Vigil honors teen's life that ended in gunfire

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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At first glance, it looked like a group of kids hanging outside the local pop shop. But they held candles instead of pop cans, wiped away tears and looked around the street as though Doug Combs might appear at any moment.

The 16-year-old Hudson's Bay High School sophomore was fatally shot around 11:30 p.m. Jan. 25, as he reportedly reached for a gun while fleeing from police in Vancouver's Arnada neighborhood.

"We all know death is hard, regardless of how it happens," said Ryan Fredrich, assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel. He spoke to grieving students Friday evening at a candlelight vigil outside Pop Culture on 20th Street.

Many of the students admitted they knew little about Combs' home life or his criminal history. To them, he was, and always will be, a smiley 16-year-old.

"He didn't follow all the rules, but he was a good guy," said Taryn Downing, 14.

Court documents show Combs' criminal record started in May when he attempted to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at the school store.

When he was arrested on a warrant for violating terms of his probation in mid-January, he spent a week in juvenile detention. By Jan. 23, he was out of detention and re-enrolled at Hudson's Bay, according to the Vancouver School District.

Classmate Wesley Rolen, 17, noticed Combs was wearing baggier clothes and looked tired.

"Doug, let me tell you: He had his problems … but he always kept his head high," Rolen said.

As he twists the ring on his finger that Combs gave him, Rolen recalls that day. Combs told him he would have a fun weekend, but Rolen never saw him again.

Combs was accused of going on a crime spree Friday, starting with the home invasion and shooting of Bill Toohey at 1 a.m. He also was suspected in a 5:30 a.m. armed robbery at a 7-Eleven convenience store at Northeast 78th Street and St. Johns Road, and a 6:30 p.m. armed robbery of a Shell station convenience store at Andresen Road and Fourth Plain Boulevard.

"He did it because he was scared," said Aryanah O'Leary, 12, a student at Gaiser Middle School,

Combs was like a big brother to her. He had good parts and bad parts -- and made a big mistake.

Students say he went to school that morning and chatted with them in the hall, just like normal, making their understanding of his death all the more muddled.

That evening, Vancouver police and Clark County sheriff's deputies searched for Combs after getting a tip that he was planning to attend a concert and dance at Pop Culture, an alcohol-free soda shop and music venue on Main Street in Vancouver's Uptown Village. Owner Joey LeBard stamped Combs' hand with an Eeyore stamp as the teen walked in. He sat down at a table with his friend, Nehemiah Rudner-Singleton, 16.

Things seemed calm, so LeBard left for his home a few blocks down the street, where police told him he couldn't return to Pop Culture. "I was pretty freaked out," he said. "We've never had a problem here. We didn't have a problem here."

Siera Sheaffer, 18, an employee at Pop Culture, said the two teens were the last to leave. Combs hula-hooped as Sheaffer and another employee counted cash at the counter.

Officers staked out the business until Combs and Rudner-Singleton left and began walking east on East 20th Street.

Both suspects were armed, according to a Vancouver police news release Monday.

Police shot Combs in a parking lot near the intersection of 20th and C streets as he allegedly reached for a gun. The teen died from gunshot wounds to the back.

"We honestly thought it was a big joke in the beginning," said Diana Bunch, 15, a student at Hudson's Bay.

Rudner-Singleton appeared Monday in Clark County Juvenile Court on accusations of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Photos of Combs nestled in a pile of lilies and roses on a table. The local florist that donated the flowers reported an unexpected backlash of angry email as a result.

"The whys are endless. The questions will keep coming," Fredrich said.

Some parents criticized Pop Culture for not having better security; they called for the business to start doing pat-downs or install a metal detector. An unarmed security guard regularly monitors concerts and dances at the venue, but he went home early because few people were there and none was causing trouble.

LeBard has no plans to take additional security measures. He wonders how the night might have turned out differently if he had gone back to the shop, confronted the teen and turned him over to police.

"I know you're hurting, and I can see that in your faces," Fredrich said. "Some of you are angry, and that's OK."

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.