HAPPY VALLEY, Ore. (KOIN) — Days before an assailant intentionally set a 69-year-old customer at Denny’s in Happy Valley on fire, a similar incident took place in a theater at Clackamas Town Center.
Although investigators said they’re looking into both incidents, they have not officially confirmed whether they believe the same suspect is sought for both.
But a 27-year-old Portland woman is convinced the suspect in the Denny’s attack is the same person she saw in the theater Sunday night.
The woman, who asked KOIN 6 News to protect her identity, said she and some friends were at the 10:30 p.m. showing of “The Fate of the Furious.” She said there were only about a dozen people in the theater.
In the second half of the movie, she said she noticed a spark coming from a guy sitting just a few seats over. At first, she said, she thought the guy was smoking.
“Seconds later it was a full pack of matches that was lit up ,and at that point you could see and he purposely put it right in front of his face. You could see his expression,” she told KOIN 6 News. “And then he threw the gasoline. At that point matches were thrown but they didn’t light up.”
The woman said a moviegoer near the suspect was covered in gasoline — something she instantly smelled. She believes the suspect had gasoline in a water bottle.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim and his family for this tragic incident at Denny’s last night. Our on-site management and security teams are fully cooperating with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office and Clackamas Fire District #1 as they investigate the incidents.” – Clackamas Town Center statement
“At that point it was a fight-or-flight reaction,” she said.
She and her friends ran out of the theater and called police. As she and the others ran, she hit her shoulder, bruised her leg and lost her shoe, she said.
“Everybody ran each way,” she said. “At that moment of panic I don’t recall any noise. You just run. You run for your life.”
She said the suspect threw the matches but “they must have not hit the gasoline because the flame was never ignited. I think it’s by God’s grace that we were saved, that nothing lit up in flames that moment.”
Clackamas County Sgt. Brian Jensen told KOIN 6 News “a subject had what we think is gasoline splashed on them.” Jensen cautioned the person splashed “was not cooperative with our deputies and apparently found the situation humorous.”
That person also “refused to press any charges and only gave a vague description of a ‘suspect,’” according to Jensen.
The witness to Sunday’s theater incident said her friend ran into the suspect outside the theater.
“He gave her a very frightening look and her brother showed up, like, next to her,” she told KOIN 6 News. “She felt like he was going to harm her but he decided to just run, and he ran out the exit door, the back door.”
She said the suspect was about 5-feet-8, was wearing a hoodie and was “younger, like Justin Bieber-like looking face.” But she noticed one thing clearly when she saw the picture of the Denny’s suspect: his jawline.
“The jawline is what sticks out the most to me, kind of like the mouth area,” she said. “I’m pretty certain that that’s the same guy.”
She said she heard about the incident at Denny’s and couldn’t sleep all night.
“This person needs to be caught, can’t be just running around setting people on flames, on fire,” she said.
With a critically burned man in an apparently random attack, investigators are looking more closely at both cases.
Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office at 503.723.4949 or by email to Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office Tip Line. Case #17-10537