The young man shot to death following a police chase Tuesday night was a combat veteran wounded in Afghanistan three years ago and denied disability benefits.
Jedadiah Zillmer, a 2008 graduate of Lewis and Clark High School, died at the scene of the confrontation near Spokane Valley Mall when Spokane County sheriff’s deputies opened fire. Initial reports indicate he was armed and despondent.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Wednesday that the young man had threatened to shoot civilians. Zillmer claimed to be a U.S. Army sniper on his Facebook page.
He was stopped by pursuing law enforcement near the intersection of Sullivan Road and Indiana Avenue. “If he would have gotten to the mall, something tragic may have happened,” Knezovich said.
The man was wearing body armor and pointed a gun at himself while threatening to shoot civilians, Knezovich said.
Although authorities have yet to identify Zillmer, the young man’s friends and family are openly discussing the tragedy.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that no additional information about the fatal encounter would be released today.
Friends and family, however, were urging people to pray for the Zillmer family.
Zillmer left the Army in September 2012.
A relative said he was seeing a counselor in Spokane. Family members suspected he might be suffering post-traumatic stress, but no diagnosis had been made, the relative said.
Zillmer and his wife, Katie Zillmer, were planning a July wedding. The couple married secretly and revealed the news to their families several months later, a relative said.
The cavalry unit Zillmer was assigned to was holed up in a house in Helgal Valley, a remote area of the restive Kunar province near the Pakistan border, on Feb. 17, 2011, Zillmer wrote in his request for disability benefits. He was shot in the foot by enemy fire that killed another member of his unit.
The wound placed him on crutches and in a wheelchair for more than four months, according to the request. He lost part of a toe and was awarded the Purple Heart for his service.
Zillmer was among a handful of soldiers who sued after being denied disability benefits from the Army. A federal judge upheld the Army’s decision in September.
The benefit denial was part of a supplemental insurance policy available to service members that covers any type of disability that prevents soldiers from performing basic daily activities, even if just temporarily.
According to his lawsuit, the Army denied his temporary disability claim in part because the nurse who helped treat him failed to check boxes on paperwork indicating whether he was personally familiar with the limitations that the injury had created.
Zillmer argued, among other things, that when evacuated half way around the world following a combat injury, the treating physician is unavailable to provide the kind of paperwork the Army was requiring.
A neighbor, Chad Martini, said Zillmer moved in to an address north of Gonzaga University about a year ago. Last week, Martini said he ran out of gas and Zillmer brought him a few gallons to make it home.
He tried to take Zillmer $30 to pay him back for the fuel last night, but police were outside the home and he had to leave the cash with a friend, Martini said.
“He was a great guy,” Martini said.
Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Mark Gregory said the young man was first approached Tuesday around 7 p.m by law enforcement. Zillmer had contacted 911 himself and talked with emergency operators but then fled east in his vehicle along Interstate 90 to Idaho before turning around and returning to Washington.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233. The Spokane Investigative Regional Response team is handling the investigation per agency protocol, and the Spokane Police Department will lead those efforts.
The Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting an autopsy, according to the Police Department.