Branden McKinnon (Family photo)

Branden McKinnon (Family photo)

Lawsuit blames mother’s unsecured gun for Marysville boy’s death

Branden McKinnon, 12, got hold of a gun belonging to his mother, a Department of Corrections lieutenant. His father is suing.

MARYSVILLE — Branden McKinnon played soccer and ran cross country.

He loved reading, mythology and superheroes.

Branden showed off his report cards and never touched things that weren’t his, said his father Jonathan McKinnon, 38.

“I know I’ll be biased by saying that he was the perfect kid,” Branden’s father told The Daily Herald. “He’s like the one kid where when he was 5, you could set a doughnut in front of him and he wouldn’t have touched it. You could walk out of the room and he won’t touch it.”

Jonathan McKinnon alleges in a lawsuit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court that Branden got his hands on a gun his mother didn’t properly store. Branden shot himself in May 2021 at her Marysville home. He was 12.

The case was forwarded to the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review, said Marysville police Sgt. Jeff Franzen. Branden’s mother, Jennifer Wright, a lieutenant with the state Department of Corrections, could be charged under the state’s unsafe gun storage law enacted in 2019. The statute holds that a person is guilty of “community endangerment” if unsafe storage of their gun means another person gains access to it and “causes personal injury or death with the firearm.”

Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell said Wednesday his office is reviewing the case “to see if the facts meet the law.” He anticipated a decision on criminal charges in the next couple weeks.

Wright’s lawyer, Daniel Ehrlich, declined to comment.

Speaking generally, Cornell said, “people need to lock their damn guns up.” The rate of gun deaths for children 14 and younger rose by about 50% nationwide between the end of 2019 and the end of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Snohomish County residents have faced criminal charges previously for not properly storing their firearms.

In 2016, an Everett man was sentenced to two months in jail for leaving a loaded Ruger .380-caliber firearm near his 3-year-old son, who shot himself.

And in 2012, a Marysville police officer allegedly left his gun in the family van’s cup holder. His 3-year-old son retrieved it and shot and killed his sister, 7. Prosecutors charged the officer with manslaughter, but a jury couldn’t reach a verdict. Prosecutors declined to retry the case.

McKinnon noted he doesn’t own any guns, saying they’re “more of a liability than anything.”

He believes Branden’s mother needs to be held accountable.

‘Where’s my son?’

Jonathan McKinnon was driving to the airport around 7:30 a.m. when Wright texted him. She told him to give her a call. He figured she wanted to talk about Branden’s schooling. After their separation, they only really talked about their son. Branden split his time between his mom and dad.

He pulled into a parking lot to call her.

Wright told him their son was dead. McKinnon was in denial.

“No, he didn’t. Where’s my son?” McKinnon remembered responding. “No, he’s not. No, he’s not. No, he’s not. Put Branden on the phone.”

He asked her what happened. Wright didn’t want to tell, the father said.

McKinnon, who lives in Tacoma, later drove to her Marysville home. He said she eventually told him she was cleaning her personal gun, but had to get to work. Wright has worked in state prisons since 2017, according to an agency spokesperson. McKinnon and Wright met while they served in the Army.

He said she told him she put the gun in a kitchen drawer and left. The wrongful death lawsuit against Wright and her husband alleges the Glock was always kept loaded in that kitchen drawer.

“We’re not doing this for money, but to expose the negligence,” said McKinnon’s lawyer, Casey Arbenz.

McKinnon and Wright haven’t spoken for months, the father said.

Just days before he died, the father and son had played chess on a board Branden bought in Mexico. McKinnon told Branden he played really well, but the father still won.

Later that day, they talked about puberty and how Branden would change. McKinnon now feels like he didn’t say enough.

“It was as if there was something that I should have said that I didn’t say,” he said, “but I don’t know what it is.”

McKinnon had moved to Tacoma from New York to be closer to Branden.

“My sole job was to raise him to be a respectable young man,” he said. “And that’s what I was doing and now he’s not here. I don’t have anything to do.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

Help is available

There are free and confidential resources for people in crisis or who know someone in crisis.

If there is an immediate danger, call 911.

Care Crisis Chat: (chat); 800-584-3578 (call).

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255,

The Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBTQ Youth:, 866-488-7386.

Mental Health First Aid courses:

Compass Health’s Mobile Crisis Outreach Team may be contacted at anytime by calling the Volunteers of America crisis line: 1-800-584-3578.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention:

The Snohomish Health District has a list of other local resources.

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