A convenience store employee was shot and killed shortly after 4 a.m. Tuesday during a robbery at Holt’s Quik Chek in Kelso, and police were still searching for the gunman in the early afternoon, according to the Kelso Police Department.
The employee, 30-year-old Kelso resident Kayla Chapman, was the only person in the store at the time, police said. Her family has been notified.
During a press conference Tuesday, Kelso Police Captain Darr Kirk said the incident was reported at 4:12 a.m., when a woman called 911, saying she had been shot. When law enforcement arrived several minutes later, they reported finding a woman on the floor inside of the store, unresponsive.
Chapman was pronounced dead at the scene at 400 North Pacific Ave. Cowlitz Coroner Tim Davidson said an autopsy will likely take place Wednesday.
Police had not yet identified a suspect by Tuesday morning, and Kirk said they are still exploring whether Chapman was known to the suspect.
The suspect is believed by police to be a black or dark-skinned male with an average build wearing a hat and bandanna to cover his head and face. He drove a newer white four-door sedan, police said, and there are believed to have been other occupants in the vehicle during the robbery and shooting. Photos of the car and the suspect are attached to this story.
Kirk said Longview police, the Washington State Patrol, and the Cowlitz Sheriff’s office also responded to the shooting. About 12 marked vehicles responded to the shooting, Kelso Police Chief Andrew Hamilton said.
“We’ll find this individual,” Hamilton said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll find this individual. Just based on the clothing and the hat … we will be able to locate this individual. I’m certain of it.”
A woman who only identified herself as a friend of the Chapman told TDN reporters at the scene Tuesday morning that her friend “was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” She added that the victim “greeted the homeless people like they were anybody else. … It’s devastating. I still can’t wrap my head around it.”
She said the robbery came as a surprise to a small community in which such crimes are infrequent.
“She was outspoken,” he said. “She was one of the nicest people I had ever met.”
Jose Padron, who lives in the neighborhood around the store, said her knew the shooting victim only by her first name. “She was a sweetheart. It’s just tragic. … Every time you’d speak to her, she was a very kind person, always smiling. I can’t stop thinking about it this morning. It (was) all over money. … It’s just ridiculous.”
Chapman was married, according to her Facebook profile. She was on the honor roll during her final year at Kalama High School, according to Daily News records, and played Polonius in a Kalama Elementary School rendition of “Hamlet.”
Caution tape and two squad cars surrounded the convenience store and its parking lot late into Tuesday morning. A candle had been placed on the ground near the caution tape in memory of the victim.
Kirk said investigators are looking at a possible connection to a robbery reported in December at the Monarca Restaurant in West Longview. Two robbers allegedly pointed a gun at a man and woman who were closing the restaurant for the night and were leaving with an envelope of cash. The suspects were described as black males and they fled in a white passenger sedan.
Holt’s is located at the corner of Cowlitz Way and North Pacific Avenue. It is bordered to the north by a transmission shop and by a parking lot and funeral home to the east. The only adjoining residence is a home with a large garden to the northeast.
Kelso police are asking for help from the public in identifying the vehicle or suspect. Captain Darr Kirk can be reached at 360-423-1270.
This story will be updated.