Man charged in summer's 'stray bullet' killing

BELLINGHAM -- Prosecutors have charged a man with first-degree manslaughter in the stray bullet slaying that left one young female dead outside her home this summer in Ferndale.

Nicholas Adam Zylstra, 31, of Lynden, was charged with the crime in Whatcom County Superior Court recently after months of investigation on to how, and from whom, a stray bullet could enter the location of a Ferndale residence and strike a 23-year-old girl in the chest.

Alyssa Smith was out barbecuing with her family for Father's Day on June 16 when neighbors heard gunshots coming from across the Nooksack River, adjacent to Smith's father's property in the 6100 block of Dadwa Road. Though that area is a popular shooting spot for local sportsman,  neighbors called 911 because it seemed like the gunfire was erratic and possibly striking close to a housing development.

Soon after neighbors called police, Smith was struck in the chest by a stray bullet. She died hours later at the hospital.

Alyssa Smith was killed outside her home by a stray bullet on June 16.

Police drove to the sound of the gunfire and detained five people walking from a popular target shooting site near the river. The group was target shooting, documents show, and two of the men were arrested for being felons in possession of a firearm. However, they were let go after little evidence linked them to the shooting.

According to court documents, police later determined Smith was shot with a bullet from an AK-47. After extensive interviews of the group, police said it was the gun's owner, Zylstra, who was firing in an unwieldy manner during the target practice.

Police said he used a style of shooting known as "a bump fire," that would allow the gun to appear like it was a fully automatic weapon. But this style of firing is unwieldy, police said, and caused Zylstra to fire bullets off rapidly, with no control.

It was one of those bullets that went over the 20-foot berm used as a backdrop for target shooting, traveled about a half-mile and struck Smith in the chest, authorities claim.

Zylstra was scheduled to appear in court at 3 p.m. Thursday. If convicted, Zylstra faces life in prison.