The deadly shooting Wednesday night in downtown Seattle is prompting tech companies in the area to implement new precautions to protect employees, amid larger questions about the safety of the city’s urban core.
“I never thought as a CEO or a tech startup guy that I would have to tell my employees or my team to stay away from the windows,” said Nikesh Parekh, CEO of Suplari, recalling the moment around 5 p.m. when he first heard gunshots on the street below. Suplari is one of several tech startups with offices in a tower overlooking the scene of the shooting.
The gunfight erupted at rush hour at the corner of Pine Street and Third Avenue. One person was killed and seven were injured. Two suspects fled, and the evening commute in the busy corridor was thrown into chaos.
Amazon confirmed Thursday that two of its employees were among those injured. The tech giant occupies space in the Macy’s building just across Pine Street from the McDonald’s restaurant where the shooting took place. The company said it will be increasing security in the area, and offering employees security escorts on the surrounding blocks.
“We are deeply troubled by last night’s events in Seattle and our thoughts go out to everyone impacted by this tragedy,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement.
Several startup CEOs who spoke with GeekWire on Thursday expressed frustration with a long-simmering crime problem along Third Avenue. They wondered whether officials would provide the necessary police presence to secure the area, and questioned whether it would be enough to keep employers from moving elsewhere.
In the Gibraltar Tower building on Third Avenue, five startups have offices above the scene: Suplari, Integris, Pulumi, Ad Lightning and Gradient.io.
Integris CEO Kristina Bergman said she’s reconsidering where to put the company’s offices. Integris already relocated from nearby Pioneer Square due to safety concerns. The company moved downtown in 2018 partly because of the heightened security and police presence, Bergman said.
“I would love to stay right in the heart of Seattle. It’s a great place to work,” Bergman said. “We really like being there and being in that building, but we would like to feel a little bit safer — and recent events have made us feel unsafe.”
There were two other downtown shootings this week, in addition to Wednesday’s incident.
“People are rattled right now,” Bergman said. “They’re unsure of whether or not they can go about their daily lives without fear of getting caught in the crossfire and seeing more bodies lying on the street.”
Bergman said she’d like more police presence to help deter criminal activity. “We are paying very, very close attention to how the city handles this,” Bergman said.
Suplari’s Parekh has been worried about safety along Third Avenue for some time, where he has witnessed drug dealing and drug use and theft in stores up and down the street. Employees are advised to only use the building’s Fourth Avenue entrance. About 40 Suplari employees work on the seventh floor of the building.
He said he takes great pride in Seattle competing with San Francisco as a tech hub, particularly for AI and cloud technologies. With nearby transit options, he considers Suplari’s office location to be in an ideal spot for attracting employees in a competitive market for talent. But the safety issues could give companies and their employees second thoughts about their choice of location.
Parekh, who lives in Bellevue, Wash., alluded to Amazon’s previous decision to move a large chunk of employees to the suburban city.
“I had employees stay home today because they don’t feel safe,” he said. “I agree we need to solve the root cause of all of this, be it homelessness or mental health or drug addiction. But if you’re trying to attract great tech talent between startups like us or Amazon, people don’t want to work someplace that’s not safe.”
Marty Fagan is the director of facilities at nearby Qumulo, where 170 people work. He spent 15 years doing the same job at F5 Networks — but prior to that he was a police officer for 12 years in Honolulu. Fagan brings the perspective he gained in police work to his everyday movements around Seattle and he shared some of it in an email to Qumulo employees after the shooting.
“I walk a couple blocks to work, I come down Third Avenue. The main thing is don’t walk and look at your cell phone,” Fagan said. “No. 2 is do not walk with a pair of headphones on, ever, ever. You can’t hear what’s going on or understand your surroundings.”
Fagan, who also instructs employees to only use the Fourth Avenue entrance to Qumulo offices, also said it’s a good idea, when going to lunch with co-workers, to make sure that someone always has a clear line of sight to the door of an establishment.
“I think about it constantly, I’m always aware of my surroundings,” he said.
What would the ex-cop like the city to do after what happened this week?
“I think they do need a heavier show of force here, maybe a little heavier hand somehow. It has to be consistent.”
Scott Moore was sitting at his desk at Ad Lightning on Wednesday evening, finishing up his Q4 investor update, when the shooting started.
From the third floor of the Gibraltar building, where 11 employees work in a shared space with Gradient.io, Moore heard shots in quick succession — “Pop pop pop pop pop pop pop! Like somebody emptied a clip.”
The tech veteran and startup CEO looked out his window and could see people lying on the ground, diving into stores and ducking for cover. Eventually he watched as first responders worked on on the corner and police put down markers down where bullet casings fell in the street — some just below his balcony.
Ad Lightning has been in the building since Aug. 1. Moore said he wants the tenants of the building to have a meeting with Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine. He called Third Avenue between Pike and Pine Streets “an open air drug market” without enough police presence. Wednesday’s shooting was only a matter of time, Moore said.
“We love being right downtown. The transit access is fantastic. We like our space — that’s why there’s so many startups in this building, because the rents are reasonable,” he said. “But I’m going to have to think about staying here. We can’t have a situation in our downtown core where gunfights are breaking out. That’s not gonna work. … Or we’ll all follow Amazon over to Bellevue.”
Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Mayor Durkan called the shooting “one of the most horrific chapters” in the city’s history.
“No one, absolutely no one, in our city or country should step out of a coffee shop or get on a bus with fear of violence,” Durkan said.
Police presence will increase around the area where the shooting occurred, the mayor said. It was already a focus of public safety efforts in recent months. There are approximately 50,000 people who board buses on Third Avenue each day. Durkan vowed to meet with nearby residents and businesses to address concerns. She described the downtown corridor as “still one of the safest in America” despite recent events.
“Our downtown is safe,” she said. “We know people don’t feel that and we know this rattles people.”
The Downtown Seattle Association called on public officials to take decisive action.
“The heart of our city should feel safe and welcoming for all who live, work and visit here,” the group said in a statement. “We call on public officials to devote the resources necessary to improve safety in downtown and take back Third Avenue from the criminals who have laid claim to it. On behalf of residents, small business owners, employers and visitors, we say enough is enough.”