A Senseless Death

Family and friends search for answers in the wake of an unsolved South Hill killing

Courtesy of Julie Knapp
Zachary Lamb

Rarely without a wide grin and tangled afro, Zachary Lamb rapidly won his way into the hearts of those around him. Once an outgoing child, Lamb grew into a rambunctious teenager and later matured into a compassionate young man. Hardworking but happy-go-lucky, the 26-year-old chased dreams, wandered far and befriended many.

Lamb sang and danced while washing dishes at the Yards Bruncheon. He partied late with friends, but made sure they got home safely. He mentored young boys, adored animals and shot pool like a pro.

"He was such a loving kid," his mother Julie Knapp says. "He was just a good kid that something terrible happened to."

Spokane investigators say an unidentified man fatally shot Lamb just outside his South Hill home shortly before midnight on Nov. 7. No suspects or motives have been released in the weeks since the killing. Detectives continue to follow up on leads.

Friends and family say Lamb had spent the night celebrating a co-worker's new job downtown, but had an apparent dispute with another driver on the way home. When Lamb stepped out, a dark SUV pulled up and the driver opened fire.

Lamb's girlfriend watched from the passenger seat. The couple had learned just days earlier that she was pregnant. Frustrated and heartbroken, Knapp says she knows her son looked forward to raising a family of his own. Somebody took that from him.

"He tried to hint at it," Knapp says of the pregnancy. "They were going to tell us at Thanksgiving."

As the middle son of five children, Lamb grew up in the Cle Elum area of Central Washington. Knapp says he enjoyed hiking, riding his bike and fishing. Coaches would often try to recruit him onto school teams, she says, and he could leap more than 22 feet in the long jump. He had endless energy.

"Pretty much anything he put his mind to he excelled at," she says. "He just loved sports and being active and being outside."

Lamb found some trouble as a teenager, but quickly grew out of it. He often worked in the family's restaurant. After leaving home, he spent several years living in New Orleans, Reno and Seattle before coming to Spokane. When the Yards opened, he was hired as a dishwasher and dabbled in cooking.

"He liked moving around, you know, seeing new things, just trying to find his way in the world like any kid," Knapp says, adding, "[And] he just loved to cook. It was his favorite thing in the world."

Kelli Vance, a close friend, says Lamb easily won people over and left a lasting impression on many. She remembers walking into the Yards and catching Lamb dancing to some "god-awful" electronic music. But the two hit it off, and she soon introduced him to her young sons.

"He had a real connection with my older son," Vance says. "When Zach started coming around, he really opened up. ... He was really outgoing."

Vance invited Lamb on a family rafting trip down the Clark Fork River in Montana. Lamb would later take the boys to a weekly kickball game or trips to the park. He helped her cater a wedding over the summer, and they dreamed of launching a food truck that traveled from city to city making menus from local ingredients.

Lamb helped her truly embrace life, Vance says, dragging her to parties or dinner. And she believes the time with her sons helped prepare him for fatherhood.

"It was weird how we sort of helped each other out," she says, adding, "He always made me happy. ... He just got me through everything. I think that's so amazing. I've never had anybody do that for me."

Yards co-worker John McLachlan says he spent several days in shock after the shooting. He couldn't believe someone like Lamb, so outgoing and giving and goofy, could meet such a tragic end.

"He had no enemies at all," McLachlan says. "It was senseless."

Family and friends have since held tightly to the small details. Vance scrolls through the photos on her phone, pulling up pictures of Lamb bowling or petting his kitten, Oliver. She can't help but notice each time his favorite song, "Sail" by AWOLNATION, plays on the radio. She still treasures the memories of their rafting trip, and plans to move forward on buying that food truck.

"Zach and I talked a lot about all the things we were going to do," she says. "Now I'm just going to do them."

Loved ones look forward to trading memories during a benefit show this Saturday at 8 pm at Mootsy's Bar downtown. The family plans to collect donations for Lamb's girlfriend, who has moved out of the city to stay with family until the baby is born. Donations can also be made to the Zachary Lamb Memorial Fund at any Umpqua Bank branch.

As the search for her son's killer continues, Knapp struggles to find answers. She wishes aloud she could recall other stories. Children grow and start independent lives. Parents miss everyday moments, never expecting to have to write eulogies.

"I wish I knew more," she says. "Who would think you would need to know this?"

Authorities have offered a reward for information in the case, asking for tips about a white man in his 40s with a dark SUV, equipped with a roof rack extending over the hood. Anonymous tips can be left at 1-800-222-TIPS. Knapp says she hopes someone will come forward with a clue.

She dreads the thought of spending her life wondering what happened.

"It's just frustrating," she says. "Hopefully somebody will say something." ♦