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Woman struck, killed by stray bullet

Alyssa Smith, 23, was struck and killed by a stray bullet as she was celebrating Father’s Day with her family on June 16. Smith died the following day.

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Local News

Man charged in summer’s ‘stray bullet’ killing

BELLINGHAM — Prosecutors have charged a man with first-degree manslaughter in the stray bullet slaying that left one young female dead outside her home this summer in Ferndale.

Nicholas Adam Zylstra, 31, of Lynden, was charged with the crime in Whatcom County Superior Court recently after months of investigation on to how, and from whom, a stray bullet could enter the location of a Ferndale residence and strike a 23-year-old girl in the chest.

Alyssa Smith was out barbecuing with her family for Father’s Day on June 16 when neighbors heard gunshots coming from across the Nooksack River, adjacent to Smith’s father’s property in the 6100 block of Dadwa Road. Though that area is a popular shooting spot for local sportsman,  neighbors called 911 because it seemed like the gunfire was erratic and possibly striking close to a housing development.

Soon after neighbors called police, Smith was struck in the chest by a stray bullet. She died hours later at the hospital.


Alyssa Smith was killed outside her home by a stray bullet on June 16.

Police drove to the sound of the gunfire and detained five people walking from a popular target shooting site near the river. The group was target shooting, documents show, and two of the men were arrested for being felons in possession of a firearm. However, they were let go after little evidence linked them to the shooting.

According to court documents, police later determined Smith was shot with a bullet from an AK-47. After extensive interviews of the group, police said it was the gun’s owner, Zylstra, who was firing in an unwieldy manner during the target practice.

Police said he used a style of shooting known as “a bump fire,” that would allow the gun to appear like it was a fully automatic weapon. But this style of firing is unwieldy, police said, and caused Zylstra to fire bullets off rapidly, with no control.

It was one of those bullets that went over the 20-foot berm used as a backdrop for target shooting, traveled about a half-mile and struck Smith in the chest, authorities claim.

Zylstra was scheduled to appear in court at 3 p.m. Thursday. If convicted, Zylstra faces life in prison.

BELLINGHAM — A Ferndale man who was arrested after a woman was killed by a stray bullet on Father’s Day said in an exclusive interview Thursday that he did not fire the fatal shot.

targetshooter1Douglas Quiding was with a group of friends target shooting when Alyssa Smith, 23, was hit in the chest while at a family Father’s Day barbecue a half-mile away.

In an interview Thursday, Quiding said, “I’m a family man myself. I have children. It’s terrible. First of all I’d like to send my deepest condolences to the family of Alyssa Smith.”

Quiding, 40, was target shooting with four friends on private property last Sunday when a stray bullet from a high-powered rifle struck and killed Smith.

On Tuesday, Whatcom County prosecutors charged Quiding and Robert Lee, 23, with unlawful possession of a firearm because both are felons.

“I want to assure the family that, with the help of my attorneys, I’m cooperating fully with the law enforcement investigation,” Quiding said. “I do not want to make any public statements that may distract from or delay the answers the Smith family may want, but I maintain my innocence and I’m confident the investigation will clear me of any implication of causing this tragic accident.”

“They’re not supposed to even have guns and they have a high-powered rifle and handguns and to just be shooting at whatever they want to shoot at,” neighbor Debbie Engler said.

Quiding’s lawyer, Sean McKee, said his position is that Quiding was not in possession or control of a firearm and that he expects his client to be cleared of the charge.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Smith’s death a homicide, but no homicide charges have been filed against any of the five men.

“I do anticipate that that investigation will clear Mr. Quiding as having been the person responsible or the person who fired that particular weapon that caused this tragic incident,” McKee said.

Quiding has a lengthy criminal past that includes assault, harassment, domestic violence, drug charges and auto theft, but his attorney says he’s been clean for the past seven years.

Whatcom County prosecutors will now have to figure out which of the five men fired the fatal shot.

Local News

Family mourns daughter killed by stray bullet

FERNDALE — On Sunday afternoon, Debbie Engler heard gunshots coming from a field behind her backyard. Deputies said a group of five men were firing off shots a half-mile away, and one of those bullets hit 23-year-old Alyssa Smith in the chest. Smith was at her parent’s house celebrating Father’s Day.

alyssasmithJust moments before she was shot, neighbors called 911 to report hearing gunshots. When paramedics arrived, they rushed Smith to the hospital, where she later died from her injuries.

“Alyssa was a wonderful, sweet and loving young woman whose life was tragically taken from us. She had the biggest heart and loved everyone and everything in which she came into contact,” her uncle, Mike Bacon, said.

Two of the men firing the weapons are convicted felons and are not supposed have firearms. On Tuesday, the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office charged 40-year-old Douglas Quiding and 23-year-old Robert Allen Lee with unlawful possession of a firearm and said more charges could be coming.

Deputies said the men were on private property. Neighbors tell us people duck hunt there, but think any other shooting should happen somewhere else.

“There are established target areas around here in Custer and down by Lake Samish, so why people would be target shooting in their back yard I don’t understand,” neighbor Mike Hoeruegel said.

Close friends of the victim’s family are devastated and are now scared to be in their own backyards.

“Down here we think we’re safe and I have to call my daughter and say ‘Alyssa’s been shot. Lock your doors get the kids in the house’. That’s not right and not fair and they should not be able to walk the streets,” neighbor Debbie Engler said.

FERNDALE — A stray bullet from a group of men target shooting more than a half-mile away may have been what struck and killed a 23-year-old woman celebrating Father’s Day at a family backyard barbecue, police said Monday.

policetapeThe Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office on Monday arrested two men among the group of five who were  target shooting for investigation of illegal possession of firearms. They posted bail later in day.

The woman’s father called 911 desperately seeking help for his mortally wounded daughter. Neighbors say they heard several gunshots even before the woman was struck. When cops rushed to the 6100 block of Gadwa Road, they heard gunfire coming from a distance.

“I can’t imagine; it shocks me,” said neighbor Mike Hoeruegel.

From the backyard there is an expansive field that borders the Nooksack River and it’s on the other side of the river where the gunfire was taking place. On Monday detectives armed with 3D measuring sticks were at the site of the target shooting to figure out how it all could have happened.

“Why target shoot in the backyard; there are places you can go to do that,” said Hoeruegel.

The group was target shooting on private property, where there is no restriction on shooting.

Ferndale residents say it’s a common activity.

“I’ve heard many people shooting at the river, it is pretty normal here,” said Ferndale resident Amrit Sidhu.

The two men arrested are felons so they were immediately arrested for possessing a firearm. As of Monday night, no one has been charged in the woman’s death.

“I’ve lived here all my life, nothing like this has ever happened,” said Hoeruegel.

Neighbors say this first time should be the last; they are now calling for stricter guidelines on where people can and target shoot.

“One death is more than enough to realize it is probably not safe to do that,” said Sidhu.

Deputies confiscated two handguns and two rifles.

Crime-Scene-TapeFERNDALE –  A 23-year-old Bellingham woman who was struck by a stray bullet while barbecuing with her father died Monday from her injuries.

The woman, who was outside celebrating Father’s Day with family at the time of the incident, was struck by a bullet that police estimate was fired from more than half a mile away. She was hit in the chest and transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The incident took place in the 6100 block of Gadwa Road in Ferndale.

The woman’s father called 911 and reported hearing shots being fired overhead. When police arrived, they heard gunshots coming from the opposite river bank along the Nooksack River.

Police followed the sound of the gunshots and located and detained five people as they were walking away from the river. They are believed to have been target shooting along the river and two men were arrested for unlawful possession of a firearm; both are convicted felons and not allowed to be in possession of firearms.

The Whatcom C0unty Sheriff’s Office said there was no previous contact between the victim and the men arrested.