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Friday, May 18, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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PLU music professor slain in campus shooting; suicidal gunman leaves 16-page note

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Pacific Lutheran University students call their campus the "Lute Dome" - a tranquil place sheltered from outside troubles. That peace was shattered yesterday afternoon when a gunman walked on campus intent on killing the first staff member he saw.

Armed with a 9 mm handgun and a .22-caliber for backup, Donald D. Cowan, 55, spotted James D. Holloway, 40, a beloved music professor and renowned organist, outside a student residence hall about 3 p.m. and fired four rounds, striking him three times in the torso and one time in the head, said Lt. Dave Hall, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.

Then Cowan walked up to his prone victim, dropped a 16-page suicide note, put the gun to his own head and pulled the trigger a final time. He died late last night at Madigan Army Medical Center.

Cowan, who had harbored a grudge against another university employee, was not affiliated with the school, Hall said. Cowan's last known residence was in Tacoma, police said.

Holloway, of Puyallup, "was a gifted person," said his friend and best man at his wedding, Jonathan Peterson, who stopped to kneel at a shrine erected by students at the south entrance of Hong Hall, where Holloway was slain.

"Of all the people I've ever known, he made the best use of the gifts God gave him," Peterson said. "I've been walking around this campus since I was a kid and it's never going to be the same."

Cowan's detailed suicide note, handwritten on yellow legal paper, said he was carrying a backup weapon in case one gun jammed. It also mentioned another employee, a female faculty member on sabbatical in Europe, toward whom the gunman bore "personal animosity," Hall said. Police did not want the woman's name disclosed and would not characterize their relationship.

She has been contacted and is safe, Hall said.

The note indicated the "innocent victim" would be the first staff member he saw, and "explains the bizarre reasoning that the suspect had for committing a random murder," Hall said. The note was not made public.

In the hours after the shooting, students and colleagues surrounded the makeshift shrine, which included a four-foot wooden cross of boards tied together and candles, in the spot where Holloway was killed.

"He was a fabulous organist," a shaken Peterson said. "He could do anything in the music field. He was a great guy. A great man."

Holloway was hired as an adjunct professor at the university in 1989, teaching everything from music history to choral ensembles. He also served as the music director of Trinity Lutheran Church, which borders the campus, from 1989 to 1999. He earned a master's degree at the University of North Texas and went on to receive his doctorate in musical arts at the University of Washington in June 1998. PLU hired him as a full-time assistant professor of music last fall.

He was prolific in his work, keeping an active performing schedule and winning a number of regional and national competitions. His playing has been featured on four CDs.

A well-respected writer in his field, he also was in demand to speak at conferences on subjects such as church music and the German Romantic organ repertoire, according to the university's Web site.

In 1995, Holloway married Judith Carr, Dean for Special Academic Programs and Summer Sessions at PLU.

Hours after the shooting, students huddled in groups and sobbed. Administrators passed out fliers to students and staff, with the heading: "Campus Tragedy." It instructed staff to "attend the needs of individual students and make adjustments accordingly."

Today is the last day of classes before final exams. Holloway would have been sitting in on the music and voice juries - essentially the final exams for performing students.

"He was one of the first teachers I talked to when I got here," said Sam Young, a 23-year-old music major. "He was very encouraging. From the first casual contact I had with him, I knew he was just a super nice guy."

Composition Professor Greg Youtz said many students in the music department saw Holloway as a beloved father figure, "a wonderful scholar, writer. A man of deep faith."

Last night, students and colleagues of Holloway gathered to comfort each other, some of them singing the hymn "Beautiful Savior." In tribute, students were playing the ornate, towering Gottfried and Mary Fuchs pipe organ, the instrument Holloway was known for playing at the university's Lagerquist Concert Hall. Becky Frehse, a former PLU faculty member and Youtz's wife, said Holloway's death shocked the close-knit music department.

"He was such an intellectual, wonderful, warm, warm person," Frehse said. "It's just shocking to think that of all the people gunned down it would be him."

PLU was founded in 1890 by Scandinavian immigrants and is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It has more than 3,600 students.

Yesterday's shooting marks the second time this year the college campus has seen tragedy.

Students mourned the death of 18-year-old Monica Lightell, who died at a party when an overcrowded deck collapsed on her.

"The campus is like this idyllic place," said Matt Jay, a PLU student. "The second you step off campus, it doesn't feel the same.

"Nothing ever happens here that's major," he said. "Something like this is really shocking."

Ray Rivera can be reached at 206-464-2926 or rarivera@seattletimes.com.

Keiko Morris can be reached at 206-464-3214 or kmorris@seattletimes.com.

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