PORTLAND, Ore. – The man shot dead by Portland police during a shootout near Wilson High School on Wednesday was wanted for kidnapping and assaulting a woman at a Milwaukie tanning salon in January, police said.
Kelly Vern Swoboda, 49, was following female students at Wilson High School before the shooting, law enforcement sources told KATU. The state medical examiner said Swoboda died from a gunshot wound to the chest.
Portland police said Officer John Romero was shot and wounded. Romero is an 8-year veteran assigned to the Youth Services Division.
Romero was treated at a hospital for injuries to his arm and hand. He has been released and is recovering at home, police said.
Romero and two Central Precinct officers were responding to a report of a suspicious man driving a van near the Hillsdale Library and Wilson High School before the confrontation and shooting occurred, according to police. Someone called 911 and said the suspicious man was near the school. Police sent extra patrols to the area.
Police said Officer Edgar Mitchell, who was the first to arrive, saw the van and its driver, but the van's license plate did not match the one police were looking for. The driver, later identified as Swoboda, told Mitchell he was going to visit the library and walked away.
After the driver left, Mitchel noticed that the van had two different license plates; the front plate matched the description, police said. Officer Mitchell and Officer Sze Lai went to the library to look for the driver while Officer Romero stayed with the van, according to police.
Romero (photo at right) saw Swoboda walking on S.W. Cheltenham Street. Witnesses told police that Swoboda ignored several commands from Romero and kept walking.
"At some point, the man stopped and during the course of the encounter, both Officer Romero and the man fired weapons," a Portland police news release said.
Swoboda died at the scene. Officers recovered a loaded .45-caliber handgun near Swoboda’s body, sources told KATU.
Romero was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard police procedure.
On Thursday afternoon, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, who visited Romero in the hospital just after he was shot and went to the shooting scene, praised Romero and and said he was "thrilled" to hear he's improving.
"I was at the scene of the shooting near Wilson High yesterday afternoon and evening; I got to speak with his fellow officers and the command staff, and I’ve heard the reactions of people from Wilson High School, where he is known as a valuable member of the community and a School Resource Officer," the mayor said in a statement.
Many Wilson High School students who spoke with KATU on Thursday said Romero, who is their school resource officer, is a hero.
"He was in the line of duty and he was helping protect us," said student Rachel Hunt. "They say he's a hero for our community, and we all want to thank him."
Swoboda's criminal history
Swoboda was wanted for kidnapping a woman from Palm Beach Tan in Milwaukie on Jan. 27, according to police. He threw her in his purple van and took off. Police said the woman fought back and jumped from the moving car. She suffered serious injuries.
U.S. Marshals joined the manhunt for Swoboda. He was considered armed and dangerous. Police were not sure where Swoboda was hiding because he did not have a known address.
Swoboda was charged in three bank robberies earlier this week, according to court documents. The robberies occurred in November and December of 2013; two were in Milwaukie and the other happened in Portland.
Swoboda was also wanted for robbing a bank in Eugene, Ore., according to the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. He was convicted twice for bank robbery in 1994 and 2006 and once for a weapons violation in 1999. He was also convicted of probation violations.
Swoboda's mother "devastated" over his death
Kelly Swoboda’s mother, who did not want to be identified, told KATU News she loves her son no matter what he’s done in the past.
“We don’t like how he died out there laying on the street. It breaks my heart,” she said through tears. “He’s my baby son; he’s not an animal.”
She wants people to realize he had a mental illness and has struggled with depression since he was a child.
“That was not Kelly out there. He has an illness and severe depression and chemical deficiencies," she said. "That’s what made him do that. He needed help, not to be killed.”
Swoboda’s niece said he’s always been nice when she’s seen him, but she didn’t know him well. She feels for his victims.
“We’re saddened and want people to know we’re sorry for everything he did,” she said. “And we’re sorry it had to end this way.”
KATU's Colin Miner and Erica Nochlin contributed to this story.
PORTLAND, OR – My thoughts go out today to Portland Police Officer John Romero, who was shot in the line of duty on Wednesday. Officer Romero, along with Officers Sze Lai and Edgar Mitchell, were investigating reports of a mysterious vehicle seen near Wilson High School students.
I was at the scene of the shooting near Wilson High yesterday afternoon and evening; I got to speak with his fellow officers and the command staff, and I’ve heard the reactions of people from Wilson High School, where he is known as a valuable member of the community and a School Resource Officer. I later was at the hospital to speak to Officer Romero, his wife and his understandably concerned colleagues.
I am thrilled to hear that Officer Romero’s health is improving.
We await the results of the autopsy, the investigation of the shooting, and a Multnomah County grand jury review.
I thank Officer Romero and all of his fellow officers for the service they provide every day, protecting our community.