Renton lost a protector and “guardian angel” in the recent shooting death of 27-year-old Rylee Russell Marks. Friends and family are mourning someone who didn’t always fit in but loved and protected those who got to know him. As someone who’d lived homeless in downtown Renton periodically since as young as 13, he was known to sit with a friend who’d missed a late bus for hours, or walk someone home in the dark after work.
“The problem with cases like this is they get swept under the rug and forgotten about. And he was a real human being that was loved by a lot of people,” friend Jordan Hermundson said. “And the fact that this happened the way that it did is heartbreaking because he deserved a lot better than that.”
Russell Marks was shot at an encampment at a large property along Hardie Avenue South. Officers administered CPR but he did not survive.
Immediately, those who knew him began to share on social media the identity of who they believed shot him, that Renton Police Department has now identified as 30-year-old Kelcey M. Gornowich. She allegedly shot him following an argument. The two were a couple, sources say.
“(Russell Marks) would have never done that, not let them lay there and die,” his mom, Kathy Nevi, said. “And he’d expect (the suspect) to come forward.”
Gornowich is noted as going by the name Loki and described as a 5-foot 8-inch tall, white female, known to frequent camps around Renton. She also frequently changes hairstyles. If spotted, police ask that folks call 911 to report her.
“He was definitely Renton”
Russell Marks, 27, was born on a farm in Bellingham, living there until his parents split. He lived with his mother in Fairwood and his father in Blaine. He was born with cerebral palsy that limited the use of his right side and caused speech problems.
He didn’t feel like he fit in, his mother said, and didn’t adjust to the education system while struggling with learning disabilities. He would move between his parents in Blaine and Fairwood and started running away around 14 years old.
One day, Nevi said she came home to Russell Marks in her shed in Fairwood. He had snuck off from his dad’s and navigated the bus system to get back.
As he more frequently ended up outside, he started spending more time on Renton’s streets. He was then taken in by a group of young people. They had all ran away or suffered difficult home lives and were surviving on their own.
One of the members of this “family” was Hermundson. She said a lot of people didn’t understand him, and his loud passionate, rambunctious impulses often got him in trouble before they took him in.
“He needed somebody to help him and protect him, and show him how to survive if this was what he was going to do,” Hermundson said.
The group found solace in each other, protected each other. They stayed in encampments, under bridges, in parks and did whatever they had to for survival.
Russell Marks and his mother saw each other often in those days and she would meet up to take him and friends to Burger King, for example.
Nevi kept in contact with Russell Marks and still did up until the shooting, although he had started to visit in person less and less. They talked over Facebook messenger whenever Russell Marks was at the downtown library, which was often.
Hermundson said Russell Marks was determined to do what everybody else was doing, despite low function in his right arm. He was also protective of the group, even though he was the youngest. The girls endured a lot of predatory behavior from older men, but Russell Marks would defend them and tried to drive dangerous characters away.
The dynamics started to change as the group aged to adulthood. Many got clean of drugs, moved away and started families. Hermundson became pregnant at 20 and left that life in 2008, moving to Shoreline. Still, she regularly came to Renton to spend time with the ones that didn’t.
“For the most part, our lives took different turns, while Rylee’s kind of stayed,” she said.
Russell Marks was comfortable in his lifestyle and in that mentality. For some time he worked with his step-dad, and people in that workplace remarked that he was a hard worker, but it didn’t stick. He liked his lifestyle even if it didn’t seem a “normal” one to them, Nevi said.
Older folks and friends who remained on the streets after she left were watching out for him, Hermundson said. But both her and Nevi believe the people he was hanging around became more dangerous as he was getting older.
Nevi knew of the suspect, Gornowich. When she saw Russell Marks back in December 2019 down at Gene Coulon Memorial Park Beach to get lunch and so she could give him Christmas presents, he wanted to share a gift card with Gornowich. He was generous that way, she said.
Since his death, Nevi said she looks at people around Renton wondering if they are Gornowich. She feels she could be anywhere. And people who knew Russell Marks continue to reach out to her, to tell her that he was a good person.
“He was my boy, you know? What did she think, that he had no family? Nobody who loved him? He does, he’s got everybody loving him,” Nevi said.
He also leaves behind his younger sister Baylee Marks and older step-brother Mitchell Nevi. Several folks told Renton Reporter that his sister was the light of his life.
“I know his family had been trying to get him some resources, get him finally established,” Hermundson said. “But unfortunately that fell through quicker than everybody wanted.”
Nevi said her son’s final resting place will be at Mount Olivet Cemetery, overlooking Renton. Russell Marks memorial will be 5 p.m., March 6 at Masonic Hall.
Russell Mark’s memorial fund is available on Facebook under “Rylee Russell Marks Memorial Fundraiser” or at bit.ly/2V8oF9W. Last week, the family had raised only $1,000 or their goal. They are now at $6,678 as of Monday. Feb. 24, with over 110 donors.
“He was definitely Renton,” Nevi said. “He was like the guardian angel of Renton.”