Joshua Gahl’s adrenaline took over.
A woman had just been brutally attacked by a stranger with some sort of mallet as she walked down the Centennial Trail on Thursday near Spokane’s Mission Park.
“I hear a woman screaming for help,” said Gahl, the operations supervisor at the nearby Maplewood Gardens assisted living facility, whose shop is just feet from where the violent attack occurred. “I was kind of unsure what I heard at first. I thought it might have been one of our residents that fell, so I went outside.”
That’s where he found the bloodied victim.
“There’s a lady standing there with her head in her hand, screaming for help, and I said, ‘Hon, what’s wrong? Is there something I can help you with?’ She pointed down the trail, and about 30 feet in front of her was this man, kind of walking away.
“She says, ‘that guy just attacked me.’ ”
Police say the attacker was 17-year-old Avondre C. Graham, who was charged Monday in Spokane County Superior Court with first-degree assault and first-degree robbery. Graham, whose family and friends packed the small courtroom, is being charged as an adult. Superior Court Judge Annette Plese set Graham’s bond at $250,000.
Avondre C. Graham, 17, makes his first appearance Monday, via a video link, before Judge Annette Plese in Spokane County Superior Court. (Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review)
Police said Friday they are also investigating whether Graham played a role in the May slaying of Sharlotte McGill in the same area.
After discovering the victim of the more recent attack, Gahl, 34, dialed 911 and yelled at a co-worker to get the woman inside to safety. Then he took off, chasing after Graham. They crossed some railroad tracks and Graham was a few feet from the Spokane River when Gahl plowed into him, tackling him at full speed into the Spokane River.
Fully clothed, Graham apparently struggled to swim and started to yell for help, but Gahl thought the teenager was trying to coax him into the river, possibly to perpetrate another attack.
“I didn’t know if he had a knife on him or something,” he said. “I was like, ‘I’m not getting in the water with you, guy.’ ”
Graham shed his clothes, and when Gahl realized Graham was going to make it to the other side of the river, he ran to the Mission Street Bridge and crossed the river there.
“As I was running down, there were some people that lived over there that heard the commotion,” he said. “They had their police scanners out and they were pointing down the road they saw him run down, because he had made it out of the river.”
Just then, police arrived, and Gahl and the police surrounded Graham, who was quickly taken into custody.
Gahl, an Army veteran, said he was determined to catch the woman’s assailant.
“I don’t think I was scared,” he said. “It was adrenaline pumping. I was just doing what needed to be done at that point.”
After apprehending Graham, major crimes detectives said they are investigating whether he played a role in the death of McGill, who was walking her dog about 8 a.m. along a path near her home on South Riverton Avenue on May 3, when someone jumped out of the bushes and stabbed her repeatedly.
Graham, who lives in the same apartment complex on South Riverton Avenue that McGill did when she was killed, matches the physical description McGill gave as she lay dying of stab wounds to the torso, police said. Detectives are also looking into a possible connection due to the proximity, the randomness and the violent nature of each of the crimes.
Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe declined to say whether they previously looked at Graham as a possible suspect in McGill’s slaying, but said in an email the case “has been a top priority for our major crimes detectives for the past four months.”
“Criminal investigations, homicides in particular, are often lengthy and complex,” DeRuwe said before Graham’s court appearance Monday. “There are many questions that need answers before an investigator can make an arrest.”
Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of McGill’s killer.
“We have spoken with many people, followed leads, conducted interviews and gathered physical evidence,” DeRuwe said, adding, “Not everyone we have spoken to has been completely honest and forthcoming with information.”
Regardless of whether Graham played a role in McGill’s death, both DeRuwe and Gahl said they believe a dangerous criminal is off the street.
“I wasn’t going to let him get away,” Gahl said. “I was doing whatever I had to do to make sure he got caught. I have three sisters and a mother. I was raised around women. I just wanted to catch the guy.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.