KALAMA, Wash. — Cowlitz County Deputy Justin DeRosier was shot and killed Saturday night in the small town of Kalama. The tragic death of the 29-year-old has left the community shocked, confused, and heartbroken.
Georgia Knight-Powell's family has lived in Kalama for five generations.
"This is one of the safest places. It's one of the last places to get populated. It's a small town, still," Knight-Powell said.
However, that feeling of small-town safety was taken away Saturday night when Knight-Powell was awoken to calls from neighbors who told her to lock her doors because a shooter was on the loose. She lives about a mile and a half from where DeRosier was shot and killed.
"Last night, everyone was letting everyone know that there was someone out and about so we all locked up secure and tried to keep ourselves safe," Knight-Powell said.
16-year-old Wyatt James lives less than a half mile from the crime scene and did the same.
"Me and my mom kind of locked up the house, bunkered down and stayed safe," James said.
Being used to his quiet community, James said he woke up Sunday morning not thinking about the crime the night before. He jumped on his dirt bike to bring his grandparents, who live just down the street, their newspaper. That is when he was stopped by a SWAT team, searching for the shooter.
"I was stopped by a SWAT team at gunpoint. I had flashlights in my eyes. I couldn’t see the guns at first, but once I got up close enough — they had guns pointed at me," James said. "I gave them my ID. I explained myself, where I was going, why I was on a dirt bike at five in the morning when there’s an active shooter out. It was kind of a scary situation."
Everyone who spoke to KGW reiterated that Kalama is a neighborly close-knit community.
"I don’t know anybody who would ever do this," James said. "People up here are friendly and nice. You don’t get people like that. No drug addicts, no shootings — it just doesn’t happen up here."
Community members were concerned for their safety in the early morning search for the shooter, but their thoughts and prayers quickly turned to DeRosier on Sunday.
"It's scary and I'm just praying for the family. Just praying and for the loss. It's a loss for the community," Knight-Powell said.
Shawana Archer works at a local deli in Kalama. She was noticeably shaken by the murder in this Cowlitz County community.
"Instantly heartbroken, sad, confused. Of course, wondering why," Archer said. "Everybody sticks together and when something like this happens it hurts everybody."
Without knowing the deputy who was killed, she said one of her customers had already offered a donation to help his family Sunday. A tragedy in the small town now feeling the ripple effect of a law enforcement officer’s life taken too soon.
"It's terrible when it happens anywhere, but it's a shock when it happens somewhere like this — small, quiet," Archer said.
Knight-Powell told KGW that she has seen a change recently in her beloved town. She says she has seen more break-ins and crimes as the population there continues to grow.