Eight years ago, Bassam Al Hayek left a little town near Bethlehem to start a new life away from the political and religious crossfire. He and his wife settled in Spokane, far away from the Middle East violence he saw as an Arab Christian in the Palestinian territories.
“We knew we would be killed sooner or later,” Al Hayek said of living in the midst of fighting between fundamentalist Muslims and Israeli troops, according to a 2008 Spokesman-Review article. “It was just a matter of by whom and when.”
This week, Al Hayek sat in the living room of his northwest Spokane home, examining pictures of his youngest son’s body.
His son, George B. Al Hayek, 26, was the private security officer who was shot to death last week during an altercation with a group of people in an alley outside an east Spokane apartment complex.
Police found the gunman, Jason M. Hartell, performing CPR on Al Hayek when they arrived after the shooting, which occurred before 11 p.m. Aug. 24 between the Pepsi bottling plant at 4014 E. Sprague Ave. and the Pacific Plaza Apartments, 4023 E. Pacific Ave. Hartell says he fired in self-defense.
The fatal confrontation occurred as Al Hayek patrolled a nearby building campus; Hartell lives at the apartment complex. He wasn’t home when a reporter stopped by seeking comment Tuesday.
Spokane police questioned Hartell, 35, after the shooting but did not arrest him. Witnesses told police Al Hayek confronted the group, then armed himself with what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun but was actually a BB gun.
Al Hayek’s family questions the investigation and said they’d never seen him with the weapon. They say his wallet and GPS were missing and believe the BB gun was planted.
“Believe me, he was killed in cold blood,” Bassam Al Hayek said.
But Spokane police aren’t so sure.
“We have not drawn any conclusion at all,” said Lt. Dave McGovern. “This isn’t a whodunit; it’s a ‘why did it happen?’ ”
McGovern said detectives are investigating Al Hayek’s death as a homicide. They’re trying to determine if the wallet and GPS were with Al Hayek that night – family said he had cash and his ID card in his jacket pocket – and hope to track the origins of the BB gun. A representative with Al Hayek’s employer, Securitas Security Services USA, said officers are not issued weapons.
Detectives will compare the timing of 911 calls from unassociated witnesses who reported the shooting with the timing of the call from someone in the shooter’s group. They’ll scour phone records and have both guns tested for fingerprints. Then they’ll present the case to the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, McGovern said. He declined to say if polygraph tests have been administered.
“There’s just all kinds of little stuff that we need to do to come to a complete investigation,” McGovern said. “When we get this all done, that’s going to be the biggest question that we’re going to have to ask the prosecutors – does he believe this was self-defense?”
George Al Hayek, a married father of a young girl, earned a law degree from a Jerusalem university and moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 2006 from his family’s home in Beit Sahour. He joined his family in Spokane in May and planned to save money to move his wife, Summer, and daughter, Natalia, here.
He was to visit them in Maryland next week, said his brother Issa Al Hayek.
Now the family fears his killer won’t be brought to justice. They question why police didn’t perform sobriety tests on Hartell or the other witnesses and wonder why detectives trust the word of the killer and his friends.
“We want my brother to have justice and dignity,” Issa Al Hayek said.
George Al Hayek, the youngest of seven children, was described by family and friends as quiet, polite and meticulous.
He eagerly accepted extra patrol shifts at work but was assigned primarily to the Premera Blue Cross campus, an area his family said he knew was dangerous.
His brother Jimmy Al Hayek also works for Securitas and said George Al Hayek had problems with people in the area near Premera before who yelled racial epithets at him and called him “a terrorist.”
“I told him to be aware because it is a really bad area,” Jimmy Al Hayek said. “They’re running drugs or they’re running hookers.”
George Al Hayek talked about getting a bulletproof vest in the days before he died, his family said.
“He took his job very seriously and everybody liked him,” Jimmy Al Hayek said. “It was his job to secure the area. That’s probably why they wanted to get rid of him.”
Photos of Al Hayek’s body provided by the family show three bullet wounds – one in each side and one police said entered his chest and exited his back.
His mother, Hiam Al Hayek, spoke to him just minutes before his death. He said he was hungry and would be home soon. She left food for him in the microwave and went to bed. She learned of his death from Jimmy Al Hayek the next morning after a company employee called him.
A funeral is planned for Saturday.
Meanwhile, police said Hartell, who couldn’t be reached for comment, is cooperating with the investigation and has been from the beginning.
“He didn’t try to secrete the gun. … He was over the fence giving George CPR when the officers first arrived,” McGovern said. “We didn’t have enough probable cause to believe this was intentional.”
One witness told KXLY-TV that Hartell shot Al Hayek after Al Hayek pulled a gun from his Honda Civic and Hartell feared was going to shoot them.
“He was just trying to protect us; he didn’t want anyone to die,” said the woman, who identified herself as Patty Christiansen.
Detectives have found at least one witness not affiliated with Hartell or his associates, some of whom McGovern said just met that night.
“These people were not all friends,” he said.