The Richland Fred Meyer shooter is being sent to a Washington state psychiatric hospital indefinitely — until it’s safe someday to release him.
Superior Court Judge Jacqueline Stam accepted Aaron C. Kelly’s plea of not guilty by reason of insanity at the end of an emotional two-hour hearing Monday.
“While I appreciate some of the comments (about) common sense and (how) it doesn’t make sense, the court also has to take into consideration the experts ... have reviewed all of the evidence, not just evidence that certain people say or relate. And those experts indicate that this defendant was insane at the time,” she said.
Her ruling was met with angry shouts from relatives and friends of his two victims that Kelly is “still a murderer.”
Justin Krumbah, an Instacart worker, was killed and Fred Meyer employee Mark Hill was seriously wounded in the February 2022 shooting.
Their family and friends have said Kelly, 41, needs to be in prison, rather than a hospital. They called him a manipulator who has scammed the system to escape justice.
“It’s time for Kelly to take responsibility for the crimes he committed and let him face a jury of his peers,” Krumbah’s sister Krista Schaaf told the judge. “Letting him off by going to a hospital is nothing but a slap on the wrist and giving him everything he wants.”
Kelly will remain in a psychiatric facility until state medical officials believe he’s safe to be released. And a judge would need to agree.
Benton County Prosecutor Eric Eisinger told Stam he was reluctant to agree with the defense’s motion, but couldn’t proceed after three reports from psychologists concluded Kelly didn’t understand the “nature and quality” of his actions the day of the shootings.
Eisinger promised that a deputy prosecutor would continue to monitor all requests to release Kelly from treatment.
Kelly’s mental state has been at the center of two years of legal proceedings since he was charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.
All the medical officials agreed he suffered from schizophrenia and believed a shadowy organization was constantly testing him.
Kelly said in court on Monday that he wished he could go back in time and give himself the anti-psychotic medication in time to prevent the shooting.
“I apologize to humanity for making an ugly blot on a page of history,” he said. “I apologize to my friends and to my family for betraying our shared values — the good values of my upbringing.”
“I apologize to the larger Tri-Cities community and specifically to the community of Richland, for shattering their sense of security and, senselessly, increasing fear. I apologize to the friends and families of the victims for their unspeakable suffering and heartache.”
Krumbah’s sister, mother, father, brother and others called on the judge to not allow Kelly to escape harsh punishment by going to treatment.
Schaaf and Krumbah’s father, Ed Krumbah, argued that Kelly seemed too composed the day of the shooting and had too much of a plan for it to make sense that he was not sane.
Schaaf pointed out that Kelly targeted Krumbah and Hill because they were whistling during a prior visit to the store.
They noted that he searched the internet for the news after the shooting, as well as information on how to escape to Mexico and extradition laws. And they said he drew maps of Eastern State Hospital during his time there.
Schaaf worked in Fred Meyer at the time of the shooting and was inside when Kelly killed her brother.
“There’s no training video that can be made to prepare anyone for the event that took place at Fred Meyer on Feb. 7, 2022,” she said. “An active shooter is something I never thought would ever happen at my store.”
The experience shattered her sense of safety and took away her ability to do her job.
Krumbah’s relatives described him as a kind man who was always willing to help when he was needed.
Kelly’s attorney, Karla Kane, called the shooting the most tragic case she’s seen during her 20-year career.
“The tragedy that this case represents can be felt no matter whose shoes you walk into — whether it’s Mr Krumbah’s, Mr. Hill’s, their family, their friends, all those affected in the community by the events of Feb. 7, 2022, the family and friends of Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kelly himself,” she said.
She wasn’t trying to diminish the pain and suffering of the people involved, but said before Kelly’s mental illness he did leave a positive impact.
A former student of his reached out to him about how he helped her even after discovering what happened.
“We, as his defense team, have also received several calls from friends of Mr. Kelly, even to include, ex-girlfriends, wanting to make sure that we were aware that the person we were representing was and is a great person ... and enhanced their lives.”
When he developed schizophrenia, he began seeing connections between unrelated things, leading to a delusion that he was being tested by a shadowy entity “either for their own pleasure for entry into their organization,” Kane said.
Even after his arrest and for close to a year after, he continued to believe he was being tested. As the anti-psychotic medication worked, he started to realize what he had done, Kane said. As he realized what he had done, she called the look in his eyes heart-wrenching.
“I think it is easier as a community to view Mr. Kelly with no grace or compassion, ... as a cold-blooded murderer than see the situation for what it actually represents — an unmanaged mental illness that caused Mr. Kelly to behave in a way that does not align with his or the community’s values.”
Fred Meyer shooting
Store security video shows Kelly entered the store at 11:01 a.m. on Feb. 7, 2022.
He was pushing a shopping cart that held a duffle bag and a backpack but he didn’t pick up any store items for his cart.
Two minutes later, Kelly and Krumbah passed each other on Aisle 14 and appeared to have a quick conversation. There is no audio of the exchange, but Krumbah went back to selecting items from shelves to fill customer orders, said investigators.
Kelly, however, pulled out a handgun and shot Krumbah multiple times when he wasn’t looking. Kelly then fired several more times at Krumbah on the floor before walking away.
As Kelly passed the customer service desk near the exit, he also shot Hill, court documents said.
Kelly reportedly spoke with another person, then wandered around briefly before exiting. Inside, panicked customers and store employees scrambled for cover and called 911.
Kelly was arrested 12 hours later driving his Honda north on Interstate 90.