Sheriff's Deputy Shoots and Kills Asian Teen the Night Before His High School Graduation

June 14 was slated to be a big day for 20-year-old Tommy Le—his high school graduation. But Le never made it to the ceremony. He was shot and killed by a police officer just hours before the ceremony started, making him the 449th person to be fatally shot by a police officer this year.

According to the Seattle Times, the shooting occurred around midnight in Burien, Washington, just south of Seattle, when Kings County officers responded to multiple 911 calls about a man threatening people in the neighborhood and possessing a sharp object, possibly a knife. The man turned out to be Le. Other reports from homeowners in the neighborhood say Le was walking around calling himself “the Creator,” even stabbing one man’s door.  

Sheriff spokeswoman Sgt. Cindi West said that when deputies confronted Le, he refused their commands to drop the object he was holding, which at the time authorities believed was a knife. Two deputies fired their tasers, one striking Le. West said that the tasers did not affect Le. The young man reportedly moved toward the officers, prompting a deputy to shoot him three times, killing him.

The Sheriff’s Office revealed a week later that Le was actually holding a pen instead of a knife. Police did discover knives in a search of Le’s shared home, but are still unclear whether Le had a knife in his possession during the incident. According to the Seattle Times, a sheriff’s detective speculated that Le may have been drunk, although toxicology reports are still pending. Le’s shooting is being investigated by the sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit.

Le attended Career Link, an alternative high school completion program at South Seattle College. His teachers, family and friends told the Seattle Times he had no history of violence or mental illness. A fellow graduate told the Seattle Times that Le was a “bubbly kid.”

Curt Peterson, Career Link director and one of Le’s teachers, saw Le prior to his death and said the young man was excited to graduate. He added that his death came as a shock.

“If we had a discipline file on Tommy it would be completely empty,” Peterson told the Seattle Times. “He was the sweetest kid in the world. He didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body.”

Le was often plagued by housing insecurity after he decided to move out of his family home six months ago. Teachers recall Le writing in journals that he was living out of his backpack and sleeping on park benches some nights. At the time of his death, Le was living with a friend about a block away from where he was killed. 

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