Family still asking 'why?' about Les Schwab shooting

Joseph Henninger - Contributed
Joseph Henninger
— image credit: Contributed

POULSBO — Joseph Matthew Henninger was remembered Thursday as “a gentle giant” who loved football, his family and friends.

He once mourned a chipmunk he shot with a BB gun, his father-in-law said. He was attending Olympic College and was looking forward to working soon.

Family and friends struggled to reconcile the Henninger they knew with the Henninger who allegedly fired a handgun inside the Les Schwab Tire Center on Viking Way and was killed by police Feb. 8.

“Joe was a great young man. He was never on any kind of (non-prescription) drugs, never in any kind of trouble,” his father-in-law Teiney Carver of Poulsbo said in a phone interview before the funeral. “He never hurt anybody his whole life.” His son-in-law’s depression medication was changed two weeks before the shooting — from Wellbutrin to Paxil — and Carver thinks that may have been a cause of Henninger’s behavior.

“Whatever happened, something happened in his head. He just let the real personality of Joe go and somebody else went into that Les Schwab.”

The shooting is under investigation by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department. Three Poulsbo police officers are on administrative leave, per department policy: Officer John Halsted, a 16-year Poulsbo officer; Officer Ricki Sabado, a 28-year Poulsbo officer; and Sgt. Robert Wright, a 22-year Poulsbo officer.

Here’s what’s known: Henninger, a North Kitsap High School graduate, lived with his wife of 16 months, Sarah, a half-block from the tire center. At 5:52 p.m. Feb. 8, 911 received a call from the tire center of a man with a gun. Police arrived four minutes later, according to a Sheriff’s Department report.

Witnesses at the scene reported hearing shouting and then gunshots in the store just before 6 p.m. Subway employee Melissa Johnson said she heard “eight more shots” after officers arrived.

“It was like fireworks,” said a woman who identified herself as Lola, pumping gas at the Shell gas station near Les Schwab.

Les Schwab manager Brett Clark declined to comment.

According to the Sheriff’s Department report, “Three Poulsbo officers were confronted with actions by the man with the gun that placed them and the public in positions of jeopardy. Officers fired shots, striking the gunman.”

Henninger was declared dead at the scene. No one else was injured. Coroner Greg Sandstrom said Henninger died of gunshot wounds to the torso, right arm and neck. A toxicology report has been requested and will be completed in six to eight weeks.

Henninger would have turned 25 on March 8.

Carver said the family doesn’t know where Henninger got the handgun. Carver said his son-in-law didn’t own a handgun.

Carver said his son-in-law had struggled with weight. He lost 70 pounds in four months during training with Job Corps, but then was injured and couldn’t continue. He thinks those factors may have contributed to his depression.

Carver didn’t know why Henninger went to the tire center. He speculates that he fired the gun — he said it was fired at the ceiling — to get employees’ attention because it was loud. He speculates that firing the gun would have impaired his ability to hear the police officers’ commands.

“There are so many questions,” Carver said. “We have lost a person who loved people and animals. He was not a violent person.”

Deputy Police Chief Wendy Davis said she has not decided when her officers will return to active duty. That may not happen until the investigation is complete and the officers have undergone psychological evaluations and stress debriefing. She said the shooting was tough on the officers. “This isn’t something anybody wants to be a part of,” she said.

Poulsbo has a police force of 14 officers; Bainbridge Island Police, Suquamish Police and the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department have offered their assistance in the meantime.

Henninger’s memorial service was Thursday, 3 p.m. at The Stone Chapel Poulsbo Mortuary. A viewing was scheduled Friday at noon, followed by cremation.Henninger left behind parents, his wife, siblings and in-laws. Survivors include his wife, Sarah; mother, Melissa McCaffery; father, Martin Henninger; brothers, Samuel and Jesse Henninger; sisters, Amy Henninger and Katy Cutway; in-laws, Teiney and Jackie Carver; and grandparents, Edna Drake, Blaine Hadlock, and Jay Henninger.


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