TACOMA, Wash. – On Saturday, police were forced to take the life of a “protester” who attacked an ICE detention center, armed with a rifle and molotov cocktails. 

But the violent attack apparently won’t stop protesters from continuing to march on these centers.

Police identified the deceased suspect as Willem Van Spronsen, age 69. And Saturday wasn’t the first time that he’s gone after members of law enforcement. According to records, Van Spronsen was at a protest last year when he lunged at an officer’s neck. He was arrested for assault. 


Court documents alleged that Van Spronsen jumped on the back of an officer and “wrapped both of his arms around Officer Robillard’s neck and shoulders,” while the officer was trying to detain a protestor.

A friend of Van Spronsen described him as an anarchist and an anti-fascist.

“He was ready to end it,” she said. “I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs. I know he went down there knowing he was going to die.”



Other activists tried to turn the blame on the federal agents after Van Spronsen was killed, painting them as the violent ones.

“I think what is clear is that somebody died right outside the detention center. The detention center is a dangerous place,” protester Maru Mora Villalpando said.

Perhaps she didn’t take note of the parts of the story where her fellow “activist” threw molotov cocktails at people and tried to destroy property, including buses meant for deportations. 

Van Spronsen, 69, had previously been arrested for assaulting an officer. (KOMO News)


Villalpando says the protests will continue.

“We want people to know that we’re not going to be afraid, we’re going to be organized, and we’re going to fight back,” activist Maru Mora Villalpando said.


Authorities say Van Spronsen showed up the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma with a rifle and homemade molotov cocktails.  They say he hurled incendiary devices at both the facility and nearby propane tanks, setting a vehicle on fire.

It happened around 4 a.m. local time.  Police yelled out to the man to stop him before shots were fired.  It’s not yet clear how many shots were fired and whether he and police fired at each other.

According to police spokesman Loretta Cool, the officers weren’t wearing body cameras. With that said, the area is covered by surveillance cameras from the detention center. 

“He was throwing these items at the building in an effort to set it on fire. It didn’t work, it’s a concreate building,” said Officer Loretta Cool with the Tacoma Police Department.


As per department policy, the four officers involved were placed on administrative leave. None of them were injured.

ICE put out a statement no employees “were harmed nor involved in this tragic incident.”

The shooting came mere hours after a rally in front of the detention center to protest planned mass deportation raids around the country.

The Tacoma facility is run by the Department of Homeland Security.  It holds migrants pending deportation proceedings.

The 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center is run by GEO Group. They say Van Spronsen’s attack was unwarranted. 

“Our facilities have never been overcrowded, nor have they ever housed unaccompanied minors,” the statement said, noting that the facilities “offer modern amenities” like air conditioning, recreational activities, medical care and legal services.

In an email to The Associated Press, group administrators said baseless accusations about how detainees are treated at its facilities “have led to misplaced aggression and a dangerous environment for our employees, whose safety is our top priority. Violence of any kind against our employees and property will not be tolerated. We are thankful for the quick and brave action by the Tacoma Police Department, which prevented innocent lives from being endangered.”

PBA to NYPD: Protect ICE

PBA to NYPD: Protect ICE


It was at the center of a lawsuit last year, where a federal judge ruled that Washington state could pursue its suit seeking to force GEO Group to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees at the detention center.

The Trump administration’s child separation policy was the subject of a contentious Congressional hearing Friday.

During that time, former ICE director Tom Homan defended law enforcement amid criticism from Democratic politicians.

“As a 34-year veteran of law enforcement, it is shocking, shocking to see constant attacks against those that leave the safety and security of their homes every day, put on a Kevlar vest and put a gun on their hip and risk their own safety to defend this nation,” he said, at times appearing to get choked up as he defended his former colleagues.

Last week, a battle over flags at the detention center went back and forth between protesters and center personnel.


Protestors screamed at the sky outside an ICE facility and pulled down the flag so they could raise the flag of Mexico.


Then, they also removed a “Blue Lives Matter” flag, spray-painted it with the words “Abolish ICE,” then raised the flag upside-down, on a pole next to the Mexican flag.


The protestors were gathered in Aurora, Colorado outside a federal facility. Inside that facility are people who broke the law and snuck into the country.

Protestors were upset about ICE raids that are scheduled to begin Sunday in Denver and other major U.S. cities.

Aurora police Chief Nick Metz said the majority of protesters were peaceful.  At those protests, parents exploited their children to send a political message.


The protest is part of a well funded series of events dubbed #LightsForLiberty, also being called the “March to Close Concentration Camps”.

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence said at the border wall that the upcoming ICE raids will not be done at random and will be focused on “removing those deported by courts.”

Raids are also expected in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco… but may be delayed in New Orleans due to Tropical Storm Barry.

Other #LightsForLiberty protests took place on Friday, including in San Ysidro, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and New York City.