Alderwood Mall shooting suspect pleads not guilty to murder, assault charges in Wednesday court appearance

Samuel Gizaw (left) sits with his attorney, Scott McGinty, during his arraignment hearing Wednesday, July 10 in Snohomish County Superior Court. (Photos by Rick Sinnett)

The 16-year-old Edmonds teen accused of fatally shooting 13-year-old Jayda Woods-Johnson at Alderwood Mall July 3 appeared in Snohomish County Superior Court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, first-degree assault, and unlawful possession of a firearm as a juvenile. 

Court documents allege that following an altercation in the mall’s food court, suspect Samuel L. Gizaw fired one shot at a male teen acquaintance but missed, striking Woods-Johnson instead. 

Under Washington state law, juveniles age 16 or 17 who are charged with serious violent offenses, including murder, are automatically referred to the adult court system. 

Woods-Johnson – a Brier Terrace Middle School student who would have entered eighth grade this fall – was walking through the mall with her 11-year-old friend just after 6 p.m. July 3 when she was shot in the back near her right shoulder. The autopsy report showed that the bullet had hit through her body, piercing her heart and right lung and exited through her left chest, court documents said. 

Witnesses at the food court began CPR on the victim until Lynnwood police responded and took over. Woods-Johnsons was rushed to Providence Hospital in Everett, where she died.

Alderwood Mall was locked down for an hour while police looked for the suspect. Gizaw was identified by a Kamiak High School teacher who saw a photo of him circulated in the news media immediately following the shooting. 

The court issued a $2 million arrest warrant for Gizaw on Tuesday, following his release on a $500,000 bond July 4. If he is released on bail again, the state has requested that he be placed under house arrest with GPS monitoring, along with other conditions.

Lynnwood police reported that as of Wednesday afternoon, Gizaw was in custody at Everett’s Denney Youth Center.

Friends and family of Jayda Woods-Johnson gathered on July 10 for Samuel Gizaw’s arraignment.

Due to the nature of the crime and the defendant’s actions, Gizaw poses “a danger to commit another violent offense,” the charging documents said. Not only did Gizaw bring a loaded firearm to the crowded mall, but ”after a single punch, the defendant severely escalated the situation by displaying a firearm with dozens of innocent and uninvolved individuals around them,” the court said.

The court filing  reported that Gizaw and a male friend walked out of the AMC movie theater at 6 p.m. and headed near the mall’s food court, where they were confronted by five teenage males. After Gizaw made a “disrespectful comment” about a deceased person associated with one of the males – known as “J.M.” – J.M. punched Gizaw in his face. 

Gizaw did not fall or lost his footing, the report said, and he pulled out his firearm as J.M. approached him. Gizaw did not point the gun at anyone, but J.M. and the other four males ran away from him. They did not look back as Gizaw chased them toward the food court. 

Gizaw fired one shot as he was chasing J.M. and missed. The bullet hit Woods-Johnson instead, who was facing away from Gizaw. 

The charges state that Gizaw fled the mall and was picked up by a group of teens in a car. Later that evening, Gizaw asked his mother to take him to the Mukilteo police station but didn’t say why, court documents said. 

According to the court, detectives received screenshots from social media that showed Gizaw posing with different firearms. One photo showed him pointing two firearms in front of him, another showed him with his head down, smoking and holding a black firearm. 

The suspect’s father said he didn’t know how his son got access to weapons.

Friends and family of Jayda Woods Johnson speak to the press outside the courthouse after Gizaw’s arraignment. The family said that the suspect should have been denied bail in the case.

Detectives also found a social post where an “uninvolved individual boasts that the law enforcement will not find the firearm,” adding “it is clear that the defendant has attempted to hide the evidence.”

“The defendant clearly has access to multiple guns and associates with individuals who also appear to have guns,” the charges stated, adding that law enforcement had learned that Gizaw was suspended from high school for fighting, “showing he has a history of violence.”

Lynnwood police said Wednesday that the gun used in the crime has not been located, and added that anyone who voluntarily turns the gun in will not be arrested. Contact crimetips@lynnwoodwa.gov if the gun is in your possession or you know who has it, police said.

Lynnwood police detectives also said they are also attempting to identify and interview two females who accompanied Samuel Gizaw to see a movie July 3 at the AMC 16 at the Alderwood Mall. Those with information are asked to contact crimetips@lynnwoodwa.gov.

 A pretrial hearing in the case has been scheduled for Aug. 23.

— By Nick Ng

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