Slain Federal Prosecutor Was Gun-Control Activist, Fought Business Crime

High-ranking officials from the governor to U.S. attorney general expressed shock at the deadly shooting of a federal prosecutor who was a prominent gun-control activist.

Thomas C. Wales, 49, died early Friday at Harborview Medical Center after he was shot while inside his home late Thursday.

Authorities say the shooting was deliberate and not a random act of violence.

"Any number of personal, business or professional issues" could have prompted the attack, said Seattle police Capt. Brent Wingstrand.

Wales worked in Seattle's U.S. attorney's office, specializing in criminal prosecution of banking and business crime.

He was board president of a Seattle-based gun-control group that in 1997 sponsored an initiative which would have required handgun owners to undergo safety training and use trigger locks. The measure failed.

"This is a unique type of investigation," given Wales' 18 years as a crime-fighting prosecutor and his gun-control work, Wingstrand said.

A neighbor, Emily Holt, said she heard the shots and saw a man walking away quickly. He then got into his car and left.

"He took off like a bat out of hell," Holt said.

Attorney General John Ashcroft opened a Friday news conference in the nation's capital with an announcement of the "tragic death in the Justice Department family."

Gov. Gary Locke echoed those sentiments, saying he respected Wales' "tireless gun-control advocacy and work to prevent violence."

Wales' tight-knit upscale Seattle neighborhood was shocked by the shooting. Wales had recently stopped by the home of Edith Rotta after her husband died to offer condolences and assistance.

"He always waved if I was out in the yard," said Rotta, 73, who lived in the area for more than 30 years. "He was always friendly."

Businesses are supported by regulars, and even on a blustery Friday, the street was filled with people walking dogs and clutching steaming cups of coffee.

At the coffee shop, everyone knows each other. Residents say crime isn't a problem.

"Jaywalking is about as bad as it gets," said Chelsea Bearjones, 30, a barista at El Diablo Coffee Co.