Marine dies after shooting himself at barracks; police say it appears accidental

A week ago, Lance Cpl. Cody S. Schoenfelder invited his parents to see him at his new job in Washington. The 19-year-old Marine took his South Dakotan parents to the U.S. Capitol and showed them the Marine Barracks complex on Capitol Hill, where he stood sentry.

On Friday evening, authorities say, Schoenfelder shot himself in the head at the barracks buildings in Southeast Washington, where the Marine commandant lives. He died Saturday in what D.C. police say is being investigated as an accident.

Two D.C. police officials said Schoenfelder was shot inside a guard shack and there was a second Marine with him at the time. Investigators are exploring the possibility that a gun accidentally discharged as the Marines were playing the game “Trust,” in which one points a weapon at the other, according to those two officials and a third person in law enforcement, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

The Marine’s parents, Nick and Gena Schoenfelder, are waiting for his body to be returned to Huron — a city of 12,000 in South Dakota’s glacial lake and prairie region — where he will be buried. Gena Schoenfelder, 48, said they are awaiting delivery of a report and had not heard details of how the shooting occurred.

“Ever since he was 9 years old, all he talked about was joining the military,” said Nick Schoenfelder, 51. “It was because of 9/11, I thought. He was just a good Midwestern farmboy who wanted to serve his country.”

The D.C. police and Marines released few details of the shooting. It occurred about 6:30 p.m. in the 19th-century barracks complex known as 8th and I, for the streets that intersect at its main entrance. Police said the shooting happened near the 1000 block of Seventh Street SE, near a gated entrance to the grounds.

Capt. John Norton, a spokesman for Marine Barracks Washington, would not comment on the number of people in the guard shack at the time of the shooting, nor would he discuss whether investigators are looking into the “Trust” game, which has led to deaths and headlines across the country.

As part of the game, one Marine pretends to load a magazine into a weapon, points it at another’s head and says, “Do you trust me?” according to accounts in the Marine Corps Times. After getting an answer, the Marine holding the gun either pulls the trigger or lowers the weapon. Either way, there should not be any bullets fired.

The Times paper has reported on service members convicted of manslaughter and court-
martialed after accidental shootings. If Schoenfelder was killed while playing “Trust,” police say, something went terribly awry for him to have shot himself.

Nick Schoenfelder said his son graduated from high school early so he could more quickly join the service. He went to boot camp in San Diego and was assigned to Marine Barracks Washington.

“We were very proud of him,” his father said. In addition to his parents, the Marine is survived by his sisters, Gracie, 13, and Katie, 15.

Nick Schoenfelder said his son appeared upbeat during their recent visit — their first to the nation’s capital — and was in line for a posting at Camp David. A statement from the Marines says that the lance corporal had been awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terror Service Medal.

Nick Schoenfelder described the family as devastated — “We are trying to survive ourselves,” he said — their grief compounded by an apparently missed opportunity to have his son’s organs donated. He said that somehow an organ donor request did not get to the hospital, possibly because his son wasn’t carrying his wallet and driver’s license while on guard duty or the items were overlooked.

“It’s a terrible tragedy for us,” said Nick Schoenfelder, who is pressing for answers. “But it could’ve given so many people life. So many good things could have come out of this disaster.”

The Marine spokesman said he had no information on Cody Schoenfelder’s donor card. MedStar Washington Hospital Center released a statement saying it is “sorry for the Schoenfelder family’s loss. We are reviewing the situation.”

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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