One dead, three wounded in shooting at east Santa Rosa home
A disgruntled man armed with guns and bombs allegedly stormed into a dinner party Sunday at a Rincon Valley home searching for his estranged wife, killing a neighbor who tried to stop him and wounding two others, including a 4-year-old boy.
Timothy Gillaspie, 43, the neighbor who met the gunman at the front door, was a “true hero” who tried to save others, Santa Rosa police Lt. John Cregan said.
The suspected gunman, Walter Ross, 65, of Colorado, was armed with two handguns and a bag of five homemade explosive devices as he approached his son’s house on Garfield Park Avenue around 8 p.m. Sunday, police said.
When Gillaspie heard a confrontation at the door, he got up from the table and attempted to prevent Ross from entering the home, Cregan said. Gillaspie was shot multiple times and killed near the doorway.
Gillaspie, who was at the dinner with his wife, Katrina, and two sons - Shane, 11, and Connor, 14 - had never met Ross before Sunday.
He was a “100 percent innocent victim,” Cregan said.
“This is truly an unusual and horrific event for our community in Santa? Rosa,” he added. “It’s time for us to come together as a community and support Mr. Gillaspie’s family and his two young children.”
Friends described Gillaspie as a wonderful father, husband and beloved coach who volunteered his time with the Rincon Valley Little League, North Bay CYO Basketball and Redwood PAL Golden Bears youth football.
“There’s just not enough good adjectives to describe what an amazing man he was,” said friend Jeremy De La Torre. “It didn’t surprise me to finally hear what happened, because that’s who Tim was - if there was danger and a threat to his family and friends, he would be going toward the danger.”
When Santa Rosa police and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s SWAT team arrived at the home, they found Gillaspie dead on the floor and Ross injured with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Ross was taken to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries, police said.
Gillaspie’s wife and two boys were uninjured.
Nine neighbors had gathered for dinner Sunday night at the home in the quiet, family neighborhood in northeast Santa Rosa when Ross barged in. Police said he was looking for his soon-to-be ex-wife, who lived at the home but wasn’t there.
One woman hid in the bathroom and called 911 as the remainder of the group - four children and three adults - fled through a garage side door and the backyard.
Ross shot his 41-year-old son twice in the legs and a bullet grazed his 4-year-old grandson across the head as they ran, police said. Both were taken to a local hospital Sunday night and released Monday.
“We believe that (Ross) believed his estranged wife was in the residence and that he was there to ultimately kill her,” Cregan said.
Ross and his wife were estranged for about two years, and their divorce was supposed to be finalized this month, Cregan said. Animosity existed between the two over alimony payments, he said.
Police during a news conference Monday afternoon said they hadn’t talked to Ross, because of his condition.
Neighbor Jennifer Wilson, who lives with her husband and three kids across the street from where the shooting happened, remembered Gillaspie as a kind and caring neighbor.
“It’s just such a tragedy to lose such a nice, loved person. Seems like they were in the wrong place, at the wrong time involved in a domestic issue,” Wilson said.
Like many other neighbors, Wilson thought the initial gunshots were fireworks in the nearby park.
“And then I heard a ‘pound, pound, pound’ and more gunshots and some faint screaming,” Wilson said.
Her son told her it was gunshots. She said her daughters then saw an armed man in dark clothing and a dark hat standing outside the house across the street, and her husband saw people flee.
Scared, the family hid in the bathroom for about 20 minutes until a SWAT team member knocked on their front door around 8:30 p.m. and said they needed to put armed officers on the roof.
“Once the SWAT team arrived at our house we felt really uncomfortable about the situation and wanted to leave,” said her 13-year-old daughter, Laurel Wilson.
They couldn’t leave immediately because the swarm of SWAT and police cars blocked their street. Neighbors gathered in the streets nearby.
The Wilsons ended up walking to Sequoia Elementary School, where a friend picked them up.
Daughter Nicole Wilson, 11, said they eventually returned home but had a “restless night’s sleep” because of loud sounds from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s bomb squad defusing the homemade explosives until about 2 or 3 a.m.
In addition to the five bombs in the suspect’s bag, police found an additional homemade explosive on the passenger side of his car, parked nearby, Cregan said.
“The device was connected to a gas can and appeared to be set to explode if the door of the vehicle was opened by an officer,” Cregan said in a statement.
Deena Schmeider, 44, lives with her family less than two blocks from the house and was walking her dogs at the time of the shooting. She didn’t hear the gunshots but saw neighbors gather outside - something she hadn’t seen since the October wildfires.
Neighbors informed her of the shooting, so she went home and closed the doors and windows. She generally feels safe in her neighborhood, and a homicide in the area was unusual, she said. She didn’t know the families at the dinner party, but had seen renovation work at the house while driving by or out walking her dog.
Ross’ son, daughter-in-law and their two kids bought the home in recent years, neighbors said.
“It’s such a sad culmination,” she said.
Gillaspie, along with his wife Katrina, was an active member of the parents club at Sequoia Elementary School, where his youngest son will enter the sixth grade in the fall.
As the October wildfires threatened their Rincon Valley neighborhood, Gillaspie stayed behind to look out for his home and the homes of his neighbors, De La Torre said. Gillaspie used his years working for PG&E and knowledge of the terrain to keep everyone informed about the latest conditions and fire movements.
“They became those friends that have grown into family,” said De La Torre, 41. “That’s probably what makes this hurt so much. We didn’t just lose an acquaintance or a friend; we lost a piece of our family.”
Anyone with information on Walter Ross and his whereabouts before the shooting can call the Santa Rosa Police Violent Crimes Team at 707-543-3590.
Staff Writers Randi Rossmann and Christi Warren contributed to the story. You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@susanmini.