Gabriel Birch is an unabashed video game nerd. He is also, admittedly, “a bit of a scrawny kid.” What he’s not, he says, is a murderer.
Birch’s face was plastered on the pages of local newspapers which he said resulted in public shaming and people treating him like a pariah before all the facts were known.
Thomas McKnight was killed Feb. 20 in an altercation on Camano Island with Birch, who said he defended himself with a knife. Birch’s ex-girlfriend Stephanie Giles, also the victim’s half-sister, witnessed the entire exchange and sides with Birch.
“I forgive Gabriel Birch for his accident, he did not mean to kill Thomas, my brother,” Giles said in an emailed statement to Whidbey Daily News. “It was a fight that never should have happened. There’s no other way to say that Thomas has been violent in the past and shouldn’t have jumped on Gabe, as well as Gabe should never have had the knife. But in the end of it all, it was an accident. My mother and I have forgiven him and just hopes he’s successful in life now that he’s gone.”
Birch boarded a bus to Montana to live with is mother this week, but he wanted to clear his name in a state he loves and hopes to live in again.
“I’m a good kid,” Birch said. “That’s not what happened. The article concerned the bare basics and made me look like a bad kid.”
Birch, who turns 20 today, March 5, said he and Giles broke up in January but he was still living with Giles and her mother on Camano Island. In addition, McKnight was staying short term with the family when the fight occurred. Birch said Giles’ mother wanted both Birch and McKnight out of the house. Birch argued with her and McKnight became defensive of his mother, leading to the altercation that included a lunge at Giles. Birch said he happened to grab a nickle-plated “show knife” he bought at a gas station and tried to defend himself.
“I tried to save his life, me and (Giles’ mother) tried to put rags on his neck,” Birch said. “I didn’t want that to happen. I lose a lot of sleep over it.”
In an interview this week, Birch said that the news exposure made people wary of him. In a local grocery store, Birch said at least one person recognized him from the newspaper and left the store without paying for their groceries. A checker said to him “I know you killed someone,” causing a handful of people to change checkout lines.
“As for all of you people giving him angry glares, you should be ashamed, holding onto that anger only hurts yourself,” Giles wrote. “As for those people who fear him, he’s the sweetest boy in the world who never meant to kill anyone, and now he’s gone to another state so you should be happy.”
The worst part, said Birch, is that news reports said that he might commit another violent act.
“What crime did I commit?” Birch said. “I was defending Stephanie first and then myself.”
The county released Birch for lack of evidence and County Prosecutor Greg Banks said in an email this week that investigators are looking at self-defense and defense-of-another causes for the death before they look at homicide. Other sources say further charges against Birch are unlikely.
“I want it put it behind me but I will never forget what happened, nor do I want to,” Birch said.
Birch said he wants to learn from the experience and that his few days in jail allowed him to find God.
“I can start a new leaf with God on my side.”