Family mourns Justin 'Sushi' Schwartz


Chehalis resident Ken Schwartz had just gotten off a cruise ship and picked up the Sunday newspaper over breakfast in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He read a small item about six young partygoers gunned down at a Seattle house the day before, and said out loud, "the bastard."

Within 10 minutes, a telephone call from his daughter told him that her son, his grandson, Justin Grant Unin Schwartz, was among the dead.

While young members of the rave community have mourned the deaths from Saturday morning, families of those killed, too, have been trying to make sense of the losses.

On Thursday afternoon, the 73-year-old Ken Schwartz sat in his downtown Chehalis office, smoking a cigarette, and spoke of his 22-year-old grandson.

"It's a case of him being at the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "It's bad losing a 22-year-old."

Justin's mother, Debra Schwartz, and her brother and sister all grew up in Chehalis, graduating from W.F. West High School. Debra, a nurse, adopted Justin when he was 1, while she was working in Alaska.

He was a "preemie," as was his twin brother, who was adopted by another family.

Justin grew up in West Seattle, and graduated from a private school, the Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo. It was there he took on the nickname "Sushi," according to his family.

His family is just now learning, from news reports and in other ways, that Justin was known well and admired more greatly than they recognized for his love of music and dancing in the Seattle "rave" scene.

The rave culture is all new to him, Ken said. The proprietor of downtown Chehalis Schwartz Men's Wear likened it to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury and flower children from the 1960s.

Rave participants' motto is peace, love, unity and respect, Ken said. It's sort of like a fraternity or a lodge, he added.

Justin was a small young man who friends recall wearing ear muffs on the dance floor. He noted on his Web site if he had to die, he would like to be run over by the Batmobile.

But on Thursday, his family spoke mostly of the younger Justin. Among his extended family members with Lewis County links are his great-uncle Harold Schwartz, now in Palm Springs, Calif., and great-aunt Joanne Schwartz, a past county commissioner and current director of community services in Chehalis.

Justin was proud of his Alaskan native heritage as a member of the small Cup'ik Tribe from Chevak, Alaska, according to his mother.

As an infant, his photo was chosen as the cover page for the annual Seattle Children's Hospital calendar to raise money for sick children, his mother said.

"He just had the goofy smile as a kid, the twinkly eyes and charisma even as an infant," Debra said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "That's also what attracted me to him then.

"When my mother was alive, she and my grandmother would take him like a week at a time. They'd parade him around their respective friends and whatever," she said.

Justin's short life took him traveling to places such as Japan (while in the U.S. Navy), Mexico, across the U.S. and to Alaska. He loved music and dancing, and playing the piano. He enjoyed golf and bowling.

His grandfather recalled that in high school, at about 112 pounds, Justin was tops in his division in wrestling, solid as a bull, Ken said. At his bar mitzvah, Justin's ability to ad lib under pressure showed when he gave his speech, Ken said.

"At the end of the ceremony … he was a little absent-minded, he was 13," the grandfather said. "Anyway, he had to wing it. He winged it well."

Rabbi Ted Falcan, who oversaw Justin's funeral on Tuesday at Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation's chapel in a north Seattle cemetery, recalled Justin's bar mitzvah speech as one he admired, Ken said.

"He said he'd kept Justin's picture on his refrigerator for many years, he was so impressed," Ken said.

Justin attended South Seattle Community College, and was active in student government. He studied Japanese, and was trying to find a way to go back and live in Japan for awhile, his mother said.

This week, as she slipped among the mourners keeping vigil at the blue house on Seattle's Capitol Hill, Debra came across a woman in her 50s, who mentioned Justin had been tutoring her in math. Debra said she had no idea he did that.

"I was like, my God, who knew?" Debra said.

The days continue to offer her new insight, from others who knew her son, she said.

"What I've learned since he died is he really flourished … he was quite a success story in the environment he was in," Debra said.

"I think I'd like people to know he was a well-loved child who found a place for himself dancing, and with his music, and with his computer skills," she said."He had a charismatic way about him, and we miss him dearly."

Sharyn L. Decker covers law enforcement, local fire departments and the courts for The Chronicle. She may be reached by e-mail at, or by telephoning 807-8235.

Justin Schwartz


Justin Grant Unin Schwartz was born April 28, 1983, in Bethel, Alaska. He died Saturday in Seattle as a result of gunshot wounds.

He is survived by his mother, Debra Schwartz; by his grandfather, Kenneth Schwartz, Chehalis; by an aunt and uncle, Gail and Bob Alexander, Bellevue, and cousins Spencer, Lewis and Nathan; by an aunt and uncle, Pam and Steve Schwartz, West Seattle, and cousins Emilie and Sophia; and by a large extended family.

His family asks that donations in his memory be made to Uncompensated Care Fund c/o Harborview Medical Center, 1325 Fourth Ave. Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98101; Teen Feed c/o University Street Ministries, 4740 University Way NE #B, Seattle, WA 98105; or ROOTS Youth Shelter, 1415 NE 43rd St., Seattle, WA 98105.