The tragic end of a double life

Why did Franklin High School student Leonard Hunter travel north from his home in Rainier Beach, walk into an Everett duplex, and die from gunshot wounds on March 27?

It's the question confronting Everett homicide detectives as they stitch together the events that led to the violent death of the charismatic, 18-year-old - who was also a three-time felon convicted for burglary, forgery and strong-arm robbery.

The initial story, told last Saturday in the pages of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, cited two witnesses who heard the shots. One, a man living across the street, took cover in his home when gunfire erupted shortly before 8:20 p.m. The witness told reporters he saw a young man exit the pink duplex holding a large handgun and shouting that someone just tried to kill him.

The second, a tenant living on the duplex's first floor, heard the shots as well. She said her upstairs neighbor told her Hunter kicked down the duplex's front door and assaulted a man inside. After the scuffle, Hunter allegedly went up the stairwell and fired one or two shots through a second-floor door. However, the man he assaulted purportedly attacked Hunter, gained control of his gun, and shot him to death in the stairwell where police officers found his body.

While Hunter's death is sad and troubling, the circumstances around it, should officers prove the witnesses' testimony to be true, are even more disturbing: aggravated assault and armed robbery gone awry. Again, Hunter was already a convicted felon, and that is nothing to be celebrated.

However, Hunter's reported full-workload in school, his solid performance on Franklin High's football team during the 2006 season, and his efforts to avoid drug abuse (he allegedly was three months' clean and sober in a court-sanctioned treatment program before his murder) are all admirable achievements. Despite the better path he seemingly tried to follow, the damaging edges of his double life snapped down on him, leaving family and friends to mourn and wonder what kind of a man he would have become had he followed the higher road.

Hunter may have had a desire to enact positive change, but why were his efforts devoured by his violent, criminal behavior? Was it the lure of quick money a successful burglary, forgery or robbery promise? Did he seek the adrenaline rush from the risk and force inherent in criminal activity? Or did Hunter simply want some street cred - to be seen as a tough guy by his peers?

His true motivations will likely stay unsettlingly mysterious. Regardless, the members of the South End community need to ask each other these questions to help frame an honest discussion of the often-violent nature of the South End's youth culture.

This is the second shooting death of a young, South End man within a week's time: the first was Randy W. West, who was shot in the late afternoon outside of Columbia Plaza on March 21. Police have not yet named a suspect nor motivation in West's murder.

When Hunter was alive, he probably could have told you that a prime pillar of any drug-recovery program is an adherence to rigorous self-honesty. It's time for all South End community members to engage in their own rigorous honesty to answer the following:

What can we do to engage our youth, friends and neighbors in self-empowering, community-building activities?

The place to start is at home by giving our children loving attention and becoming models of positive behavior: ask your kids about their days and listen to their answers, turn off the television and play with them, invite them to work with you doing chores, know their friends and their friend's families, and take an active interest in their school activities and homework.

Outside your home, have your family get to know your neighbors and visit with them consistently, have your children work with you to pick up trash in your neighborhood, and volunteer with your kids at a neighborhood park pulling noxious weeds, cleaning up playgrounds and maintaining trails.

These are only a few of the ways to improve our lives and community. Doing any one of them represents a small, but crucial, first step to quell the bloodshed.

Wouldn't that be cause for celebration?

Erik Hansen may be reached at this link.[[In-content Ad]]