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Tuesday, November 22, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A history of theft, but not of violence

Seattle Times staff reporters

1 still in critical condition


Prosecutors on Monday released the names of the people wounded during Sunday's shooting at Tacoma Mall: Frank Latimer, Anderea Hutchison, Roberta Davis, Brendan McKown, Frank Stiles and Amit Benyehuda. All were treated at local hospitals and released, with the exception of McKown, who remained in critical condition at Tacoma General Hospital, spokesman Todd Kelley said. Prosecutors said he suffered paralysis and critical internal injuries.

Even though his family was not well-to-do, Dominick Sergio Maldonado always seemed to have a lot of things — with few plausible explanations for how he acquired them.

At age 12, he showed off a box of stopwatches to his friends at school. At 14, he bragged about having a credit card, court records show. As an unemployed teen, he had elaborate climbing gear, a friend's grandmother said, recalling how he often showed up with one new gadget or another.

"When you're 16 or 17 and unemployed and your parents don't have money, where are you getting all this stuff?" said the grandmother, Jacqueline Moses.

On Sunday, Pierce County prosecutors say, Maldonado, now 20, was in possession of other mysteriously acquired items that were much more frightening: two semiautomatic weapons and numerous rounds of ammunition.

Around noon, he walked into Tacoma Mall neatly dressed in a shirt and tie and pulled one of the weapons from under a black trench coat, firing randomly at strangers, according to charging papers filed Monday in Pierce County Superior Court. He wounded six, took four hostage and surrendered after four terrifying hours, saying he did it to get attention. Authorities are investigating how he got the weapons, noting that as a convicted felon, he was barred from possessing guns.

Maldonado was charged with eight counts of first-degree assault, four counts of first-degree kidnapping and two counts of first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. The charges come on top of a history pockmarked by numerous criminal convictions, all for nonviolent offenses such as theft.

The question on many minds: What would make a young man turn so dramatically violent? The court documents filed Monday offered clues, noting that Maldonado suffered humiliation and a difficult childhood, and held "a desire to want to be heard."

One hostage said Maldonado was angry at three police officers he claimed had humiliated him at a childhood summer camp.

"How does a ... 20-year-old man end up in a mall with a gun on a Sunday?" Maldonado's public defender, Sverre O. Staurset, said. "Obviously, something happened or cumulated into that moment."

Maldonado's history contains hints but no solid answers.

As the middle of three children, Maldonado was raised mostly by his mother, Helen Maldonado, who struggled to make ends meet after her husband died, friends say. Helen Maldonado declined to comment Monday.

Maldonado was in legal trouble by age 12, when he stole four stopwatches from Tacoma's Mann Middle School gym in 1998.

That same year, he stole another boy's Nintendo games.

The following year, he stole a wallet from a middle-school student's desk. When they searched him after the incident, police found Maldonado had lock-picking equipment.

Also in 1999, Maldonado and a friend stole a credit card from an acquaintance. They sold the card for $35 to a woman who had overheard Maldonado bragging about it, according to court documents. She later asked them to get her another card, which they did.

In 2003, Maldonado and a friend broke into a construction trailer at the middle school and were caught after being tracked by police dogs.

In all, Maldonado has convictions for burglary, possessing stolen property, trespassing, theft and trafficking in stolen property. He did time in juvenile detention, including the medium-security Naselle Youth Camp. It is unclear whether this is the camp where Maldonado told hostages he had been humiliated.

Meanwhile, his schooling suffered. According to a Tacoma School District spokeswoman, Maldonado withdrew from Lincoln High School in Tacoma in January 2002 after finishing his first semester of ninth grade. District records showed he registered as a home-school student between September 2002 and August 2004, but it is unclear whether Maldonado completed his high-school education.

In recent months, he was working at Bowman Propane and living with Colby Moses and his mother, who has a habit of taking in troubled kids.

Jacqueline Moses, Colby's grandmother, said she knew he was "bad news" from the moment she saw Maldonado, who at the time had a shaved head. Yet Colby was drawn to him.

"He's charismatic," she said. "Very articulate, courteous, friendly, helpful. If you got your computer stuck, he could unstick it. If you needed something fixed around the house, he could fix it."

Bret Strickler said he met Maldonado around his neighborhood in East Tacoma.

"He was real talkative," Strickler said. "He was real loud. He always had to have the last word. He was really smart." That serious, argumentative side, he added, was part of Maldonado's charm.

Tiffany Robison, who dated Maldonado for about six months, said she "instantly fell in love" when she met him through a friend. At the time, he was working at a Tacoma Subway shop where Robison and her friends hung out, her mother said.

Things went bad after Maldonado took the drug Ecstasy just once, Robison said. He became paranoid, depressed and unpredictable, she said. Robison, who graduated from Lincoln High School earlier this year, said she broke up with him after the dramatic change, about six months ago.

Robison said Maldonado had a bad experience at what she called a "police camp." She declined to elaborate.

Although they spoke infrequently after their breakup, she got a call from Maldonado early Sunday morning in which he professed his love, then explained he was going to either "a good place with good people" or "a bad place with bad people," she recalled.

At 11:58 a.m., she received a text message from Maldonado in which he said "today is the day the world will feel my pain."

Just after noon, according to charging papers, he called police and said he was armed and ready to shoot. When the dispatcher asked where, he responded, "just follow the screams."

Seconds later, the shooting began.

Wearing a black trench coat, white shirt with tie and carrying a guitar case, Maldonado approached a T-Mobile kiosk at the mall and spoke to an employee, charging papers say. He removed his coat, displaying two guns — an assault rifle and a high-capacity, semiautomatic machine pistol — which he began firing.

Maldonado then turned and began firing down the length of the mall, police say, striking six people in all. One remains hospitalized in critical condition and is suffering paralysis, charging papers say. The rest were treated and released.

He also allegedly shot at but missed two other people.

Maldonado then took hostages, including a young boy, at the Sam Goody store, according to charging papers. He forced them to build a barricade using display racks to block the store's front door, then ordered some of his captives to reload his weapons. At some point, a hostage negotiator who reached Maldonado by phone persuaded him to let the boy go, the papers say.

Throughout the ordeal, Maldonado was on the telephone — with reporters, with hostage negotiators and with Robison.

She said he told her, "I just shot the mall up. I'm at the Sam Goody and I'm holding people hostage."

"He said he's been screaming for help for years and nobody helped him," she recalled.

Four hours after the first shots were fired, Maldonado gave up, turning his weapons over to one of the hostages and surrendering to police, charging papers state.

When they searched the bedroom of the house where he was staying, police found a formula for creating ricin, a poison made from processed castor beans, court documents say. They also found bomb-making diagrams and materials and firing-range body targets, one of which had been shot through, the papers say.

The documents say Maldonado suffered humiliation and a difficult childhood, adding that "recent emotional events" and "a desire to want to be heard," especially by the news media, led to the shootings.

In Pierce County Superior Court, reporters packed a courtroom Monday for Maldonado's arraignment. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If convicted, he is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison, public defender Staurset said.

Amid the courtroom hubbub, a woman police identified as Maldonado's mother sat alone, almost invisible in the crowd. Her hands clasped tightly in her lap, she bowed her head as the judge set bail at $2 million.

As Maldonado was led from the courtroom, she stood, stepped forward and held out her hand to make sure he knew she was there.

Maldonado met her eyes as he ducked out of view.

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporters Sara Jean Green, Jennifer Sullivan and Emily Heffter and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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