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Family: Man shot, killed by Vancouver police had schizophrenia

Michael Eugene Pierce, 29, was homeless, family says

Columbian photo AmandaCowen MichaelP Vigil

Article in The Columbian

By Jerzy Shedlock, Columbian Breaking News Reporter

Published:

The man fatally shot by Vancouver police late Thursday afternoon, after reportedly brandishing two firearms, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager but had stopped taking his prescribed medication, according to family members.

Family identified the man as 29-year-old Michael Eugene Pierce, who was born in Oklahoma but had been living in Washington for the past decade.

Pierce’s aunt Beth Brittain said Friday that he had stopped taking his medication a couple years back because he said it made him “feel like a zombie.” He once told his mother he heard voices telling him to kill himself, Brittain said.

Officers were called about 4:45 p.m. Thursday for a report of an armed person near West 12th and Jefferson streets west of downtown Vancouver. Shortly after, officers yelled that shots had been fired and said the man was down, with a firearm by his feet, according to emergency radio traffic monitored at The Columbian.

“Multiple callers called in saying a man was waving his guns and pointing them at people,” Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

Two officers fired their weapons; neither was injured. The officers have been placed on critical incident leave, standard department protocol in an officer-involved shooting. They likely will not be identified until Monday, Kapp said.

Joe Newsome, who witnessed the shooting, said he had just gotten off work in the area and was walking home when he saw a man holding a gun, screaming at passing vehicles. The man was waving the firearm, Newsome said, and pointing it at his own head. Other witnesses said the man had two firearms.

About 30 people gathered Friday night at the site where Pierce died for a candlelight vigil. Spray-painted epitaphs covered the street: “You are loved.” “Michael RIP.” “Love you.”

Kyla Houchens was a close friend of Pierce’s, she said. He called her “mom,” and the two spent hours together at the recently-opened Vancouver Navigation Center on Grand Boulevard.

Houchens and others at the vigil said Pierce’s guns were brightly colored pellet guns; he treated them as toys. When he put the guns to his head, it was a call for help, she said.

“Today is a commemoration of Michael’s life, and a day of accountability for everyone else,” Houchens said.

A home in Vancouver

Pierce was born in Sapulpa, Okla., and spent his formative years in Seminole, Okla., where he attended school. He was the second youngest among four siblings — three brothers and a sister, Brittain said.

Pierce left home when he was 18 or 19 years old. He hitchhiked across the country and settled in Washington. His family is unsure what led him to Vancouver.

Pierce’s mother, according to Brittain, had him evaluated when he was 7 years old due to odd behaviors, which included harming himself. Doctors put Pierce on Ritalin, and despite his mental health issues, Pierce had a fair upbringing, according to his aunt.

“He was the sweetest little boy,” Brittain said.

In 2008, Pierce’s older brother John went missing in Idaho. Authorities found his foot in a boot, but the family never learned what truly happened. Brittain said she believes the traumatic event is part of the reason Pierce started wandering.

The family was unfamiliar with his current living situation, she said. Pierce would show up sporadically. He would sometimes call from the bus stop in Seminole and ask his mom for a ride.

Joan Wickenhagen, the grandmother of Pierce’s 5-year-old daughter, said Pierce was homeless and had been couch surfing for the past several years, after a conviction that resulted in jail time. He would infrequently visit Wickenhagen’s Vancouver home, she said, to visit his daughter and her mother, Mollie Wickenhagen.

“He didn’t come around a lot,” the elder Wickenhagen said. “He tried to be good. He loved all of us, especially (his daughter).”

Mollie Wickenhagen remembered the father of her child as a “different sort,” a book nerd who loved to fix things. He struggled, she said, and could be “irrational” and “all over the place.” But he had a good heart, she said, and love for his daughter and the family he had built in Vancouver.

“He always found home here,” she said.

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