By Diana Hefley and Katherine Schiffner / Herald Writers
MONROE – Monroe police want federal agents to look into how Bryan Hetherwick was able to buy a gun just hours before killing his grandson and himself.
Detectives traced the handgun, a Russian-made Makarov, to a licensed gun dealer in Mukilteo, Police Chief Tim Quenzer said.
The Mukilteo man told detectives he sold the gun to Hetherwick about 21/2 hours before the Monroe man shot his young grandson and then killed himself Aug. 5 outside the Monroe police station.
Quenzer wants to know if the sale was legal. Detectives have asked the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to look into how Hetherwick obtained the gun.
“We have murder-suicide as a result of that gun sale. If it was not sold according to the rules, I would have a problem with that,” Quenzer said.
Hetherwick’s wife, Carolyn, also wants to know why her husband was able to purchase a gun so quickly. If he’d been forced to wait, he might have reconsidered, she said. At a minimum, the dealer should have checked his background, she said.
“The thought that someone could sell a gun to somebody without doing any checking upsets me,” she said. “I’m happy to know they’ve tracked down where the gun was from. I want to know if there’s anything they can do about that.”
Quenzer said he doesn’t know if the dealer did a background check on Hetherwick, 58. Background checks can show if a person is not allowed to legally buy a gun because of the individual’s criminal or mental health background.
“No one is blaming the gun dealer,” Quenzer said. “I’m very sure he didn’t tell the gun dealer what he planned to do with the gun.”
Dealers who sell handguns to people who do not have a license to carry a concealed weapon must submit an application to local police. Police then have five days to determine if the person is allowed to legally own a gun.
“It’s highly unlikely there was a check done in the same afternoon,” Quenzer said.
Background checks are not required when guns are sold by private parties.
The handgun was registered to the Mukilteo man, who operates out of his house. He could have sold the gun from his private collection, said Bill Forth, program manager for the firearms unit of the state Department of Licensing.
“You or anyone else has the right to privately sell (guns) and are not required to fill out any paperwork,” Forth said.
A background check likely would not have prevented Hetherwick from getting a gun, Quenzer said.
Hetherwick and his family have only been in the state for two months, having moved here from Texas.
Hetherwick had contemplated suicide since the Texas insurance company he had worked for closed last year, his wife said. His depression worsened after he was unable to find another job or child care for Brennan, she said.
His depression and suicidal thoughts led him to check himself into the hospital on five separate occasions in Texas and once in Iowa, she said.
The most recent time was in July, when Carolyn Hetherwick called police after he threatened suicide at their Monroe home. Police took him to Valley General Hospital in Monroe for a mental health evaluation.
He was transferred to Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, where he spent the night, and was released the next day. He was seeing a therapist once a week, but was supposed to receive additional care he never got, Carolyn Hetherwick said.
If the gun dealer had done a background check, Hetherwick’s suicide threats would not have turned up, police said.
A person has to be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility for at least 90 days, and a Superior Court judge must sign an order that denies the person the right to possess a firearm, Forth said.
Police have learned that Hetherwick was looking for a gun three days before the shootings. He went into a local business that sells gun safes, and an employee there told him about the Mukilteo dealer, Quenzer said.
Dave Workman, communications director for the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said there is no evidence that supports that a “waiting period or any other gun-control law” reduces suicide rates. “Even if a person waits five business days, if they want to kill themselves they going to do it anyway,” he said.
Carolyn Hetherwick said that when her husband decided to kill himself, he killed Brennan too because he thought she would be unable care for the boy by herself because she has multiple sclerosis.
She plans to tell lawmakers about her family’s tragedy and urge them to tighten gun controls and increase mental health services.
“I’m not going to sit back and do nothing,” she said. “They will hear from me from Olympia to Washington, D.C.”
Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.