On a Friday afternoon in January 2009, SeaTac Federal Detention Center inmate Nathan Dunmall, stood exhausted in his cell. The Canadian, now 20 years old, had just completed a series of bar dips to bulk up his chest and triceps. He turned to his cell door and glimpsed the last thing on earth he wanted to see: Elliott Sommer’s hulking frame.
Sommer, confined to another unit in the prison—a measure designed to keep the two men apart—had tricked his way into Dunmall’s unit by visiting the medical center and waiting for the perfect escort back, a guard who didn’t know in which unit the inmate belonged. Dunmall knew why his visitor had come.
Sommer stalled for a half-second, staring as if he didn’t recognize his former friend. Then he lunged. Dunmall felt a stab in his shoulder and realized that Sommer had a knife. He shoved his attacker against the wall. Sommer laughed. “You’ve gotten bigger since the last time I saw you.” Sommer charged again and wrapped his arms around his victim’s neck like a boa constrictor.
Gripped in a headlock, Dunmall gasped for air but was able to clutch Sommer’s arms and break free. The months of working out had paid off, but Dunmall knew that if the fight continued, the former Army Ranger would kill him, so he wrestled Sommer out of the cell and into the hall to get a guard’s attention. Hearing the commotion corrections officers rushed in and stopped the attack.
Sommer, restrained and cuffed, began bragging. He had fashioned the knife out of parts from a stair climber in the gym and had hidden the weapon in his shoe, “because nobody ever looks there.” He’d been plotting the attack for two months. Before he was dragged away he told Dunmall he was a dead man. “You can’t hide anywhere.”
Jessicah Stotts’s heart wasn’t in banking anymore. Her body stiffened with anxiety almost every time someone entered the building. The bank offered to pay for counseling, but didn’t give the tellers time off for the sessions. Her performance reviews started to suffer, and she never came to work early anymore. Then she decided to not come to work at all. She quit in July 2007, almost a year after the robbery. When she did eventually seek counseling, she was diagnosed with PTSD.
The memory of one moment from August 7, 2006, brings her peace, especially when reminded of special agent Monte Shaide’s postrobbery analysis. If the police had had a faster response time, arriving when the robbers were still inside, the cops, customers, and tellers wouldn’t have stood a chance, not with the Rangers’ weaponry, body armor, and training. The bank and the streets of Tacoma, Shaide says, would have flowed with blood.
So Stotts sometimes goes here: She’s on the floor, piled up with the other women. Sommer hasn’t uttered a word yet. Her head’s just beneath a teller station. Another teller whispers, “Jessicah,” and nods to a small button under the counter, the trigger for the silent alarm. Pushing it will signal the police. Unable to reach the button herself, the other teller is counting on Stotts, who can press it without the robber noticing. One fingertip on that little circle and angels in white cars will descend on this nightmare and lift the women out of the madman’s clutches. Something inside her tells her no. One push, then rescue. No. The other teller shoots her an angry look. Stotts just stares at the button, a three-second gaze that feels like a lifetime. She looks away and waits for Luke Elliott Sommer to speak.