Homeless man killed by Spokane deputy lived with mental illness and drug addiction

May 8, 2019

Like the tent he lived in, the end of Ethan Murray’s life was in disarray and off the grid.

A combination of mental illness and drug addiction led the 25-year-old to hospitals, jail cells, shelters and service providers across the country, from North Idaho to Oregon, Montana, California and Florida, and Spokane Valley.

His mother, Justine Murray, kept a journal documenting his travels, occasionally updating friends and family online about where he was at what time, and most of all, whether he was OK.

“I feel like we need more help in advocating for our mentally ill,” his mother said in a video posted recently to Facebook. “There was no place for him to go. There was nobody that would help him.”

This past weekend in Spokane Valley, at a small homeless camp tucked away at the base of a rocky outcrop in an expansive wooded area near the Parkside at Mirabeau apartments, Ethan was shot and killed by a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy.

According to a news release, deputies responded to complaints from residents who said Murray was acting “very high” near children playing at the apartment complex at 2820 N. Cherry St.

When they arrived at about 5:30 p.m., they chased him through a hole in a fence on the east side of the complex, then onto a small path that led to his camp. As they approached a makeshift fire pit near a tree, investigators said Murray refused commands to stop and started yelling profanities while he reached for his pocket and waist.

One witness, according to the news release, heard a deputy repeatedly say “Put it down.” The witness said Murray then pulled something out of his pocket before the deputy fired his weapon. Deputies do not wear body cameras.

Murray’s mother said an autopsy showed Murray was shot six times.

“The system is broken,” Justine Murray said Tuesday morning from her Sandpoint home. “He was let down over and over. It’s not set up for those who struggle like Ethan.”

She recorded and posted the video online, where she briefly touched on his struggle with schizophrenia, diagnosed in 2015, drug addiction and homelessness as an adult.

It led to hundreds of messages of support, including from some who lived at the complex near where Murray was killed. One woman, who asked not be identified, told Justine Murray that she talked to Ethan Murray about an hour and a half before the shooting.

“He knocked on my door and was looking for a guy named Nick,” she said. “I let him know that there was no one named Nick that lived here.”

After a few minutes, before he went to leave, he asked if she could fill his empty water bottle.

“It was smashed and dirty,” the woman said. “I told him I have a new bottle of water he could have … by the look on his face I could tell he was shocked that I was nice or something.”

The message, Justine Murray said, warmed her heart.

“I know it just sounds cliche, but everybody would say he’s so kind,” she said. “Even when he was arrested he would apologize.”

Later that day, resident Crystal Runions said she saw Murray running by a path near a fence on the east side of the complex. He wasn’t wearing shoes or a shirt.

As he made his way through the large hole, he was followed by a deputy, she said. The chase went through a clearing toward the camp, which wasn’t viewable from Runions’ apartment due to a small hill in the middle of the field. Her husband said he heard a loud pop, followed by four more.

“He said he didn’t hear him say anything until after the shots had rang out,” she said. “Then they said ‘Hands up.’ By that point it was too late.”

Runions said she had tried for weeks to get deputies to clear out the camp. But each time she’d call Crime Check, she said she’d get confirmation someone would be out there, yet nobody ever showed.

Saturday morning – hours before the shooting – two homeless people were arrested at the complex in connection with “rummaging inside the apartment complex dumpster,” according to arrest records. One of them, a woman named Sarah Lombardo, was found to have meth stuffed in her clothing as she was being booked into the Spokane County Jail.

While a toxicology report has not been completed, Justine Murray said she’s certain her son was high on meth at the time of the shooting. But she said he’s never used a weapon, or even owned a gun.

“I get it, and I don’t want to blame anybody,” she said. “But Ethan has never hurt anyone or been violent.”

The Spokane Investigative Regional Response Team, which is conducting the investigation headed by the Spokane Police Department, said in a news release Tuesday that a weapon has not been located.

Now with only questions to go on, Justine Murray plans to raise $50,000 for more mental health and addiction resources. She also plans to visit his camp on Thursday with her mother, who’s flying to Spokane from Florida.

“I want to remember my son for who he was,” she said. “Spokane is his choice when he’s homeless.”