Parent's first Memorial Day since son died in service

Riley Kuznia.jpeg
Riley Kuznia was shot during Marine Corps training.

KARLSTAD, Minn. — Ever since Riley Kuznia was a little boy, he had dreams of joining the U.S. Marine Corps. This year, while living his dream, his life was cut tragically short while serving.

"The Marines were going to test him the hardest," said Riley's mom, Markelle Kuznia.

That was the reason Riley wanted to join the Marines once he was done high school.


The morning of Jan. 2, two Marines knocked on the door as Markelle was about to leave for work. They were there to inform her that her 20-year-old son Lance Cpl. Riley Kuznia had been shot and killed in what police have described as an accident at the barracks in Washington, D.C.

"There are days I don't want to get out of bed, but then I think, 'What would Riley want for us?' Riley would want us to get up and keep living," Markelle said.

Riley had just spent the holidays with his family in northern Minnesota. These are some of the last photos they have of him. He returned to Washington just two days before his death. Markelle remembers the last text she sent to him. Her son never had a chance to reply, since he was on duty.

"I texted him, 'Happy New Year, stay safe and have a great night.' I found out the next day he died," she said.

Upon his return, Riley was eager to find out if he was going to get the dream assignment he had been working toward for months.

"At Christmas time I asked, 'Are you sure you want to do this? Do you have regrets? I mean you have been in here a year and a half. Do you wish you hadn't have did it?' He said, 'Nope. I was born to be a Marine.' "

Markelle says Memorial Day this year will have a slightly different meaning. Previously, she viewed it more as a day to mourn those who lost their lives in combat.

"I never thought about those who serve our country in everyday life that die in accidents, that die in training."


Riley's red pickup is still parked outside his mom's house. And the Marine Corps flag still blows in the wind.

Riley's name will be added to the Kittson County Veterans Memorial in Lake Bronson, Minnesota.

The Kuznias say they haven't learned any more information about the accidental shooting. They were recently told it's still under investigation.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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