Oregon rock climber charged over mass killing plot at Smith Rock mountaineering event

By Ryan Haas (OPB)
Oct. 21, 2023 6:30 p.m. Updated: Oct. 21, 2023 9:38 p.m.

The person accused in the case is a Portland resident and rock climber who drove to Central Oregon with firearms, according to law enforcement.

A stunning canyon with a river running through it appears slightly hazy due to wildfire smoke.

A file photo of Smith Rock State Park from July 2021.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

A 39-year-old rock climber is facing a slate of attempted murder charges over an alleged plot to kill random people at a Smith Rock climbing event this weekend.


The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office arrested Samson Zebturiah Garner on Thursday and took him to the county jail on several charges each of attempted murder of multiple victims, attempted first degree assault, attempted second degree assault and unlawful use of a weapon.

Law enforcement recovered a Beretta 9mm handgun, a Sig Sauer 9mm handgun and an AR-15 from Garner when he was arrested. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office seized those weapons under an extreme risk protection order during the arrest, meaning the courts will take those guns away for at least a year.

Deschutes County District Attorney Steve Gunnels said investigators had recovered journal entries with Garner’s belongings that indicated he was not planning to target specific people, but had a “generalized anger.” Court charging documents list potential victims in the case as “spectator” and “belayer.”

Gunnels said there was not a clear motive for the alleged plot.

Garner is a Portland resident who has worked as an information technology professional in the past and had an active membership in the Mazamas, a mountaineering education nonprofit, according to Executive Director Rebekah Phillips. She said while Garner’s membership was current, his involvement with the group had been “limited since 2018.”

A rock climber climbs Smith Rock on May 16, 2020. It was the first weekend that Smith Rock State Park was open since the pandemic shut down parks in Oregon.

A rock climber climbs Smith Rock on May 16, 2020.

Stephani Gordon / OPB

“The Mazamas community is devastated to learn of this situation. The safety and wellbeing of our members, volunteers, and students is our top priority,” Phillips said in a statement to OPB. “As mountaineers, trust is among our core tenets; to learn that a fellow climber had intentions to violate that principle through violence is both heartbreaking and troubling.”

The planned attack appeared to target the Smith Rock Craggin Classic, an event hosted by the American Alpine Club and described as a “3-day grassroots climbing festival.” The American Alpine Club thanked law enforcement in a social media post, and said they became aware of the threat Wednesday, a day before Garner’s arrest. The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gunnels, the Deschutes County prosecutor, said Central Oregon law enforcement became aware of Garner after Portland police received tips about the potential shooting.

“Police did a really good job. They were on it,” Gunnels said. “Portland Police Bureau was on it and communicated that information to the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office.”

Based on the information collected in the investigation so far, the prosecutor described the threat as serious.

“(Garner) was prepared for it,” Gunnels said. “He had driven two-and-a-half, three hours to Deschutes County, where he apparently intended to carry out the attack. And he was armed for it.”

Garner does not have a notable criminal history in Oregon, according to court records.

Law enforcement and the Deschutes County Attorney’s Office said they are continuing to investigate the mass shooting plot, but believe strongly that Garner was acting alone and that there are no additional threats to the community.

Garner is currently scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 27.