Court Docs: Simmering feud led to Smith Tower shootings

“I couldn’t take it anymore” Robert Breck told detectives

VANCOUVER — Dressed in a green suicide prevention vest, Robert E. Breck was rolled into a Clark County courtroom on Friday morning. The 80-year old is charged with shooting three people in the lobby of the Smith Tower in downtown Vancouver on Thursday afternoon, then refusing to leave his 13th floor apartment for over two hours while SWAT negotiators tried to talk him out.

Robert E. Breck is shown here at his first appearance in Clark County Court on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Robert E. Breck is shown here at his first appearance in Clark County Court on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz

During Friday’s brief courtroom appearance, Breck stared down at the floor as he quietly answered questions about his name and date of birth. Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke ordered Breck to be held without bail, and set an arraignment date for Thu., Oct. 10.

On Thursday, Vancouver Police said no motive for the shooting was known, but probable cause documents obtained by Clark County Today show Breck had offered a caretaker money to be his mistress several weeks ago. She declined, and Breck apparently fired her a week later, then accused her of breaking into another resident’s apartment without his knowledge.

That resident was identified as 75-year-old Dean Tunstall, who was pronounced dead at the scene. The other victims injured were 73-year-old Enelia Montoya and 44-year-old Shawne Garris. Both were taken to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center for trauma treatment. A hospital spokesperson says Garris was treated and released. Montoya was transferred to another hospital for continuing treatment but was said to be in satisfactory condition.

Two Vancouver Police detectives spoke separately to Garris and Montoya at the hospital to get their version of the story. 

Robert E. Breck appears in Clark County Superior Court on Friday. The 80-year old is accused of shooting three people at Smith Tower apartments on Thursday, killing one of them. Photo by Mike Schultz
Robert E. Breck appears in Clark County Superior Court on Friday. The 80-year old is accused of shooting three people at Smith Tower apartments on Thursday, killing one of them. Photo by Mike Schultz

Garris said Breck had offered her money to be his mistress three weeks earlier, an offer she had refused. A week later, Breck fired her as his caretaker. He then allegedly told Tunstall that Garris had gone into his room without his knowledge. Tunstall replied that he didn’t even know who Garris was. 

In her statement, Montoya, who still employed Garris as her caretaker, said she confronted Breck on Wednesday, telling him he needed to stop spreading rumors about Garris to other men in the building. She also warned Tunstall that Breck might have a gun, based on what Garris had seen in his apartment.

On Thursday at 2:09 p.m., Breck entered the lobby of the Smith Tower apartment building and yelled at Tunstall, accusing him of lying about not knowing Garris. He then pulled out a handgun and shot Tunstall in the chest from 2 to 3 feet away, according to Montoya. She said she stood up from her chair to confront Breck before he shot her. She then heard another shot and saw Garris fall, then a fourth shot. She told the detective she didn’t realize Breck had shot her a second time. Montoya told the detective she was “scared” and believed she was going to die.

Garris said she witnessed Breck shoot Tunstall and Montoya, then turned to run. She was shot in the back and said she remained still on the floor until Breck ran to the elevator, then she called 9-1-1. 

Detectives said video surveillance in the lobby of the building, along with other witness accounts, helped to confirm the stories told by Garris and Montoya.

After his arrest, Breck reportedly told detectives he wanted an attorney. He then stated “the reason I shot that guy,” before launching into a summation of a story similar to what Montoya and Garris had said. The detective reminded Breck he had invoked his right to a lawyer. Breck repeated he wanted an attorney present, but then repeated he had shot Tunstall due to an ongoing feud and that he “just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Mayor’s statement

On Friday morning Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle released a follow-up statement on the shooting incident.

“Yesterday, the city of Vancouver was unfortunate to have experienced a shooting incident that resulted in the death of one resident and injury to two others at the Smith Tower apartment building. It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the loss of one of our residents and extend our condolences to the victims, their families and friends, and the residents at Smith Tower who experienced this tragedy.

“Thankfully the incident came to a peaceful resolution yesterday evening when the suspect was taken into custody. We appreciate the excellent work done by our police, fire and EMS personnel. Our police officers’ swift and professional response ensured the safety of residents who were still in the building and the public in the surrounding area.

“I am proud of the way our community came together so quickly to help. Thank you to C-TRAN for providing transportation and to the Trauma Intervention Program volunteers who mobilized to provide assistance to the residents that were evacuated from the building. I also want to acknowledge the residents, businesses and visitors who were impacted during the response. 

“I know that our community will wrap its arms and hearts around the family and friends of the victims and all the residents of Smith Tower who were touched by this tragedy.”

Smith Tower history

Smith Tower at 515 Washington Street is a 15-story building. Completed in 1966, it was the second-tallest building in Washington State at the time. It was named after W.R. “Bill” Smith, former president of Mid-Columbia Manor, Inc., a nonprofit group comprised of local labor unions which still owns and operates the building. 13 stories of Smith Tower are home to 170 one-bedroom and studio apartments for seniors 62 and over.

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