CWU mourns the loss of ROTC students


Friends of Demchuck and McKenzie gather on the south side of Lind Hall on the evening on Friday, Oct. 19. Attendees shared fond memories of the deceased. ASCWU has organized a candlelight vigil for Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. on the SURC East Patio.

Miles King and Jack Belcher

** Correction:  The story originally said that the Oct. 25 vigil took place on the SURC East Patio. It was moved to the SURC West Patio due to weather conditions.

On the evening of Thursday, Oct. 18, Ellensburg Police responded to reported gunshots in a neighborhood just north of the CWU campus. Students received news early the next morning via email that two students, both in the ROTC program at CWU, had passed in a tragic firearms accident the night before.

According to Ellensburg police, no foul play is suspected. It was reported 21-year-old Austin McKenzie unintentionally shot 22-year-old Michael Demchuck. The two were close friends, and after shooting Demchuck, McKenzie turned the gun on himself, according to the Ellensburg Police Department (EPD).

“EPD Detectives arrived and based on their initial investigation it appears a 22-year-old male died after being accidentally shot by the 21-year-old male, and that the 21-year-old died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the department said in a Facebook post. “EPD is not seeking any suspects, as we believe we have identified all individuals involved in the incident.”

Demchuck and McKenzie were well known on campus. A few dozen friends attended a candlelit memorial Friday evening around 9 p.m. At one point, there were about 100 people present, according to one attendee. The vigil occured on the south side of Lind Hall, where the ROTC department is located. Flowers and pictures of the two remain on the steps.

In his email to students, CWU President James Gaudino affirmed the university’s unwavering support for friends and family of the deceased.

“CWU will provide support to those grieving the loss of these students and offer assistance to those who need it now or in the days and weeks ahead,” Gaudino said. “We will also offer our highest level of support to the students’ families during this very difficult time.”

Executive Director of Student Involvement Jeff Rosenberry and ASCWU have organized a candlelight vigil today, Thursday, on the SURC East Patio at 7 p.m.

“We [ASCWU] wanted to do one because we wanted to support the students,” ASCWU President Edith Rojas said. “Their [Demchuck and McKenzie] lives impacted campus; it wasn’t just ROTC.”

According to Rojas, Demchuck was heavily involved with ASCWU; he would visit the office very often, sometimes multiple times per week. Demchuck also ran for ASCWU Executive VP last spring.

Others in the community have also come out in support of the families and those who are grieving.

Steward and Williams Funeral Home and Crematory in Ellensburg has donated the candles for Thursday’s vigil. Manager and Funeral Director Henry Johnston said they were happy to donate and they are very community focused.

“Everybody needs to support each other through this,” Johnston said.

Local bar and restaurant Blue Rock Saloon has planned a benefit for Saturday, Nov. 3 from 4 to 9 p.m. Every dollar earned from a $15 taco plate will go to support the families of Demchuck and McKenzie.