UPDATE | Waterfront witnesses recall standoff scene at city dock

The mood in Waterfront Park went from tense to convivial as time passed with no updates or additional shots fired during Saturday night’s active shooter situation at Eagle Harbor, and several displaced mariners gathered to swap theories and accounts of the night’s harrowing events.

Bainbridge officials said 911 calls about a person shooting from a boat in Eagle Harbor started coming in to emergency dispatchers shortly after 8:30 p.m. Saturday, July 8. A still-unidentified 34-year-old Seattle man reportedly then began firing at officers responding to the scene after they arrived.

He also fired random shots at the shoreline from a sailboat.

The ordeal came to an end in the early morning hours Sunday, July 9, when police shot and killed the gunman.

Though the area had been cleared, and two island firefighters remained on site to continue to divert pedestrians and cars alike away from the water, a small group did congregate in the boat launch parking lot on Shannon Drive during the stand off.

Shawn O’Keefe and his brother-in-law Nathan Pierett had come to the city dock by dinghy, leaving their wives back aboard O’Keefe’s boat, moored in the harbor, to pick up some snacks, ice cream and alcohol at Town & Country Market. They said they’d actually arrived during the initial evacuation and, at first, believed the firefighters’ warnings to be a joke.

Though his wife had said she’d heard a report of an active shooter on the radio before the men departed the boat, O’Keefe said he didn’t give the initial reports credence, believing the disturbance to be most likely a case of inaccurately reported fireworks.

While en route, the men did hear at least one, possibly three, “pop” noises, they said, though they remained unconcerned — until they got to the dock.

“We were coming across and we heard the pop, pop, pop,” O’Keefe said. “I didn’t realize what it was. I thought it was fireworks. [The firefighters] told me it was indeed gunfire.”

Pierett agreed the sudden escalation was surreal.

“The most worrisome thing was when we moored up on the dock and the fire guys were like, ‘Keep your heads down! Keep your heads down!’” he said. “We snuck around and got up here and, come to find out, you hear over the … radio there are police units surrounding the area.”

Using a firefighter’s cell phone, O’Keefe was able to contact his wife and sister on the boat, who were also taking precautions.

“They’re laying down … in the bilge, below water level,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want any harm to come to my wife or my sister. They’re a long way away, but within sniper shot. I’m not going to get too worried about it at the moment.”

Later, as the silence stretched on and the situation seemed in hand, standing strategically away from the waterline and behind the parked rig at the behest of the firefighters, O’Keefe and his brother-in-law shared their newly purchased vodka and Oreos (they decided against the ice cream, being unsure how long they’d be forced to stay away from the boat) with two other stranded sailors, who were also unable to return to their boats, and one resident of a nearby apartment building who came out to investigate the situation.

Theories about the identity and motives of the shooter were bantered about as the men awaited updates from the nearby firefighters.

“Ultimately, I hope the situation is resolved without further loss of life, if there has been loss of life,” Pierett said. “Because you never know if it’s PTSD or you never know what it is exactly, so ultimately you hope all groups come to their senses and there’s no escalation of violence. That’s what you hope.”

Everyone present agreed that they’d never heard of a previous public shooting being conducted from a small boat before.

“Never,” O’Keefe said, adding that most boat owners he knew, and liveaboards like himself especially, are “normally pretty happy people.”