Friends remember Kennewick gunshot victim

KENNEWICK — A Kennewick man shot and killed by his mother last week before she turned the gun on herself is remembered as someone willing to do anything for his friends.

Jason E. Mertz, 28, had Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism.

But he easily made friends with lots of people and loved bowling and going to the beach, his friends Adam and Katie Halverson shared Thursday in an email to the Herald.

"Jason was a guy that although he was sarcastic, if you could get past that, he was one of the nicest guys you'd ever know," said Adam Halverson, who met Mertz when they were both in grade school.

Mertz died Sept. 16 at his Grand Ronde Avenue home after being shot several times by his mother. He either was sleeping or laying down on the bed at the time and he suffered gunshot wounds to his head and left arm, which he reportedly had behind his head, officials said.

Ruth Mertz, 56, then shot herself. She left a note at the home indicating she shot her son before killing herself.

Adam Halverson said he met Jason Mertz when they were partnered on a bowling team. Halverson was new to the area and didn't know anyone but he and Mertz became fast friends.

"We were close till the end," he said. "He loved bowling, the beach, photography and going up to his grandpa's cabin in the Cle Elum/Ronald area.

Halverson went there many times with Mertz and said he has a lot of special memories from their adventures.

"He would do anything for you at the drop of a hat," he said.

Halverson's wife, Katie, said she got know Mertz after she started dating Adam.

"He treated me great and was wonderful to my daughter. We became friends right away," she said.

Katie Halverson said Mertz's mother "was a great woman who loved Jason very much," and confided in her many times about "the hard things going on in her life for many, many years."

Out of respect for the family, she said she didn't want to go into those details. She did, however want to make sure people knew just how wonderful Jason Mertz was.

She said he was highly intelligent, loved the Syfy and History TV channels and would soak in all the information he could.

"He could talk for hours about different things that he learned," she said.

In the past year, Mertz started getting into photography and knew it was an interest that Katie Halverson shared, so he would get excited to show her his pictures and his new camera.

"He loved going to the coast. We were fortunate enough to spend several days with him in Lincoln City last month," she said. "He loved playing on the beach with my kids and making sandcastles with them (and) going deep sea fishing."

Mertz, who was single, worked at TJ Maxx for several years and just last year decided he wanted to find a career, so he tried out truck driving school and really was enjoying himself, she said.

"He was always there for us, no matter what, and never expected anything in return except our friendship," she said. "... I am so lucky to have been able to know him. And there will always be an emptiness now that he is gone."

Adam Halverson said Mertz loved going to the hydroplane races on the Columbia River and they would always sit near the final turn so they could see the boats heading right at them.

Friends will gather at that spot in Columbia Park at 2 p.m. Oct. 1 for a memorial service.

-- Paula Horton: 509-582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com