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Richland Fred Meyer shooter: A tale of fraying mental health and early warnings

At a Benton County Superior Court preliminary hearing, Aaron Kelly waived his right to a speedy trial, asking the court to delay his arraignment for 15 days.
Dori Luzzo Gilmour
/
Northwest Public Broadcasting
At a Benton County Superior Court preliminary hearing, Aaron Kelly waived his right to a speedy trial, asking the court to delay his arraignment for 15 days.

Local police say the man who shot two people Monday at a crowded Richland Fred Meyer grocery store had been experiencing declining mental health for weeks.

One man died at the scene, and another remains in critical condition.

Early warnings

There were warnings that suspect Aaron Kelly was unraveling, but they went unheeded.

Police say Kelly was known to employees of the Kennewick Fred Meyer as a frequent shoplifter. He came into the store last Thursday, Feb. 3, and a worker took a photo of him by his car, a silver 2005 Honda Civic. A Kennewick store employee contacted Richland police after the Monday shooting, believing it might be Kelly.

Officers then got in touch with Kelly’s ex-roommate, Bryant Scott, who they say reported that Kelly has been “spiraling mentally and is very paranoid.” Scott also told police he’d seen Kelly with a 9 mm handgun.

Scott had already broken his business relationship with Kelly.

According to court records, Bryant Scott sought protection from alleged harassment by Kelly in late 2020. Public documents show that the Tri-Cities-area Superior Court judge in the case, Samuel P. Swanberg, turned down Scott’s request for a protection order.

That court hearing was Oct. 22, 2020. A little over fifteen months later, Kelly walked into the Fred Meyer store in Richland.

Judge Swanberg himself was recently removed from his duties while he’s under investigation for allegations of domestic violence.

The shooting

At about 11 a.m. on Monday, Aaron Kelly walked into a Richland Fred Meyer, pushing a cart containing a backpack and a duffel bag, said Richland’s Interim Police Chief Brigit Clary.

The Benton County Prosecutor’s office said Kelly then walked to Aisle 14 in the store. Clary said Kelly had a 10-15 second conversation with 38-year-old Justin Krumbah, a shopper.

After the conversation, Krumbah walked away, according to court documents.

Kelly then pulled out a 9 mm handgun and shot Krumbah, Clary said. After the victim fell to the floor, Kelly shot him several more times, according to the Benton County prosecutor.

Kelly then walked out of the aisle and shot another person near the customer service area, according to court documents. That victim remains in critical condition as of Tuesday night.

It took police only one minute to arrive at the store after receiving the first 911 calls. When police first entered the store, Kelly was still there, but he managed to leave before encountering the officers, Clary said.

After a half-day manhunt, Kelly was apprehended on a lonely stretch of Interstate 90 as he was heading north toward Spokane, Washington.

Prosecutors say both shootings were “premeditated.”

The decline 

According to Richland Police Department officials, Kelly’s mental state was fraying before this shooting this week. Clary said he was distancing himself from friends and family.

Bryant Scott rented a room of his Pasco home to Kelly for a time, through Airbnb. He says he later tried to get Kelly removed from his home.

“Being around Aaron was like having a living ghost,” Scott said. “You know it’s there, you don’t want it to be and there’s nothing you can do about it. When it comes around, you feel uncomfortable. You want it to go away and it won’t. And it just comes and goes and you’re just always on edge.”

Eventually, Scott says, he filed a lawsuit against Kelly and ended up selling his home to break off the relationship.

After the shooting, Scott saw the photo circulated on social media by the Richland Police. He contacted police and helped identify Kelly and his car – a silver 2005 Honda Civic.

The arraignment

Kelly appeared Tuesday in Benton County Superior Court, wearing a green v-neck prison jumpsuit and a white face mask.

At the in-person preliminary hearing, Kelly waived his right to a speedy trial, asking the court to delay his arraignment for 15 days.

Judge Joseph Burrowes kept the bail at $1 million.

Kelly is charged with premeditated first degree murder and premeditated attempted first degree murder.

His arraignment hearing was set for 8:30 a.m. Feb. 23.

“Good luck to you sir,” Burrowes said at the conclusion of Kelly’s hearing.

The victims 

A former employee who knew the family of Justin Krumbah, the victim who died, created a GoFundMe account for Krumbah’s funeral and another for the other victim’s family to cover medical expenses.

“Justin was always a breath of fresh air and sunshine,” commented Anna Michele Berens on Krumbah’s fundraiser.

“My family and I shop at Fred Meyer a lot,” another donor wrote about the surviving victim, a Fred Meyer employee. “He always has a smile on his face and is whistling.”

On Facebook, West Benton Fire Rescue posted that - because of a national blood shortage - the local blood bank ran out of compatible blood and had to ship blood from Spokane for the victim in surgery, according to the post.

The American Red Cross Northwest Region encouraged blood donors to schedule a donation time.

“At this time, we're providing the local hospital with the products they need. We would like to remind the community that it is the blood already on the shelves that helps individuals in their moment of need,” the American Red Cross Northwest Region posted on Facebook.

Dori Luzzo Gilmour and Courtney Flatt contributed to this report, which was edited by Christy George.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.