Early Saturday morning, that man, Willem Van Spronsen of Vashon Island, returned to the Northwest Detention Center, the holding facility for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, this time armed with a rifle and incendiary devices, according to Tacoma police. Police said Van Spronsen tossed lit objects at vehicles and buildings, causing one car fire, and unsuccessfully tried to ignite a propane tank.
Officers were called by an ICE employee who saw the rifle. Soon after they arrived, officers reported “shots fired,” said Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool, although it is unclear who fired first or if Van Spronsen fired at all. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office classified his death as a homicide. The four responding officers all opened fire and then took cover, uninjured. After medical aid arrived, officers found Van Spronsen dead. He had multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office.
Immigration is increasingly a flashpoint American politics, and Van Spronsen’s death came on the eve of Sunday’s planned national raid by ICE targeting thousands of undocumented immigrant families who the government said missed court hearings or who had received removal notices. Seattle is not among the 10 cities being targeted in the raids.
Deb Bartley, a friend of Van Spronsen’s for about 20 years, described him as an anarchist and anti-fascist, and she believes his attack on the detention center was intended to provoke a fatal conflict. “He was ready to end it,” Bartley said. “I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs … I know he went down there knowing he was going to die.”
She and other friends of Van Spronsen got letters in the mail “just saying goodbye.” He also wrote what she referred to as a manifesto, which she declined to discuss in detail but predicted would be taken by authorities.