SEATTLE—Three teens are suspected in a drug-related shooting that left two people dead and three wounded at a well-known Seattle homeless camp, a crime that comes as the city struggles with a surge of people living on the streets.
The suspects — boys ages 13, 16 and 17 — were arrested Monday in what police described as a “targeted” shooting at the longstanding encampment known as the Jungle, about a mile from downtown. They were scheduled to appear in juvenile court Tuesday afternoon.
Police believe the Jan. 26 killings stemmed from a low-level drug-dealing dispute and that the suspects and victims knew each other or knew of each other.
“This violent crime shocked Seattle,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement.
It comes at a time when the region has seen an increase in its homeless population. Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine declared emergencies in the fall, calling the situation a crisis and investing new money.
The number of people living on the street or in their cars in Seattle and the county of nearly 2.1 million people jumped to more than 4,500, a 19 percent increase from last year, according to a one-night annual survey conducted Friday.
Murray had just finished delivering a live address on the city’s homeless issue when he learned of the shooting Jan. 26.
“We are involved in a homeless crisis, the like that we have not seen since the Great Depression,” he said that night.
Last year, the City Council authorized three city-sanctioned homeless encampments, known as “tent cities,” to provide a safer place for those without shelter.
This month, the council and mayor announced Seattle will open two parking lots in neighborhoods so those living in RVs and vehicles can safely park.
The “safe lots” will hold about 50 vehicles and have sanitation and garbage service, as well as social services. They are slated to open in the coming weeks.
Some residents have criticized the city actions, saying they provide no permanent solutions to the homeless problem. Others have complained of increased human waste, trash and criminal activity at the encampments and worry about crime and other problems at the lots.
The homeless camp known as the Jungle, underneath and along Interstate 5, has been “unmanageable and out of control for almost two decades,” Murray said last week.
Tents pitched under the freeway overpass and along the greenbelt are visible from I-5, and have long been a presence there.
It’s one of dozens of unauthorized homeless encampments that have popped up on vacant land, along freeways and in neighborhoods throughout Seattle. In the past three months, the city has identified about 134 such encampments, some with one or two tents and others with more.
The two people killed at the Jungle have been identified as Jeannine L. Zapata, 45, and James Q. Tran, 33. Both died of gunshot wounds.
The three people wounded ranged in age from 25 to 45. They remained hospitalized Monday, with a man and woman in satisfactory condition, according to Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
The other woman wanted to keep her condition private, Gregg said. It was listed as satisfactory last week.
Detectives worked around the clock to identify the suspects, searching a vehicle and numerous other scenes, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said Monday.
Investigators believe at least two of the suspects fired weapons that night. Police recovered one gun during the investigation. They do not believe there are other suspects.
City officials are continuing their assessment of the Jungle to determine what should be done there, O’Toole said.