Riley Kuznia always wanted to be a soldier, even before he toddled off to the school for the first time in his northwestern Minnesota community.
“Playing soldier, it’s what Riley did from 3 or 4 years old,” his mother, Markelle Kuznia, said Wednesday. “He was always patriotic. He thought it was his duty to serve his country.”
But a knock at the family’s home Tuesday in Karlstad brought Markelle Kuznia the news every military parent dreads. She opened the door to a pair of Marines who told her that Lance Cpl. Riley S. Kuznia had been shot and killed while on duty at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C.
Kuznia, 20, was shot about 5 a.m. Tuesday, but his family knows few details about what happened. “We’re really not getting a whole lot,” Markelle Kuznia said.
In the meantime, the young man’s mother said, she is consumed with how she will travel to Washington in the coming days and “fly back home with him.”
Kuznia graduated in 2017 from Tri-County High School in a class of roughly 15, District Superintendent Ryan Baron said Wednesday.
Marine Corps spokesman Gunnery Sgt. John Jackson said his military branch is not yet releasing the circumstances of the shooting, but he did say the wound “was not self-inflicted” and “no threat to local residents exists as this event transpired within the grounds” of the barracks, located about a mile southeast of the U.S. Capitol.
The Washington Post, citing two officials with knowledge of the investigation, said Kuznia appeared to have been struck by an accidental discharge from a fellow Marine’s weapon.
Kuznia’s duties included being a team leader of a guard company, which is responsible for post security and policing at the barracks, as well as standing guard at the historic Latrobe Gate of the nearby Washington Navy Yard.
Turned 18 and signed up
Markelle Kuznia said her son, who signed up for the Marines within days of turning 18, was a born leader.
“He was always in control,” she said. “He knew how to lead people. Marines would call and tell us, ‘Riley got us through basic training.’ ”
She said he had the aptitude to serve in any military branch, but he chose the Marines, telling his mother: “ ‘It’s the toughest one. It’s what I can do.’ ”
Col. Don Tomich, the post’s commanding officer, said, “Riley was a highly driven and goal-oriented Marine whose positive attitude set the example here at the barracks.”
Kuznia’s personal decorations included the Global War on Terrorism and the National Defense service medals, Jackson said.
Baron, who was a math teacher in the district of 210 students while Riley Kuznia was in school, said he got to know him “quite well. He was an awesome and very friendly guy.”
He said he recalled when Riley Kuznia spoke of joining the Marines. “His mom was really excited too,” Baron said, adding that Riley Kuznia was “really big into hockey” and played for the Kittson County high school cooperative team.
Extra counselors were being called in for any staff or students who need help coping, Baron said.
“Everybody is friends with everybody,” the superintendent said. “There are still kids here who know him, and he has a sister who is still in school in sixth grade.”
Tim Walz, who will be sworn in as Minnesota’s governor Friday and who served for nearly a quarter-century in the Minnesota National Guard, sent his condolences to Kuznia’s family.
“We are forever grateful for your service to our state and our country,” Walz said in a statement. “May your family find peace and strength in outpouring of love and support from the community.”
Markelle Kuznia said her son came home for Christmas and she was planning a spring visit to Washington to see the cherry blossoms bathing swaths of the city in pink.
But since those Marines came to her door and delivered the news to her and her 12-year-old daughter, “We’ve been kind of numb.”
Third shooting since 2013
This is at least the third wounding of a Marine by a gunshot since 2013 at the compound. In June of this year, a Marine standing guard at the home of the commandant suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound and was hospitalized.
He survived what officials at the time called a negligent discharge of a weapon. On Thursday, barracks spokesman Jackson said that shooting was determined to be an "intentional self-inflicted gunshot wound."
In 2013, a 19-year-old Marine from rural Huron, S.D., was shot in the head and died. Authorities said they believed Lance Cpl. Cody S. Schoenfelder accidentally shot himself in the building where the commandant lives.
Established in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson, the barracks is described by the Marines as the “oldest post of the corps.” Its personnel perform ceremonial and security missions in the city, and the post is home to the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the Marine Band.
It also has been the residence of every commandant of the Marine Corps since 1806.