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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

‘It hurt watching him be hurt’: Woman remembers brother’s difficult life that ended tragically last year

UPDATED: Sun., March 27, 2022

An adventure-loving and caring man, John Gullingsrud’s short life was bookended by tragedy and trauma, his family said.

The 34-year-old was shot and killed in October in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood. Police have yet to arrest anyone in connection to his death.

Gullingsrud was born in Greenville, California. His mother was a 14-year-old heroin addict, according to his sister, Jessica Gullingsrud. He was born addicted to the drug and quickly given up by his struggling mother, she said.

To prevent Gullingsrud from going into foster care, another resident of the small town took him in and later adopted him, said his sister, who was also adopted.

“That was something he was fighting with his entire life,” Jessica Gullingsrud said of her brother’s difficult start in life.

Jessica and John Gullingsrud were born just 18 months apart and had a close relationship throughout their lives.

Gullingsrud was the typical brother, always adventurous and crazy, Jessica Gullingsrud remembers.

He would climb to the top of the biggest trees he could find or jump off the roof of their house into the snow, once the family moved to Seattle in the mid-1990s.

“He was very athletic,” Jessica Gullingsrud said.

He ran track and loved competing, she said. With that sense of adventure came the tendency to act out starting at a young age, getting in with a bad crowd in middle school.

He was very loyal, Jessica Gullingsrud said, making strong his ties to people who didn’t have his best interest at heart.

He began having run-ins with law enforcement and ended up in Echo Glen Juvenile Correction Center.

“It just didn’t stick,” his sister said of the rehabilitation programs at the facility.

“It hurt a lot because we all knew his potential. He could have gone so far in his life,” Jessica Gullingsrud said. “He was really, really smart. He just kind of got lost. It hurt watching him.”

Gullingsrud dropped out of high school and got into drugs. Eventually he moved to Spokane where he continued down a dangerous path.

His first local felony convictions were for a summer 2006 home invasion where he robbed a Spokane couple. About a month later, he stole a man’s backpack at a local skate park then stabbed and injured the man when he tried to stop Gullingsrud, according to court documents.

After serving time for the assault and robbery, Gullingsrud was convicted of threatening a couple at a local convenience store in 2016 along with trespassing in 2017 and possession of a controlled substance in 2018.

Despite spending a significant amount of time incarcerated, Gullingsrud made Spokane home. He had four kids and was close with the children’s mother and her family, Jessica Gullingsrud said. He was a great dad and supportive to those in his life, giving his sister frequent pep talks, she said.

“He always knew the right thing to say to me or everybody else,” Jessica Gullingsrud said. “But he didn’t know how to do it for himself.”

In April 2021, Gullingsrud went to Kentucky, where his sister lives, in hopes of a fresh start. He wanted out of that lifestyle, she said.

“Ultimately, he wasn’t really ready yet,” Jessica Gullingsrud said. “And I had to send him back to Spokane.”

She sent him back on a Greyhound bus. When he arrived back in Spokane, Gullingsrud was living on the streets, his sister said.

On Oct. 20 at about 2:30 a.m. police responded to reports of gunshots at the intersection of Cedar Street and Boone Avenue, near the Spokane Transit Authority bus barn.

There they found Gullingsrud dead from multiple gunshot wounds. No one has been arrested in connection to the shooting.

“The way he lived his life it was something we kind of expected, but when it happens it doesn’t hurt any less,” Jessica Gullingsrud said.

Living so far away, Jessica Gullingsrud has dealt with guilt that she wasn’t there for her brother. She has heard that the shooting was part of a drug deal involving pills, but witnesses or people involved haven’t come forward with information on what really happened.

“The people who really know aren’t saying anything,” she said.

While she believes someone will eventually slip up and the shooter will be held accountable for what he did, Jessica Gullingsrud still is struggling with survivor’s guilt, wishing she could have done more to help her brother.

“He knew love, he was raised in love, and he knew how to give it,” Gullingsrud said. “He just didn’t know how to accept it.”

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