Suspect identified in Smith Tower shootings

Police say Robert E. Breck shot three people in the lobby of the building before hiding out in his apartment for over two hours

VANCOUVER — An 80-year old who lives at downtown Vancouver’s Smith Tower faces a first-degree murder charge, and two counts of first-degree attempted murder after opening fire in the lobby of the senior living apartment building on Thursday afternoon.

A drone hovers outside the window of Robert E. Breck’s Smith Tower apartment. The 80-year old is accused of shooting three people in the building’s lobby on Thursday, killing one of them. Photo by Mike Schultz
A drone hovers outside the window of Robert E. Breck’s Smith Tower apartment. The 80-year old is accused of shooting three people in the building’s lobby on Thursday, killing one of them. Photo by Mike Schultz

Robert E. Breck was arrested after a standoff that lasted more than two hours. Police say Breck shot three people in the lobby of the building shortly after 2 p.m., then went into his apartment and refused to come out. Crisis negotiators eventually convinced Breck to give himself up.

Two of the victims were transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center where they were said to be in satisfactory condition. The third person was pronounced dead at the scene. The identities of the victims had not been released on Thursday evening.

Heather Hale, whose mother lives inside the building, told FOX 12 news that Breck had been threatening violence on Wednesday.

“She just heard his name and heard that he was talking about shooting people yesterday,” said Hale. “And I guess he went through with it today.”

Unidentified residents of Smith Tower look out from rooms above where an active shooter was holed up Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Unidentified residents of Smith Tower look out from rooms above where an active shooter was holed up Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Vancouver Police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said Breck’s motive for the shooting wasn’t immediately clear. The Major Crimes Team, which is comprised of officers from several Clark County law enforcement organizations, will be handling the investigation. The FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents also responded to the scene, along with officers from Portland Police.

“This is a situation where this is a retirement community, so we have elderly residents as well as an elevator situation,” said Kapp. “We brought negotiators in immediately to make contact with the suspect, which was extremely helpful to be able to maintain that line of communication and get a peaceful resolution to this situation.”

Vancouver Police Officer Missy Skeeter talks on the phone during an active shooter situation at Smith Tower on Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Vancouver Police Officer Missy Skeeter talks on the phone during an active shooter situation at Smith Tower on Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Members of the regional SWAT group, as well as Vancouver Fire, helped to evacuate people inside the building, bringing them to City Hall nearby, which was placed into lockdown during the standoff, where they could reconnect with loved ones. Residents were allowed to return to their homes about five hours after the shootings happened.

Kapp said Breck did emerge from his apartment once, but refused orders to give himself up and went back inside. Eventually, negotiators were able to talk him into giving himself up and he was transported to the Clark County Jail.

Members of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Vancouver Police, and the ATF responded to an active shooter situation at Vancouver’s Smith Tower on Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Members of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Vancouver Police, and the ATF responded to an active shooter situation at Vancouver’s Smith Tower on Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle released a statement shortly after the shooting.

“…our hearts go out to the victims and their families as they deal with this tragedy,” read the statement in part. “I commend our police officers, fire and EMS personnel who quickly responded to the scene.”

Smith Tower at 515 Washington Street is a 170-unit senior living apartment building operated by Mid-Columbia Manor, Inc., a nonprofit run by a group of area labor unions.

Dozens of law enforcement officers from across the region responded to Smith Tower in downtown Vancouver after three people were shot on Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Dozens of law enforcement officers from across the region responded to Smith Tower in downtown Vancouver after three people were shot on Thursday. Photo by Mike Schultz


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About The Author

Chris Brown comes to Clark County Today with 15 years of local news experience as a reporter, editor, and anchor at KXL News Radio and KOIN-6 TV in Portland. In 2016, he won an Oregon Association of Broadcaster's award for Best Investigative Reporting for a series on America's Violent Youth. He has also been awarded by the Associated Press for Best Breaking News coverage as editor of Portland's Morning News following the 2015 school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The second oldest of eight home-schooled children, Brown graduated from high school two years early. After several odd jobs, he earned an internship at KXL Radio, eventually working his way into a full-time job. Brown has lived in Clark County his entire life, and is very excited at the opportunity to now focus full-time on the significant stories happening in his own back yard, rather than across “the river.’’ After a few years in Vancouver, he recently moved back to Battle Ground with his wife and two young daughters. When he's not working to report what's happening in Clark County, Brown enjoys spending time with his family, playing music, taking pictures, or working in the yard. He also actually does enjoy long walks on the beach, and sunsets.

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