Preston Grzogorek’s 3-year-old niece seems to understand that he’s gone. Now, when she talks about the young uncle who fed her and cared for her since her birth, she points to the sky.
Court documents say 15-year-old Grzogorek was likely set up.
Police say the boy’s 17-year-old friend told him she was coming to buy a vape pen from him outside the apartment where Grzogorek was hanging out March 29. Instead, when Grzogorek stepped outside, the girl’s 19-year-old gang-member boyfriend fired every round in his clip at Grzogorek, court documents say, killing the boy.
Some friends of the shooting suspect, Stephen Yohler, told police Yohler believed that Grzogorek had put money on Yohler’s head to have him killed, though court documents don’t indicate police have found evidence this is true.
Grzogorek’s sisters said just weeks before the shooting, the University High School student set his mind on working in construction.
“He was talking about how he wanted to give his niece the world, he wanted to pay his grandma back for everything she did for him – it had nothing to do with what he wanted for himself. And that’s crazy for a kid to think that way,” said his sister Kaitlin Cooper, 25.
Grzogorek’s 21-year-old sister Nicole Grzogorek said her brother made the kind of mistakes most teens do – he slept in, played video games too much and wanted to play hooky from school, but she didn’t have any reason to believe he was involved in a gang.
“Preston was a very outgoing person. He was having issues getting buckled down for school and stuff but he was trying his hardest so he could make his grandma proud,” his cousin Ashley Latta said. “And he was dealing with the loss of his dad, which contributed to that.”
Nicole and Preston Grzogorek were raised mostly by their grandmother on their father’s side, but they remained close with his dad. Preston and his dad fished and had movie nights, and his dad coached him in soccer and other sports.
Nicole and Preston Grzogorek’s father died in a motorcycle accident in 2019, about two years before Preston started high school.
The boy’s uncle Mike Grzogorek, who he’d always been close with, stepped up in a bigger way then. Nicole’s daughter Mariah Grzogorek-McDade was also born around the time Preston’s father died and Preston took to her, modeling after his own closest uncle.
Preston fed the baby, took care of her while Nicole did housework and was “always making her laugh,” Nicole said.
“He always told me and he’s told everybody else, ‘Mariah’s my world, I want to grow up and give her everything we didn’t have. I want to give her the sun, the moon and the stars,’” Nicole said. “Their bond is unbreakable, and she talks about him.”
Mariah points to the sky and kisses the sweatshirts Preston’s family made commemorating him.
Nicole hopes Preston’s death will encourage changes in Spokane around access to guns. She feels gun violence has increased among teens since she was in high school, and some counts support that.
Twenty-one people died by homicide in Spokane in 2020, a threefold increase from 2019. So far in 2021, three teens have been killed in shootings, the same number as were killed in all of 2020.
“You lose the ones you love because young kids are playing with guns and they’re not even educated about them and they’re going around shooting people,” Latta said. “It’s not worth it, and I don’t see how it could be worth it. I don’t know how someone could live with taking someone from their family.”
Cooper said it seems the same arguments that led to fistfights when she was in high school result in shootings today. The two sisters said they’d like to see more arrests for illegal gun ownership.
“Kids get bored and play with guns,” Nicole said. “That’s not what I did when I got bored. It’s sickening.”
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