16-year-old accused of first-degree manslaughter of 17-year-old girl

Stolen handgun will not test Edmonds’ safe-storage ordinance
By Brian Soergel | Dec 04, 2018
Gala Zuehlke

Update: The suspect pleaded not guilty on Friday, Dec. 7, in Snohomish County Superior Court, where he is being charged as an adult.

The shooting death of 17-year-old Gala Zuehlke in Edmonds from a gun that was allegedly stolen will not test the city’s gun-safety ordinance.

In July, the Edmonds City Council overwhelmingly approved an ordinance governing the safe storage of firearms, which does not go into effect until March 21.

Introduced by Council President Mike Nelson, the ordinance requires gun owners to lock up their guns when they aren’t in use. Failure to do so could result in a fine between $500 and $1,000.

In addition, should a prohibited or at-risk person or minor obtain an unsecured firearm and use it to commit a crime, the gun owner could be fined up to $10,000.

It is unclear, however, where the gun used in the killing was stolen from.

The Second Amendment Foundation and National Rifle Association have sued the City, alleging, among other things, that the City’s gun-control law, Ordinance 4120, violates the state's 35-year-old preemption statute.

The lawsuits claim that safe storage ordinances violate the state preemption law prohibiting cities and counties from enacting their own gun laws stricter than the state law.

A hearing in the suit is expected next month.

Fatal encounter in Edmonds

It was on Monday, Dec. 3, that a 16-year-old boy from Mountlake Terrace was booked into Denny Juvenile Justice Center in Everett by Edmonds police on probable cause of second-degree murder following the investigation into the Nov. 30 killing at Horizon Park apartments in the 7400 block of 208th Street SW. In general, it is the Beacon’s policy not to name minors charged with crimes.

Zuehlke was a former Edmonds-Woodway High School student and, as a senior, was a full-time Edmonds eLearning Academy student. She lived at the apartment with father; her mother and siblings live in Bellingham

According to court documents, a 15-year-old female friend of Zuehlke’s called 911 to report that her friend was dead in one of the apartment’s bedrooms. According to Edmonds Police Detective Andrew Mehl, there was a large amount of blood underneath her head.

Blood also appeared to be coming from Zuehlke’s wrists. Documents state Zuehlke reportedly had a suicidal history.

Court documents report that a neighbor below the apartment heard a male and female arguing about an hour before Zuehlke’s body was discovered.

Upon moving the body, Snohomish County investigator Adam Wilcoxen of the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s office discovered a gunshot wound to her left cheekbone area. The office took custody of the victim’s body and determined the death was a homicide.

Zuehlke’s friend told police that the suspect was playing with a silver revolver with a black grip, spinning the gun’s cylinder. He pointed the revolver at objects in the room, as well as at Zuehlke and the friend.

While doing this, the friend said, he pulled the trigger on an empty chamber. She said he did not realize that each time he did this the cylinder advanced the bullet closer to the chamber.

The friend said both she and Zuehlke told the suspect to take the bullets out of the gun. But the last time he pointed it at Zuehlke and pulled the trigger, the gun fired, according to documents.

Catching the suspect

Edmonds police detectives worked throughout the weekend and were able to establish probable cause for the suspect’s arrest, Sgt. Josh McClure said.

On Monday, detectives developed information about where the suspect was staying, which according to court documents was at a friend’s house on Maltby Road in Bothell.

The suspect’s parents told police that they had reported their son – who had attended Edmonds-Woodway High School – as a runaway since Nov. 21. Police said multiple tips led them to think the suspect was considering fleeing to Bellingham or Oregon.

Police had surveillance of the area, and the suspect was taken into custody without incident late Monday morning. The gun has not been located; the suspect said he got rid of it.

Detectives interviewed the suspect before he was booked into the youth center.

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, the suspect made his first court appearance. Judge George Appel set bail at $100,000. He could face first-degree manslaughter charges, which could come this week.

Detectives also are continuing to investigate and collect additional evidence.

Three other subjects also were detained at the time the primary suspect was arrested. Investigators interviewed two juvenile males and an adult female, and have charged them with rendering criminal assistance.

The charges were forwarded to the prosecutor for review.

Message from E-W principal

Edmonds-Woodway Principal Terrance Mims sent a letter to E-W parents and guardians about Zuehlke’s death. In it, he said that Zuehlke’s family had given the school permission to share her name.

“Gala is remembered fondly by both staff and students as a warm and friendly young woman,” Mims wrote.

“This may be your student’s first experience with death, or it may be that this death brings back feelings from past experiences. It is particularly difficult when it is someone that your child may have known through class, or simply that your child faces his or her own mortality for the first time.

“When things of this nature occur, feelings of shock, sadness, fear, and anger can very easily well-up inside of us. These emotions may come and go throughout the day – even for days to come, while some may not seem to have any reaction at all. We do not always know how a student will be affected at a time like this, but you can help your child simply by listening and talking with him or her when matters of this nature confront us.

There was additional counseling support at Edmonds-Woodway on Monday for both staff and students affected by Zuehlke’s death.

"A bright and kind young woman"

Kathryn Bjornstad is the principal at Edmonds eLearning Academy.

“Our staff and school community at the Edmonds eLearning Academy were devastated by the news of Gala's death,” she said Monday.

“Gala was a bright and kind young woman, and all of our staff enjoyed working with her and her family. We will miss the opportunity to see her weekly and watch her meet her goals of graduating in June. Our deepest sympathy is with Gala's family as they deal with this tragedy.”

 

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