What happened to Songseumsack “Song” Tanovan

Police shoot, kill armed man

From the Oregonian, May 17, 2007

Investigators are trying to sort out why a 53-year-old man shot at paramedics and then police before Washington County officers fatally wounded him Wednesday afternoon in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Authorities declined to release the name of the dead man, but neighbors on Hillsboro’s Southeast Wrenfield Street and Oregon records identified him as Songseumsack Tanovan, owner of Song’s Auto Service Inc., an Aloha repair shop.

“He was a pretty nice guy,” said Michael Zervas, 36, a neighbor who videotaped Tanovan shooting at police and police returning fire. “We never had any problems with him.”

Lt. Michael Rouches, Hillsboro Police Department spokesman, said the man was fatally shot when he came to his doorway with a rifle and a pistol and fired as officers from the Washington County Tactical Negotiations Team were taking up positions.

“Unless they were faced with a deadly threat, they would not have fired,” Rouches said.

The man died Wednesday evening at Emanuel Hospital & Health Center in Portland, where he was taken by Life Flight. Investigators from the county’s Major Crimes Team are trying to determine how many shots were fired and by which officers. The Washington County district attorney’s office will decide if the shooting was justified.

Rouches said the incident began at 2 p.m. when Hillsboro firefighters were dispatched to a 9-1-1 call from the son of a man who was complaining of arm pain. When four paramedics arrived at the home in the 6600 block of Southeast Wrenfield Street, the man was alone and disoriented.

As they spoke to the man to assess his situation, he grabbed a rifle. The firefighters ran and called police.

Zervas said he heard several gunshots and then a firefighter banged on a neighbor’s door, yelling, “He’s got a gun. He’s got a gun. Let me in.”

Zervas said he and a neighbor went to check out the commotion and saw Tanovan with a pistol and rifle.

“He fired up into the air and that’s when we took off running,” Zervas said. “He was yelling, ‘Leave me alone, leave me alone.’ ”

Rouches said the man opened fire when a Hillsboro police officer arrived and parked about a half-block away. Shots struck the driver’s side mirror of a neighbor’s car parked in the street before ricocheting into the police car. Bullets pierced the patrol car’s left-front tire, hood and windshield as the officer crouched behind the door.

Hillsboro police and Washington County sheriff’s deputies evacuated two nearby houses and requested people in a four-block area to remain in their homes.

Hillsboro School District leaders locked the doors at Imlay Elementary School near the scene. Farther away, administrators at R.A. Brown Middle School, Ladd Acres Elementary School and Century High School also went into lockdown.

About 3 p.m., the man came to his doorway and shot into the air before shooting at special weapons team members who were setting up inside and on top of an armored van, Zervas said.

Police returned a hail of bullets. “I knew they had hit him,” Zervas said.

Thovane Solivan, who lived a few houses away, said Tanovan liked hunting and was friendly.

“I’m surprised,” Solivan said. “I never thought this would happen in this area. It’s a good area.”

Police had been called to Tanovan’s home as recently as Saturday when his son reported that his father was upset and “acting strangely.” Rouches said the man was angry at his wife, wanted to go to California and left home. The son reported him missing, though he later returned without incident.

Lacey Wilkinson, who lives a block from the shooting, was at home Wednesday with her two children when gunfire erupted.

“My heart was pounding,” Wilkinson, 24, said. “My thoughts were all over the place of trying to protect the children, making sure everything was locked, trying to make sure we were in a safe area and also wondering what was happening.”

Shooting inquiry considers illness

From The Oregonian, May 19, 2007

The man killed by police may have suffered a stroke or other problem

A man who fired more than 20 shots at police and across his neighborhood may have had a medical problem that ultimately led to his death this week, investigators said Friday.

Police fatally shot Songseumsack Tanovan, 53, Wednesday afternoon as he stood at the door of his Southeast Wrenfield Street home and fired at them.

Results of an autopsy performed Friday were not available, but police said they hoped it would shed some light on why Tanovan, described by neighbors as a friendly nonviolent man, acted so out of character.

“There is some speculation as to whether or not this guy had some episode that lent to his bizarre behavior and compulsive behavior,” said Cmdr. Chris Skinner, Hillsboro Police Department spokesman.

Investigators are continuing to talk to witnesses and officers who fired at Tanovan. The names of the officers who shot him were not released.

There were a couple of dozen officers from various agencies, including the Washington County Tactical Negotiations Team, on the scene when Tanovan was shot about 3 p.m. Wednesday. They swarmed the area after Tanovan shot at firefighters responding to his son’s 9-1-1 call and a few minutes later peppered a police car with bullets.

Joe Tanovan, 24, called for help at 2:02 p.m. Wednesday because he thought his father may have had a stroke. He told the emergency dispatcher that his father couldn’t talk, had been walking strangely for days and was lying on the floor and experiencing numbness in his arm.

The son said Tanovan drank every bottle of alcohol in the house that day but “there really was no sense of urgency in his voice,” Skinner said of the son’s tenor. “He couldn’t articulate what’s different about him, but he knew something was strange.”

During the six-minute call, Tanovan locked his son out of the house. He opened the door when paramedics from the Hillsboro Fire Department arrived and shot at them with a rifle. When a police car arrived as backup, he shot into the hood, windshield and left-front tire.

During the next hour, Tanovan fired randomly into the air from his front porch and backyard, forcing neighbors to take cover. Hostage negotiators were setting up to contact Tanovan when he came out and fired at officers.

“We may never know exactly what it was that pushed him to this point,” Hillsboro police Lt. Michael Rouches said.

Motive for shooting in Hillsboro a mystery

From KATU.com, May 17, 2007

More information has been revealed about the man at the center of a fatal shootout and standoff in Hillsboro on Wednesday.

On Thursday, police identified the man who shot at emergency workers and as Songseumsack Tanovan, also known as Song Tanovan. Tanovan was killed by police during the standoff.

No one else in the area, including emergency responders and police officers, were injured during the standoff, despite a large number of shots fired by the suspect.

Thursday morning, police were still on the scene of the shooting, looking for clues and examining the home where Tanovan lived.

The incident began around 2 p.m. Wednesday when a medical crew responded to a home at 6686 S.E. Wrenfield Street for a report of a person suffering from a stroke.

When they arrived, they saw a man outside who threatened them with a gun. A neighbor says she saw Tanovan holding two weapons when he came out of his house.

Tanovan then fired multiple shots, forcing the emergency workers to leave the scene, according to Connie King, a spokeswoman for the Hillsboro Fire Department. Sounds of the gunshots were caught on video by a neighbor.

Police were called to the home and when they got there, they say Tanovan had barricaded himself inside. They determined he had both a pistol and a rifle. At one point, Tanovan fired a shot at a police cruiser, hitting the windshield.

An officer inside the car had just stepped out of the vehicle, according to police. The officer was not struck by gunfire.

Officers ended up firing a barrage of bullets at Tanovan and he was then flown by LifeFlight to a Portland-area hospital. Tanovan later died.

Records show the 53-year-old Tanovan had a theft charge and a menacing charge about nine years ago, both misdemeanors. Tanovan was described by friends and neighbors as a peaceful man who became distant and confused over the past several days.

An employee at the business run by Tanovan said he was a good boss who did not seem to have any problems.

“He was just a very nice gentleman,” said Ron Barnes, who knows Tanovan from the auto repair business he ran across the street from his home. “He has a couple of people that work with him. He does his automotive stuff.”

Barnes said Tanovan enjoyed woodworking and was an outdoorsman. What happened on Wednesday, Barnes said, was a shock.

“I have never seen him do anything that’s out of character, being the reasonable businessman that he is,” Barnes said.

“He’s a very nice guy,” said friend Boun Sanoubane. “We (were) friendly with him.”

Sanoubane said Tanovan used to live in California and was always kind.

“I’m shocked because I didn’t think he was going to be anything like that,” she said. “I am very shocked.”

Neighbors said there seemed to be a rowdy party at the home in the past few days, but police do not seem to think that would have been enough to lead to such an incident.

“To be as irrational and as aggressive and as deadly as he was in this situation, we’re saying there has to be more to it than simply alcohol on board or something like that,” said Lt. Michael Rouches.

Police do believe Tanovan may have a history of mental illness. They said he had been drinking all day and for whatever reason had told his son to leave the home.

Six Officers Involved In Hillsboro Shooting

From KGW.com, May 22, 2007

Police have released information about six officers involved in the shooting of a Hillsboro man earlier this month.

Police said an emergency crew responded to a medical call at the home of 53-year-old Songseumsack Tanovan when he shot at firefighters, and then at responding police officers.

Tanovan was later shot and killed by police.

The six officers involved in the shooting come from three different police agencies and range in experience from five to 27 years.

Mike Johnston and Chris Rasmussen, both Hillsboro police officers; Sgt. Dean Foster, with Forest Grove police; Washington County deputies Charlie Irving and John Egg; and Washington County Detective Chad Lotman, were all involved in the shooting, according to authorities.

Police shooting of Hillsboro man ruled justified

From The Oregonian, June 27, 2007

The Washington County District Attorney’s Office announced today that the fatal police shooting of a man who fired at officers was justified.

Rob Bletko, chief deputy district attorney, said that Songseumsack Tanovan ignored repeated commands to drop his weapons and surrender. Instead he shot at members of the county’s Tactical Negotiations Team as they took up positions outside his house.

Tanovan, 53, died May 16 of two gunshot wounds after six officers opened fire in the 6600 block of Southeast Wrenfield Street in Hillsboro.

“His actions in shooting at police officers on two separate occasions endangered not only the lives of the officers involved but those of his neighbors and others who happened to be in the area,” Bletko wrote in a letter to Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon and the police chiefs of Hillsboro and Forest Grove.

Officers from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Hillsboro and Forest Grove fired at Tanovan. Authorities have not released the name of the officer who fired the fatal bullets.

Tanovan’s son called 9-1-1 to report that his father might be having a stroke because he couldn’t talk, was lying on the floor and his arm was numb.The son said his father had been acting strangely for several days and had consumed all the alcohol in the house.

When paramedics arrived to help, Tanovan shot at them. When a police officer responded and parked down the street, Tanovan shot into the hood, tires and windshield of the patrol car.

For an hour, Tanovan fired randomly into the air from his front porch and backyard, forcing police to cordon off several blocks and neighbors to take cover.

“Under the circumstances, the use of deadly physical force by the officers involved was an appropriate and necessary response to the threat,” Bletko wrote.

Because Bletko determined the shooting was justified, the case will not be presented to a grand jury.

Father’s life teaches son to live fully

From The Eugene Register-Guard. May 2007

When Joe Tanovan was young, he and his father, Songseumsack, would stand in their hip-waders in the surf, near Astoria, and fish for perch.

It was not the easiest way to fish – heavy poles, heavy weights and an occasional rogue wave that would send them backpedaling to shore. But Song Tanovan would remind his son that life wasn’t always easy.

It certainly had not been for him. He and his wife, Porntip, had escaped the communist reign in Laos in 1980. After waiting for a U.S. sponsor while in a refugee camp in Thailand, the two arrived in America with the equivalent of $15 and no jobs.

While Porntip raised three children – Joe was born 1982 – Song got a job as a janitor at Portland Community College. He enrolled in a PCC auto-mechanics course. And ultimately landed a job fixing cars.

In 1993, when Joe was in middle school, Song proudly opened his own shop: Song’s Auto Service. They moved to a middle-class neighborhood in Hillsboro.

“My parents were strict,” Joe, a University of Oregon senior, says. ‘Get good grades.’ My older sister and brother followed that. But I was the kid who stayed out late, the problem child.”

He floated through classes with little passion to learn. He dreamed instead of fancy cars. Big houses. The easy life.

Our lives intersected last winter. Joe was a student in an 8:30 a.m. interview class I taught in the UO’s School of Journalism & Communication. Great potential. Great sense of humor. And great ability to oversleep and miss class.

We had a talk one day about wasted potential. Some students roll their eyes when I give them the “W.P.” talk. Instead, Joe started coming to class. On time. He raised his grade from a “D” to a “B.”

Then, last spring, came the unimaginable: For a few weeks, his father had been acting strangely. Quit working. Drank heavily. And showed up at Portland International Airport seriously dehydrated but demanding to be allowed on a flight to see his brother in California.

The family tried to get him to see a doctor. He refused.

On May 16, Joe’s older brother, Souriya, called. Song had locked himself in the house, alone. He was disoriented, complaining of pain in his arm. Souriya had called 911.

Joe headed for Portland. But just past Salem, his brother called again. “Joe, Dad’s been shot. He’s dead.”

For whatever reason – Joe believes he may have been suffering from psychotic depression, in which a person can snap into a sudden state of paranoia – Song had turned a rifle on police who had arrived.

Ignoring repeated commands to drop his weapon and surrender, he fired multiple shots. He was killed by police, the shooting later ruled justified.

Last winter, I was proud of Joe Tanovan for digging deeper in my class. But I’m far prouder for how he’s survived this rogue wave.

He volunteered to clean the house so his mother wouldn’t have to mop up her husband’s blood. He refused to lay blame. “I can’t be angry at the police. My dad was shooting at them.” He is returning to UO in two weeks to finish his final two terms.

“All I can do is live my life and try to be happy,” he says. “My dad wouldn’t want me to be depressed and slumping around. He worked his whole life to give opportunities that he never had. The only way I know how to pay him back is to live life to the fullest.”

Not that his father’s death hasn’t been devastating. “But the irony is: I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it without my father. He taught me to be independent. To survive.”

He says he’s learned how important people are. “Life is about relationships. I had so many friends, people from the community and teachers support me after my dad died. In the end, when I look back, I’m not going to be sad because I didn’t buy this sports car or a mansion. I’m going to look back and be happy I had touched the lives of people and they had touched mine.”

And what, as another school year begins, have I learned? That some of life’s best teachers are students.