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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

AR-15-style rifle found near Hilinski was taken from former WSU teammate

Washington State Cougars quarterback Tyler Hilinski (3) runs the ball against Michigan State during the second half of the 2017 Holiday Bowl Thursday, December 28, 2017, at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif. Michigan State won the game 42-17. Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins said Tuesday that the gun found near Hilinski’s body on Jan. 16 came from a former WSU teammate. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The AR-15-style rifle that Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski used to kill himself came from a former teammate, Pullman Police announced Tuesday.

Police Chief Gary Jenkins said the .223 caliber rifle, which technically is not an AR-15 but made to look like one, belonged to a former Washington State football player whom Jenkins did not identify.

“It appears Hilinski took the rifle without the teammate’s knowledge, on or before Friday, January 12,” Jenkins said.

The former player had legally obtained the rifle, which he told friends was missing. However, the former player had not reported the gun missing prior to Jan. 16 when Hilinski’s body was found.

“Other people were aware that (the rifle) was missing,” Jenkins said. While not saying who owned the gun, the chief said Hilinski “would have had access to it.”

He also provided more details about how Hilinski, 21, was discovered. Last Thursday, Whitman County Coroner Peter Martin ruled the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head and the manner of death was suicide.

Last Friday, hundreds gathered at a candle light vigil for the quarterback, who was expected to start next year for the Cougars.

On the morning of Jan. 16, Hilinski was last seen at 8:45 a.m. when he dropped off a teammate on the WSU campus for class.

“When Hilinski did not show up for a football team weightlifting session around 2 p.m, coaches attempted unsuccessfully to reach him by phone,” Jenkins said.

Some two hours later, the police department received a request to conduct a welfare check on Hilinski. Officers responded to an apartment on B Street in Pullman, but were told that Hilinski was living in the Aspen Village Apartments and they obtained his correct address.

“Just prior to the arrival of Pullman officers, two teammates looking for Hilinski forced their way into the apartment when they did not receive an answer at the door,” Jenkins sad. “They discovered the deceased just as Pullman officers arrived on scene.”

Jenkins said his department would not release the contents of the suicide note found with Hilinski.

But he added: “The investigation did not reveal any particular motive for suicide,” Jenkins said. “The investigation will remain open pending toxicology results from the State crime lab.”

The information from Jenkins echoes similar comments this week from Coach Mike Leach.

As for his decision not to release the suicide note, Jenkins said he was relying on the legal opinion provided by a city attorney.

“The statute is not clear. But they have some case law” which backs up the decision to withhold the letter, he said.

One of the cases Jenkins cited was out of Pierce County.

In that case, Gregory A. Camaroto was convicted of molesting a family member, who later died by suicide and left a two-page note.

That letter was originally included in the sheriff’s investigative file. But it was later turned over to then-Pierce County Medical Examiner Dr. John Howard, who currently holds the same position in Spokane County.

Howard kept a copy of the suicide note and gave the original to the victim’s family. Camaroto requested the copy of the suicide note from Howard, and he refused.

Camaroto sued Howard’s office, which argued that Howard did not have to turn over copies of the suicide note because it was “exempt from disclosure” based on the same law that exempts autopsy reports and records.

A judge reviewed the girl’s suicide note in chambers and ruled that Howard did not have to turn the suicide note over to Camaroto, according to court records.

The Division II Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that the suicide note was a public record, but it affirmed the judge’s decision to allow Howard to keep it secret under the autopsy-records exemption.

The Hilinski note is in the possession of the Whitman County coroner and has not been released.