SALKUM, Wash. — The suspected gunman in a Saturday morning triple homicide in rural Salkum may have been trying to collect on a drug debt, Lewis County authorities said.
Officers were searching for 31-year-old John Allen Booth Jr. of Onalaska, who was considered armed and extremely dangerous, said Sheriff’s Commander Steve Aust. He said officers believe the victims and the shooter knew each other.
After Booth used his cell phone to call a friend around noon, authorities “pinged” his phone and discovered he was in the Spokane area at the time, Aust said.
Spokane Police spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe said Booth apparently passed through Spokane and stopped for gas, but officers searched the area and have no reason to believe he remained in the area.
Three people were shot to death around 2 a.m. Saturday and a fourth person was airlifted to a hospital in critical condition.
Neighbors told KOMO-TV that a man in his 40s lived at the home with his girlfriend and teenage son. A woman in her 30s lived in a trailer beside the home with her boyfriend, neighbors said. Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield would not confirm the names, ages or genders of the victims.
Booth is under Department of Corrections supervision and has a long list of criminal convictions that include assault with a deadly weapon, witness tampering, burglary and possession of stolen firearms, The Seattle Times reported.
He works in Tacoma and also has some connections in Seattle, Aust said, adding that deputies were following up on several leads in Lewis County.
Booth was released from his third prison sentence in December after serving more than five years of an eight-year sentence for a burglary, assault and witness tampering in Lewis County, DOC spokesman Chad Lewis told The Seattle Times.
He previously served four years in prison beginning in 1999 for burglary and assault charges, and also was jailed in 1999 for a gun-theft conviction.
The staff in the DOC’s Tacoma office, which was supervising Booth, was assisting in the search for him, Lewis said.
Cynthia Crisp, a neighbor down the street from where Saturday’s shooting happened, told The Seattle Times she did not hear the shots.
She said the renters built a large six-foot fence around the house after they moved in about a year ago.
“You just didn’t feel like they were comfortable to have anyone come to the house for coffee by any means,” she said. “It wasn’t an inviting house.”
She said their neighborhood is a small one at the end of a cul-de-sac with 13 houses on five-acre parcels.
“We’re all a little on edge until the guy’s caught,” she said. “We’ve all been shocked of course but knowing it’s not random I probably feel a little better.”