On 8 March 2013, 14-year-old Nathon Brooks shot both his parents while they were in bed sleeping at their home in Grant County, Washington. In a recent BBC documentary aired in the UK entitled ‘I Shot My Parents’, the true horror of this crime and its aftermath is laid bare. His parents miraculously survived the attack and have had to try and come to terms with the fact that their own teenage son tried to kill them. What is even more remarkable is Jon and Beth Brooks stand by their son and are rebuilding their relationship with him while he serves his sentence in prison for their attempted murder.
Nathon Brooks took a .22 Smith & Wesson revolver from his father’s gun cabinet and walked into his parents’ bedroom early that March morning. While Jon Brooks, 38 and Beth Brooks, 39 were sleeping and unaware he was in the room, Nathon aimed the gun and began to fire. Nathon shot his father first and then his mother, firing more rounds into them as they began stir and try to escape the gunfire. His father was shot in the head and his mother just below her eye before Nathon ran out of the room.
Somehow Jon Brooks managed to phone 911 to report he and his wife had been shot. Having no idea it was his 14-year-old son who had just fired at them, he told the police operator an intruder was in the house. Terrified for the lives of his son and younger daughter he called them in to him and pulled out a revolver that he kept under the mattress of his bed. With his children behind him and his wife motionless on the bed, Jon Brooks remained crouched in the corner of his bedroom fighting to stay conscious, pointing his gun at the doorway in fear of the intruder coming back and harming his children.
When police arrived they found a horrific scene. The bedroom was covered in blood and both Jon and Beth Brooks had received serious head injuries. Both were rushed to hospital and the children taken to the police station to give their statements. When Nathon was interviewed he said he was asleep in bed when he heard gunshots and shouting from his father. He ran downstairs trying to find somewhere safe to hide. He told police he saw a tall well-built man come down the stairs with a gun. The man reloaded the gun one cartridge at a time he said, before leaving the house through the sliding patio doors.
Unbeknown to Nathon, his father had moved one of the home’s security cameras inside the living room and it was this that provided crucial and shocking footage when police checked the video recordings. What they witnessed was Nathon Brooks running downstairs and across the room wearing only his underwear and holding a gun.
Police officers returned to Nathon and let him know about the security camera, asking him if he now wanted to tell them what really happened in light of this information. Nathon then became very upset and admitted he had shot his parents.
“I walked into the bedroom, raised the gun and before I realised I’d done it, I pulled the trigger. I fired again three times at my mum. Then went over to my dad. That’s when it really clicked what I’d done. I remember thinking, ‘gone’.”
When asked by the interviewing officer what he intended to do, Nathon told him, ‘What guns do’. When he was prompted on what that was, he responded, ‘kill’. 14-year-old Nathon Brooks had admitted shooting his parents but seemed bewildered at his own actions. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “Kids don’t just pull a gun on their parents.”
While his parents remained in hospital being treated for their injuries, Nathon Brooks was charged with two counts of attempted murder in the first degree and remanded in custody. Jon and Beth Brooks have only a vague memory of what they thought was the figure of a grown man standing at the foot of their bed with a gun. When Jon Brooks had recovered enough from his injuries he was told that he was shot in the head by his own son. His wife was not told until she was well enough a few weeks later and it was information she struggled to take in. “It definitely wasn’t my son, that’s not who I saw”, she repeated unable to process the information she was being given.
“At the very beginning, there were so many questions. Basically you know, what the heck was he thinking? What’s going on? I don’t understand. It would have been very easy to get extremely angry. To go to dark places with this but I think that total disbelief and shock protected us”.
Parricide, the murder of one’s parents, is a rare crime and one that is usually carried out by male children over the age of 18, however, when it is committed by a younger teen evidence of abuse or mental health problems would be expected. The case of Nathon Brooks is unique not only due to his young age but also in that he himself seemed to struggle to understand why he shot his parents. He did not have a home life filled with dysfunction and violence, nor did he have any history of mental health problems which may have provided some reasoning for his actions. This is a young boy who appeared to have taken a gun and tried to kill his parents completely out of the blue.
“How could I do such a thing and not even know why?” Nathon asks. He remembers being mad and frustrated but has questioned himself as to whether he might be insane. “Most people who are insane don’t know they are insane”, he says.
Nathon Brooks was charged as an adult and was released on police bail while awaiting trial. He was released into the custody of his grandparents who did not fear him but were understandably uneasy about their grandson, his behaviour and his potential for harm. Nathon pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault with a deadly weapon removing the need for a full trial. He was sentenced in 2015 to serve 15 and a half years in prison meaning he will be 29 years old by the time he is due to be released in 2028.
Nathon is now in prison serving his sentence and his parents still have a relationship with him. They have moved from the house where the shooting happened but they visit their son, write to him and pay for college courses for him to do in prison. “I view it like he is at school,” his father says. “I know that’s not true,” he continues, “but it is easier to think of it that way.”
At the time of the shooting, Nathon Brooks had just been grounded by his parents for disobedience with his gaming station and mobile phone confiscated from him. He was expected to carry out household chores that weekend and had been reminded by his father the previous evening that the following Saturday morning was going to be a busy day of hard work. Teenage anger and frustration at being unable to do as he wished seemed to have spilled over into a horrific thought pattern of the double murder of his parents.
“The worst part is to find he emptied the gun. I don’t think I’ll ever process that Nathon shot us.”
Assessed by psychiatrists after the shooting, Nathon Brooks was diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. A condition characterized by a difficulty to deal with authority, unbalanced moods and argumentative behaviour, extending much further than standard teenage disobedience and fight for their own independence and freedom. Unknown to both himself and his parents, Nathon Brooks was struggling with an internal battle of emotions, internalizing his anger, resentment and frustrations which also included Major Depressive Disorder which most likely led to this extreme response the rules laid down by his parents. For Nathon, “It was a relief to know nothing else was seriously wrong and I could get help. I’m not crazy or an animal” he said, on discovering there were underlying mental health issues behind his behaviour.
The support of his parents despite his actions is testament to the love they have for their son and their determination to move past these events as a family. The words of Beth Brooks despite her terrible injuries highlight her compassion for him, “I’m glad that we didn’t die – just for Nathon,” she says. “So that Nathon never has to carry that.”