Mother recalls son killed at Marine Barracks in Washington
By PETER HERMANN | The Washington Post | Published: January 2, 2019
WASHINGTON — He was a small-town boy from Minnesota who loved hockey and fishing and who knew what he wanted to do with his life.
Riley Kuznia was just a child when he announced he would one day join the military. He told his mother, Markelle, "I got to do what I got to do to be a Marine ... The Marines make you do all the toughest stuff. If I can be a Marine, I can do anything."
Kuznia made it out of tiny Karlstad and into the Marines. He was sent to Washington, most recently assigned guard duty at the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill in Washington, home of the commandant.
On Tuesday, Lance Cpl. Kuznia, 20, was struck and killed by a bullet that police believe was fired by accident by another Marine inside the Barracks. Kuznia had just returned after spending Christmas at home with his family, and he was looking forward to a new assignment in February.
The Marine Corps identified Kuznia on Wednesday and said he had been team leader for the Guard Company. He had been awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
"We are truly saddened by this terrible loss," Col. Donald Tomich, commanding officer of Marine Barracks, said in a statement. "Riley was a highly driven and goal-oriented Marine whose positive attitude set the example here at the Barracks."
Neither D.C. police nor the military has given a public account on how Kuznia was shot a few minutes after 5 a.m. on New Year's Day. A Marine spokesman declined to comment on the investigation.
Three officials familiar with the investigation said detectives are looking into two possible scenarios — that a weapon discharged as it was being passed from one Marine to another during shift change, or a Marine accidentally fired a sidearm as it was being removed from a holster.
Markelle Kuznia said she is expecting a briefing from the Marines on Thursday.
Riley Kuznia grew up with two sisters and a brother in a town of 740, where the road sign at the four-way intersection lists villages to the east and west and "Canada" to the north.
Ryan Baron, the superintendent of the Tri-County School District, taught Kuznia math for four years spanning junior and senior high. "He had lots of friends and a good personality," Baron recalled, noting that even as a child Kuznia could tell sophisticated jokes that were more like short stories.
Kuznia played hockey with a passion, but his small school did not have enough players for a team. Baron said that largely because of Kuznia, his school merged with others to form a team called the Bears. He had 14 classmates in his graduating class in 2017.
Baron said Kuznia excelled academically and could've gone to college. But he had his heart set on the military. He joined after high school and planned to serve five years. Then, his mother said, he wanted to marry his high school sweetheart and open a construction company.
"He always had a plan," said Markelle Kuznia, 47. "He always had it together, all with an easy smile." She said her son completed basic training in San Diego and was assigned to Virginia before coming to Washington.
Kuznia went home to Minnesota for Christmas and his family and girlfriend went to Duluth, Minnesota, and drove along Lake Superior. He returned Saturday.
Markelle Kuznia said her son expressed interest in serving in a war overseas.
"He was willing to go anywhere they sent him," she said. "I was worried about where he was." But, she said, noting the circumstances of the shooting, "I didn't expect him to die like this."