Weeks after an intruder was shot inside an east Minnehaha home, more details of the events leading to the fatal confrontation are coming to light.
Here’s what police say happened: Around 2:15 a.m. on Aug. 25, the intruder, later identified as Chris Billings, 42, of Kansas City, Mo., broke through a cedar fence, got into the house at 3719 N.E. 54th Ave. through a back door that was unlocked and then slammed his way through a locked bedroom door, where he was fatally shot by homeowner Robert Blakemore, 66. Billings lay dead on the floor when police arrived minutes later.
“I feel very sorry for him and his family,” Blakemore said earlier this week.
Billings’ family also shared perspective this week on what happened, although they are unsure what led him to wander into the home that night.
Disturbances outside their home are nothing new to the Blakemores. Their house is separated from state Highway 500 by two vacant lots owned by the state. They’ll often get people knocking on their door asking to use the phone or for some gas because their car broke down, Robert Blakemore said. At night, they’ll occasionally get people fighting in their driveway, he said.
The Blakemores help a lot of people, he said.
As for the fighters: “As long as they don’t bother me, I don’t bother them,” he said.
So when he and his wife, Janice, were awakened on Aug. 25, they thought it was just more of the same.
Blakemore said Janice heard a noise and initially thought there was some sort of fight in their driveway. She went to investigate and realized that someone was in their home, Robert said. Janice came back in the bedroom and locked the wood-panel door behind her, he said.
Robert then grabbed his .22-caliber handgun, which he normally carries while walking his dog near Vancouver Lake, and called 911 to report the intruder.
“He’s in my house trying to break into my bedroom,” Blakemore told the 911 dispatcher. “He’s trying to kick the door in.”
At the direction of the 911 dispatcher, Blakemore shouted at the man through the door that police were on the way.
When the intruder broke through the door and advanced toward the Blakemores, Robert shot him with the handgun. He shot the man until he stopped advancing, he said.
“He’s on my bedroom floor, bleeding all over,” Blakemore said on the 911 recording after he shot the intruder.
Janice said this week she wasn’t ready to talk about the incident, but said earlier reports that she was the source of screaming heard in the 911 tape are inaccurate. The screams apparently came from Billings. (The gunshots are not audible).
Robert said he didn’t want to shoot Billings, and wouldn’t have shot him had he accosted him outside the home. In fact, he had hoped the man would leave after seeing the gun.
That didn’t happen.
The sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit continues to investigate the case. In the hours after the incident, Sgt. Kevin Allais said the it appeared to be a matter of self-defense.
Allais, who supervises the unit, said there is nothing new to report at this point. Detectives believe Billings was intoxicated at the time he broke into the bedroom and are awaiting toxicology reports to come back from a lab. They will then send their report on the case to the prosecutor’s office, he said.
In an interview with The Columbian, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Fairgrieve said state law allows a homeowner to use deadly force when he believes his life or the lives of others present are in imminent danger, or when the person killed intended to commit a felony. The shooter doesn’t have to attempt to flee before using force, he said.
Fairgrieve, who spoke about self-defense cases in general, said breaking into a home is “not the end of the equation.” The burglary adds context to what a person who uses deadly force may be feeling, but anyone who pulls the trigger still needs to have a reasonable belief of imminent danger.
The state bears a heavy burden to convict someone who says he killed in self-defense, Fairgrieve said, adding that prosecutors would need to be confident that they could prove the shooter did not act in self-defense before deciding to file criminal charges.
Fairgrieve recalled a similar case in Clark County about 15 years ago, when a homeowner shot a burglar inside his home. The burglar had advanced toward the homeowner’s wife. The man was not charged.
Family has questions
Billing’s sister, Melody Witte of Odessa, Texas, said she isn’t sure why her brother was shot multiple times. She suggested he could have been shot in the knee, instead of in the neck and torso.
“I don’t think anyone should have to die like that,” Witte said. “He didn’t have a weapon, he was confused and he needed somebody to help him.”
She isn’t exactly sure what her brother was doing wandering the streets before the incident. She thinks he had some sort of medical problem, was looking for help and accidentally went into the wrong house.
She does know her brother had been in Vancouver for about three weeks. He came to town to meet a woman he had been talking with online since June.
“He was looking for love and looking for a relationship,” she said.
He and the woman had a mutual breakup a week before the incident. Billings went to stay with a friend from high school, who Witte says lives up the street from the Blakemores.
He left behind seven children between the ages of 8 and 21, along with his mother, four sisters and a brother. The family recently held a wake for Billings, but are still waiting to take custody of his body.
The Blakemores are sad, too.
“It’s pretty hard for us to hear about a family without a father,” Robert Blakemore said. He hates to see a family be torn apart and children left without a father.
He said he and his wife are preparing for the possibility of a civil lawsuit.
“If you can’t handle the outfall of using a firearm, you shouldn’t have one,” Robert said. “You have to understand if you shoot (some)one, you have to deal with what happens after that.”
Witte said the family will miss Billings.
“He was a very good-looking, caring, funny guy,” she said. “He was somebody everybody liked and he was very relatable.
“We love him and we miss him. He will never be replaced.”
Witte said she has started a bank account to help pay for Billing’s children to attend college. People interested in making a donation can make a deposit at the Billings Kids account at Chase Bank.
Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: col_cops.