Richard “Dick” Petersen raced through the streets of Pasco and darted into a narrow alley, where he hid with a .22-caliber revolver by his side.
The 16-year-old had just used a .30-caliber rifle to open fire on his father and grandfather in a drunken rage. The men laid bleeding near their trailer homes on East Lewis Street.
As sirens blared and cops converged on the area, Pasco patrolman Alva Jackson rounded a corner and came face-to-face with the baby-faced teen.
Jackson, known for his aptitude in connecting with troubled youth, kept his pistol holstered and stared down the barrel of the loaded revolver pointed at his head. Petersen wasted no time unloading on Jackson as the officer came toward him.
Bullets tore into Jackson’s face and chest, yet the determined lawman reached Petersen, stripping the teen of the gun and a switchblade. A Franklin County deputy sheriff helped subdue Petersen as he thrashed about.
Blood flowed down the right side of Jackson’s face as he collapsed to the ground. He was rushed into surgery at Our Lady of Lourdes in Pasco. Police from as far away as Yakima rushed bottles of A-positive blood to the hospital.
Through an oxygen mask on a stretcher Jackson whispered, “Lord Jesus, help me. Let me breathe.”
A little less than two hours after the shooting, Jackson, 38, died, as reported in the Columbia Basin News at the time. It was 6:48 p.m. on April 1, 1955.
This week marks the 60th anniversary of Jackson’s death — the only Pasco officer to die in the line of duty in the department’s 105-year history. A memorial service is planned Wednesday at City View Cemetery, where Jackson’s casket was draped with an American flag and buried.
A plaque bearing his picture hangs outside the police department.
His widow, Clara, stayed in Pasco and raised their daughters Judy and Rosalie, who were 12 and 8 when their father died. Clara eventually married another Pasco cop, Okie Miles.
Rosalie told the Herald the family continues to remember Jackson as a hero — he was a military policeman in World War II in addition to his civilian law enforcement service. They have shared the story of his death with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Obviously it changed our lives a great deal, but the people in Pasco were like any small-town community in the ‘50s and ‘60s. They held us together. Neighbors looked out for each other,” she said. “Mom was real good about keeping his memory alive.”
Jackson’s death rocked the growing city of Pasco and rattled the small department where officers earned $11.33 daily. Cops were on edge as they patrolled the streets. The community searched for answers.
Even more troubling to folks was the teen killer who appeared to show little remorse. Petersen was quoted by newspaper reporters as shouting, “I wish I would have had a rifle” as he was arrested.
‘Dark cloud’ over the city
Petersen was known around town for chugging vodka and cutting class at Pasco High School. He had a collection of guns and had been busted by the cops for minor offenses, including shoplifting and vandalism.
The shooting painted Petersen as a much darker character, with the Columbia Basin News referring to him as a “booze-crazed” killer who terrorized the town during the 30-minute shooting spree.
Petersen was heavy-set for his age, didn’t play sports and tended to keep to himself. His mother told police he was embarrassed by his size and weight, 218 pounds, and it caused him shy away from others.
One thing Petersen did enjoy, as he told a parole officer in 1955, was driving around in the car his father had given him and drinking beer. He and another boy skipped school the day of the shooting to drink beer and wine.
The night of the shooting, Petersen’s mother, Opal, told a newspaper reporter: “That damn booze. He is a good boy when sober, but recently he has been coming home after school drunk. When drinking ... he gets crazy. He can’t hold it.”
When Petersen got home, his mother was upset he was drunk and took him to the grocery store. She ended up sending him home after he caused a scene.
When there, his father, Pete or “P.H.,” was home, drinking a cup of coffee. They argued and the enraged teen shot at his dad and then fired at a neighbor before going to his grandfather’s trailer nearby.
Chet Young said his grandson’s face was distorted and he looked him in the eye and said, “I am going to shoot,” according to court documents. Young was hit in the leg as he tried to run away.
Petersen then came across his father stumbling across Lewis Street, court documents said. Thinking his father was getting police, Petersen fired several shots. His father crumpled to the ground and Petersen took off.
Moments later Jackson and police Chief A.L. McKibbin showed up as P.H. clung to life. Jackson, a set of Columbia Basin News reporters in tow, set out to stop the rampage.
A short while later, the fatal six shots rang out from the alley near the intersection of Main Avenue and Lewis Street where Jackson had found Petersen.
Columbia Basin News photographer Dick Farris snapped a photo of Jackson seconds after he was shot. It shows the bloodied policeman wrapping up Petersen for the arrest — the last of Jackson’s life.
“Jackson stopped for a second while the boy was firing at him point blank, turned his head a bit and seemed to have a stunned expression on his face,” Farris said in 1955. “It kind of looked like Jackson and the boy surprised each other.”
Bob Gore, now 94, was a Pasco police officer in 1955 and good friends with Jackson. Gore was at home eating a smelt dinner when he got word his brother in blue had been shot.
Gore showed up to a somber scene at the hospital. He had arrived too late to say goodbye.
Now, 60 years later, Gore told the Herald he still remembers the dark cloud cast over the city in the days following the shooting. The retired Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy still can’t shake the fact that Jackson was killed by the exact type of person he focused his life and career on helping.
“The kids would always say, ‘Send Jackson,’ ” Gore said at his retirement home. “That has bothered me for the last 50 or 60 years. The fact he did think so much of kids, then to have one of them do that.”
‘I wonder if they will hang me’
More than two weeks after the shooting, Petersen’s father died from his injuries. The prosecutor charged Petersen with two counts of murder and one count of second-degree assault.
Petersen initially pleaded innocent by reason of insanity and mental irresponsibility. As the teen sat in jail he asked deputies, “I wonder if they will hang me?” according to a news account.
Prosecutor Roger Olson and Petersen’s lawyers reached a plea six months after the shootings. The deal allowed Petersen to plead guilty to second-degree murder for shooting Jackson and manslaughter for killing his father. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla.
At his pre-sentencing evaluation, parole officer Robert Dysart, who examined Petersen and spoke to his family, wrote that there was little chance the young killer could be rehabilitated.
“The only redeeming thing about Richard Petersen is his youthful age — he is only 16 years old,” Dysart wrote. “He appears at this time to be a potentially dangerous person in free society and his future should be decided by qualified psychiatrists and sociologists.”
Four years after he was convicted, in December 1959, Petersen again graced the front page of newspapers when he made a daring escape attempt from the penitentiary.
Armed with homemade bombs and shanks, Petersen, then 20, tried to break free with two other prisoners, reports said. Petersen, the apparent ringleader, snatched his mother’s car keys from her while she was visiting. The trio then took a corrections officer hostage, stabbing the man in the process.
Warden Bob Rhay confronted the men and ordered a corrections officer to shoot Petersen, reports said. When the officer froze, Rhay grabbed a revolver and shot Petersen near the heart. The warden also shot another prisoner.
Petersen underwent emergency surgery and was not expected to survive, but he did.
For many in the Tri-Cities who kept up with Petersen, that was the last they heard of him. Rumors circulated that he was stabbed in a prison riot or that he died at the hands of the warden.
Petersen made it out of prison on parole nearly 10 years into his sentence, records show. He moved to Spokane to live with his mother. Only a few months later he struck and killed a 44-year-old pedestrian while he was driving. Police suspected Petersen had been drinking.
Petersen was charged with negligent homicide shortly after the crash, records show. It’s unclear if the charge was dropped, but Petersen was released from jail a few months later on the condition he not drink. In June 1966, a year after he was freed, Petersen violated his parole and he was returned to prison.
Regrets later in life
While in the Walla Walla prison, Petersen crossed paths with a woman named Dorothy who worked in an office at the facility. The man that Dorothy got to know was much different than the person she says she read about in Petersen’s prison file.
“I was amazed he could be such a good person having gone through what he went through,” she told the Herald.
Shortly after Petersen was paroled in September 1970, the couple married — without the blessing of Dorothy’s family, she said. By all accounts they lived a mostly happy life together for the next 35 years.
Petersen managed to stay out of trouble with the law and held several jobs, according to court records and his family. He retired in 2000 after a long career with the Department of Licensing.
Petersen died in 2005 of Hepatitis C, which doctors think he may have contracted during a blood transfusion when he was shot.
“Honestly if you didn’t know the background, he was just a normal person, other than the fact he had to spend his life living with the fact he destroyed others’ lives,” said his stepson, Marc.
Petersen spoke openly about his past with Dorothy and expressed remorse for stripping the Jackson children of their father. The demons that plagued him as a child sometimes crept out of the shadows. He battled alcoholism, entering rehab twice before getting completely sober in the late ‘70s.
“He really of course regretted things, but he couldn’t change it,” she said. “I know if he could have undone his past he would have, naturally. Who wouldn’t have?”