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; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. 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: imhurting.org (chat); 800-584-3578 (call).

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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

Mental Health First Aid courses: mentalhealthfirstaid.org.

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: afsp.donordrive.com.

The Snohomish Health District has a list of other local resources. snohd.org/200/Suicide-Prevention.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A Port Angeles police officer cordons off an empty lot in Sequim on Thursday as law enforcement officials investigate an incident in the area. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Man arrested in Sequim, connected to homicide, has Snohomish County ties

A dead woman was found in Bret Allen Kenney’s home, police say. He previously attacked Snohomish County Jail guards.

LOCAL - MOUNTAIN LOOP HIGHWAY
HERALD STAFF PHOTO BY JENNIFER BUCHANAN
PHOTO SHOT 062208
A car makes its way through a winding unpaved section of the Mountain Loop Highway 15 miles outside of Darrington.
14-mile scenic stretch of Mountain Loop Highway opens early

The highway between Granite Falls and Darrington reopened to traffic on Friday due to good weather.

Britney Barber, owner of Everett Improv. Barber performs a shows based on cuttings from The Everett Herald. Photographed in Everett, Washington on May 16, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Cut this paper up and have a laugh at Everett Improv

The troupe’s new recurring “Boozie Newzie” show is based off clippings from The Daily Herald. Meta, dude.

HIdden River Middle School (Monroe School District)
Monroe school employee on leave for ‘racially insensitive language’

The incident took place at Hidden River Middle School. Also, police were investigating racist vandalism found at another school.

Svetlana Kravchenko appears in court for her sentencing Thursday, May 19, 2022, at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett woman gets community service in 2019 fatal hit-and-run

Svetlana Kravchenko was required to stay at the scene after hitting and killing Te Nguyen, 83. Instead, she went home.

A tiny homes program that opened in early July began with each unit claimed and a wait list of 60. Here Patrick Diller, head of community partnerships for Pallet, discusses the Pallet Shelter Pilot Project on June 29, 2021 in Everett. (Katie Hayes / Herald file)
Everett marks $2.7 million in federal funds for homeless housing

With the American Rescue Plan money, the city’s small housing program for unsheltered people could expand to three sites.

WSDOT workers open up the Smokey Point Rest Area on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free coffee will be back soon at Smokey Point rest areas

Everett’s Silver Lake rest area for southbound I-5 drivers remains closed while WSDOT works on the facility.

Everett
Pro skateboarding competition coming to Everett in August

Street League Skateboarding’s championship tour will be at Angel of the Winds arena for two days.

Drivers heading north on Interstate 5 will take a detour from Highway 104 to 220th Street SW and back to I-5 this weekend during nightly lane closures for Sound Transit light rail work. (Sound Transit)
Light rail work closing I-5 North lanes nightly this weekend

Crews need to close northbound lanes between 220th Street SW and Highway 104. Drivers have two detour options.

Most Read