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Dec. 5, 2021

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Smith Tower shooting suspect dies in custody

Robert Breck was receiving treatment for illness at a local hospital

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

The man accused of fatally shooting one man and wounding two women at Vancouver’s Smith Tower Apartments in October died Tuesday, according to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Robert “Bob” Breck, 80, had been in custody at the Clark County Jail since Oct. 3 and was being held without bail. He was hospitalized on Feb. 5 after falling ill, and he died of natural causes, the sheriff’s office announced Wednesday. Breck’s family was aware of his condition.

He was facing one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder in Clark County Superior Court. His trial was scheduled for April 11.

Breck was arrested Oct. 3 after a nearly 2½-hour standoff with law enforcement at the senior living apartments after firing shots in the building’s lobby that killed fellow resident Dean Leon Tunstall, 75, and wounded fellow resident Enelia Montoya, 73, and her caregiver, Shawna L. Garris, 44, according to police.

The Clark County medical examiner determined that Tunstall died of gunshot wounds to the chest from a revolver.

Breck told investigators that he had an ongoing feud with Tunstall, court records say.

“We had hoped that the surviving victims and Mr. Tunstall’s family would be able to get some closure and the answers that they wanted from Mr. Breck before he passed; but since he is now deceased, we will of course be dismissing the charges,” Deputy Prosecutor Kristine Foerster wrote in an email Wednesday.

Last month, a judge ordered that Breck undergo a mental health assessment after his court-appointed attorney raised concerns about his competency to stand trial. A review hearing was set for the end of the month.

Foerster said the prosecutor’s office received an evaluation from a psychologist at Western State Hospital the morning before Breck died. It was the psychologist’s opinion he was competent to stand trial.

‘Active shooter’

At 2:09 p.m. Oct. 3, numerous law enforcement agencies were summoned for an “active shooter” call at the senior apartment building at 515 Washington St., in downtown Vancouver. They found three victims in the lobby suffering from gunshot wounds. Breck was holed up in his apartment on the building’s 13th floor on the south side.

A 77-year-old resident told The Columbian he saw Breck enter the building through a side door. The witness entered through the same door a short time later and saw Breck standing with a handgun in the lobby. He then heard “boom-boom.” The witness fled and went to a business next door to call 911.

Witnesses and the surviving victims identified Breck as the shooter.

A crisis negotiation team officer started communicating with Breck by phone around 2:30 p.m.

“Bob’s demeanor throughout the two hours was calm and deliberate for the most part. Occasionally, he got worked up talking about the man he shot and their history of problems with each other. Bob did not like being disrespected and wanted to be treated well,” the officer wrote in a search warrant affidavit.

At one point, Breck agreed to surrender but immediately changed his mind and said, “Never mind, I don’t want to spend the rest of my days in jail. I think I’ll just shoot myself,” according to the officer’s account in the search warrant affidavit.

When asked why he believed he was going to jail, Breck said, “because I shot those people. The guy had it coming. Something had to be done about him, and I did it. I shot the other two women, but only because they got in my way and were going to help the guy — but he had it coming,” the search warrant affidavit reads.

Breck claimed Tunstall continuously harassed and bullied him. He said he reported this information to his daughter and the building manager, but nothing was done.

His daughter told police she wasn’t close with Breck but that she helped him move into his apartment and talked to him the day before the shooting. He seemed fine at that time. She said he had complained about another resident who had threatened him in the past, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Breck surrendered after talking with the crisis negotiation team officer for two hours.

Once in custody, Breck agreed to a recorded interview but stated he wanted a lawyer. However, without prompting, he continued to say, “Um, the reason why I shot this guy tonight was he’s been on my case, um, for the last three or four years. He’s been harassing me, harassing me, threatening my life, tried to kill me a few times, poison my stuff in my refrigerator and, and I just ya know I just could not take any more of it,” the search warrant affidavit reads.

Rejected advance

Police interviews with Montoya and Garris also shed light on what transpired before the shooting.

Garris had been Breck’s caregiver for about a year until a few weeks before the shooting, when he offered to pay her to be his mistress, she said. She declined, and he fired her about a week later, court records say.

She continued to care for Montoya, however, who was Breck’s neighbor.

Both women said Breck began spreading rumors about Garris and Tunstall to other men in the building, according to an affidavit of probable cause. Prior to the shooting, Garris said she learned Breck had told Tunstall that she was going into his room without his knowledge. Tunstall told Breck he didn’t know Garris, the court document states.

Montoya confronted Breck the day before the shooting, she said, and asked him to stop spreading rumors. She also approached Tunstall and warned him to be careful, because she heard Breck was carrying a gun, the affidavit says.

Garris had twice filed complaints while working for Breck. On July 30, 2018, she reported finding a small gun in his pants pocket while doing laundry. She also filed a complaint Sept. 9 and said he had been talking inappropriately about his past sex life, according to the search warrant affidavit.

On the day of the shooting, Garris and Tunstall were talking in the lobby when Breck exited the elevator and approached them. Breck confronted Tunstall about knowing Garris and then shot him. Montoya was sitting in the lobby. When she got up from her chair, Breck shot her twice. Breck shot Garris in the back as she fled, court records say.

Video surveillance in the lobby captured the entire incident, according to the probable cause affidavit, and corroborated what the victims told detectives.