BILLINGS - Billings police are investigating the suspicious death of a teenager at a Heights hotel, the second teenage gun death in three weeks in the city.
Police said in a press release issued Monday the investigation began Sunday at about 4:48 a.m. when officers were sent to a location on Swords Lane for a suspicious call. When officers arrived they located a 20-year-old Billings man suffering from an apparent gunshot wound to the leg. He was taken by ambulance to a medical facility for treatment.
About two hours later, at 6:38 a.m., officers were sent to the Country Inn and Suites, located at 231 Main Street, for a welfare check regarding a male who possibly shot himself. When officers arrived they located a 16-year-old boy deceased with an apparent gunshot wound.
During the investigation, officers determined that both incidents were related, the press release states. Both the 20-year-old and the 16-year-old are known to have an association with each other and there were other circumstances present related to the events. Police did not provide further details on those circumstances.
The death of the 16-year-old is being treated as suspicious, the press release states. Investigative efforts are focused on determining whether the fatal gunshot wound was self-inflicted or if there was criminal involvement. There have been no charges or arrests.
Investigators have interviewed several witnesses, but officers are not looking for any other persons involved or suspects related to the investigation.
Detectives with the Investigations Division are actively investigating. The name of the 16-year-old has not been released.
Chief Rich St. John said Monday afternoon the death is not connected to the Jan. 16 shooting death of 15-year-old Khoen Parker at a park in the Heights, but that there is a common denominator.
"We see an awful lot of juveniles that have firearms," St. John said. "We also know they are very quick to settle disputes with firearms."
According to Everytown Research’s latest numbers about Montana gun violence, firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States, with an average of 14 child and teen gun deaths in Montana each year. Overall, Montana has the 6th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States at 18.9 per 100,000 people.
"These are things that used to happen once in a while, maybe in a year or two," St. John said. "The frequency is very troubling."
There remain no arrests in Parker’s case after three weeks. St. John knows that’s a source of frustration.
"I would love to provide closure for the family as quick as possible, but that’s a complicated case," he said. "It has a lot of moving parts with a lot of people involved, and we need to get it right.
"We are very effective at solving these cases. In 2021, we had a 100% clearance rate for homicides. I don't like having to tout that stat, but I'm confident we’ll get resolution in all these cases - it's just going to take a little time."