims. Cetin’s mother, also present, was visibly distraught.
Authorities said they did not yet know why Cetin shot five people dead with a rifle at a Macy’s makeup counter in the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Wash.
Cetin confessed to the shooting to detectives, according to court documents released Monday by the Skagit County Superior Court.
According to documents, detectives said surveillance video showed it only took Cetin about one minute to shoot all five victims — a teenage girl near some clothing racks, then four adults in the makeup department.
After the shooting, Cetin left his Ruger rifle with a 25-round magazine on top of a cosmetics counter, then fled the mall in a vehicle, the documents said.
Cetin was described by high school friends and neighbors as a troubled person who made vulgar comments toward women.
A legal permanent resident of the U.S. who immigrated to this county as a young child from Adana, Turkey, Cetin graduated last year from high school in Oak Harbor, a rural community in western Washington state about 30 miles from the mall where he is accused of opening fire Friday night. Sheriff’s deputies apprehended him Saturday evening walking down a sidewalk in Oak Harbor, carrying a satchel with a computer inside.
Since the shooting, police appeared to have found few clues to explain the violence, which killed a man and four women, including a teenager who had beat cancer and an elderly woman and her daughter who were shopping.
The impact of a crime of this magnitude is “horrible” for the community, Skagit County Prosecutor Richard Weyrich said Monday. “It’s going to take a long time but we will recover.”
Cetin appeared on a mall surveillance camera in a black short-sleeved shirt, shorts and shoes entering the Chuck E. Cheese’s entrance of the Cascade Mall empty-handed on Friday evening.
After walking through the mall, Cetin then exited through a west entrance of Macy’s and walked to his car to move it closer to the Macy’s, police said video footage showed. He then removed a rifle from the trunk of the car — a blue, four-door sedan — and went back inside the department store, police said.
Cetin was only inside Macy’s for “approximately one minute,” court documents said. By the time he left, he had struck five people, killing four immediately, police said.
A motive for the attack, or whether Cetin acted with any accomplices, was also unclear. “No indications yet [of either terrorism or that he did not act alone] but the case is still open, it’s still active so anything is possible. Anything could change,” Francis said.
“It’s hard for me to figure out a motive,” echoed Mayor Steve Sexton of Burlington.
In posts on his Facebook page, Cetin described himself as working as a bagger at Whidbey Island Commissary. In high school, he was in a junior Reserve Officers Training Corps program. Social media accounts apparently belonging to Cetin showed an affinity for the military and for video games, although authorities said Sunday they had only confirmed his Facebook account.
A Navy base spokesman confirmed to The Washington Post that Cetin worked at the commissary there when he was in high school, between 2012 and 2013.
The spokesman said Cetin was a dependent of a Navy retiree but did not specify who that was. Because of that, he said, Cetin also had a dependent’s identification card that allowed him access to various facilities at the Naval base, including the gym, which Cetin used.
Friends and neighbors described a young man who has gotten in trouble with the law several times, with three assault charges since 2015.
Several of Cetin’s former classmates described him as a socially awkward teenager who later was given to inappropriately touching female students.
“He had some kind of issues, to say the least,” Miranda Schnecker, who knew Cetin from middle school and high school, said in an interview. “He was just very awkward, didn’t know how to connect with people — and a lot of people didn’t know how to handle that, so he wasn’t very popular.”
It was in high school, she said, when Cetin began physically harassing girls in school.
“He would touch them inappropriately when they didn’t want it,” said Schnecker, 20.
Another classmate, Rosie Aguilera, said Cetin would try to touch her and other young women at the school “as some kind of joke to him.”
She remembered Cetin as being awkward but also piping up frequently with needling comments in the Algebra 2 class they shared at Oak Harbor.
“He liked to talk a lot,” Aguilera, 19, said in an interview over Facebook. “Most times the things he said threw people off.”
Mehmet Ecder, an 18-year old high school student who grew up with Cetin in Amana, Turkey, said Cetin came from a troubled family and was struggling to connect with American girls once he moved to Washington state. He liked living in the U.S., but “He says, ‘American girls hate me,’” Ecder recalled of conversations over the last year with Cetin.
Cetin had mentioned a young woman who had rejected him, Ecder said.
“He says he doesn’t know how to talk to girls,” said Ecder. He believes Cetin may have committed the crime “out of jealousy.”
Cetin also described himself to Ecder as a “nihilist,” and said he was not religious.
Cetin has been in and out of court over the last two years, most recently for a drunk driving charge. In 2014 and 2015, he was charged three times with assaulting his stepfather, court records show. As of May, court records also suggest that Cetin may have been working as a dishwasher and attending college. A notation in those records on August 25 indicate that he was receiving some type of weekly counseling. The court records refer to alcohol, substance abuse and mental health evaluations. They include notes stating that Cetin “was in treatment” or receiving “counseling” as far back as a year and a half ago.
Police said Sunday they would not comment on Cetin’s criminal history. Neither his mother nor his stepfather could be reached for comment.
The Seattle Times identified Cetin’s stepfather as David Marshall of Oak Harbor. After the arraignment Monday, Marshall told reporters his family was devastated and that Cetin had been suffering from a mental-health illness.
“We’re torn up. We’re hurt,” he said, according to the paper. “And that’s all I can say.”
Johnson said the family was upset about the noise coming from a July 4 party that he and his roommates hosted in their yard a few years ago, and that Cetin’s stepfather set two tires on fire in his own yard late that night. The smoke sent Johnson’s guests inside, Johnson said, but no one ever called the police. Later, Johnson and his friends re-emerged and began setting off fireworks, he said. Cetin came by and asked them to quiet down.
But Johnson’s interactions with Cetin were limited. He appeared “like the type to keep to himself.” Sometimes, he would see Cetin sitting in a lawn chair by himself behind a shed in his backyard, facing Johnson’s house. Other times, he saw Cetin and a larger young man who appeared to be his older brother wrestling in the yard. Most often, he saw the stepfather yelling at the two boys as the three did yard work.
Although authorities have not identified the victims, details emerged over the weekend as grieving families stepped forward and expressed their grief on Facebook, changing their Facebook profile pictures to the hashtag “#SkagitStrong” over the Macy’s brand star symbol.
“Shayla Martin, we miss [your] kind heart and beautiful smile already,” one woman, Susan Berg Gilbert, wrote of the Macy’s make-up artist who was killed. With it, she posted photos of Martin smiling in a sundress. Martin appeared to have been engaged to one of Gilbert’s relatives.
“Our hearts are broken by the senseless act of violence that took the lives of Barry’s brother Mike’s wife, Belinda, and her mother, Bea, in the shooting at the Burlington Mall,” Krista Galde, Belinda Galde’s sister-in-law, posted on Facebook on Sunday. “They were both such gracious, kind, beautiful ladies that loved their families above all else.”
Another victim was identified by relatives as 16-year-old Sarai Lara, a high school student who had survived cancer as a young girl. Her mother, Evangelina Lara, told the Seattle Times that the teenager had been pronounced dead by police at 2 a.m. Saturday.
“Chuck and his wife Pam were two of the best neighbors and friends Michael Bride and I have ever had. We felt safe and vice versa with this lovely couple two doors away,” Kristin Uhrig wrote on her Facebook wall. The couples shared “many wonderful chats,” Uhrig said, adding that Eagan had “infectious laughter.”
Burlington sits between Seattle and Vancouver, near the border. Its population is about 8,500 — 62 percent white, 29 percent Hispanic — and the median household income is significantly lower than the state average. The nearest city is Mount Vernon.