Where We Live: The KOIN Tower Siege of 1996

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — We cover the news on a daily basis, but on rare occasions we in the news become part of the story.

For KOIN, it happened on Jan. 4, 1996 when a gunman — 24-year-old James Rincker — took hostages in the KOIN Tower and shot 2 people, forcing employees to scramble to safety and hundreds of people to evacuate Portland’s 3rd tallest skyscraper. 

Employees trying to get to safety after gunman James Rincker opened fire in the KOIN Tower. (KOIN)

“I don’t know how many times he actually shot — fire that rifle, but I do know it jammed on him, or I wouldn’t be here today,” survivor Howard Barley said. “That’s basically what I think saved my life.”

Barley nearly lost his right leg from the AK-47 rifle blast as he made a delivery to the KOIN Center Cinemas. 

Gunman Rincker entered the KOIN Tower through the basement loading dock, fired off dozens of rounds — wounding one man — and came face-to-face with Barley at the elevators.

Barley ran.

People running to safety outside after gunman James Rincker fired multiple rounds and took several people hostage inside the KOIN Tower. (KOIN)

“All I heard was ‘Bam, bam, bam,’ and like I said, I don’t know how many times,” Barley said. ” I went to plant my leg down and that’s when I went straight to the ground.

As Barley dragged himself to safety, Rincker made it to the lobby, took a hostage and fired at responding officers. 

Rincker tried to get to the upper floors and to the 2 women at a law firm who he blamed for getting him fired as a courier. Fortunately, the gunshots in the loading dock triggered a safety feature — locking the elevators down.

Rincker held several hostages at the Charles Schwab Brokerage Firm — adjacent to the lobby. He eventually released them and surrendered.

One of the hostages was stockbroker Ken Aiken.

“I am a Christian,” Aiken said at the time. “The Lord was holding me up during this time.”

The siege lasted a total of four-and-a-half hours. 

James Rincker surrendering after holding hostages for several hours back on Jan. 4, 1996. (KOIN)

Rincker — a former psychiatric patient — remains in an Oregon prison. He was sentenced to 300 years in prison and isn’t eligible for release until 2266.

Rincker tried to escape from the Oregon State Penitentiary in 2000, but he was quickly recaptured after he was caught up in the razor wire.

While Barley almost lost his life in 1996, he doesn’t think much about the man responsible for it today — even though the issues of mental health and access to assault weapons persist.

“It’s a situation that society hasn’t really dealt with, and I think at this time, is not capable of dealing with,” Barley said.

Howard Barley pictured in present day nearly lost his right leg after James Rincker fired multiple rounds in the KOIN Tower. (KOIN)