Man's death ruled a murder, three years later: 'We found the right ears that would pay attention'

Nearly three years after a Northeast D.C. man died as a result of a gunshot wound, the Medical Examiner determined his death a homicide.

Zack Freeling was 26-years-old and grew up in Montgomery County.  Previously, his manner of death was listed as undetermined.

FOX 5 first told you about this story in the summer of 2022, as his family reiterated their belief that Freeling was murdered.

"He was a good, loving person," said Isa Freeling, Zack’s aunt.

Zack’s mother died of cancer, and his brother and father died by suicide.  At 26, Freeling was the last surviving member of his immediate family.  In conversations with Freeling before he died, family says he was feeling good about his life, was excited to start a food truck around D.C., and was determined not to let his life be defined by the tragedy that surrounded him.

On the evening of October 18, 2021, his roommate called 9-1-1 from their Quincy Place Northeast townhouse, saying Freeling had a gunshot wound.

Isa Freeling and her husband Bruce Weiss, Zack’s uncle, felt more urgency was needed during the initial stages of the investigation.  The medical examiner eventually determined the manner of death as undetermined, and Freeling and Weiss knew that couldn’t have been right.

READ MORE: 'Nobody believes it was a suicide': Family searches for answers in DC man's death

Freeling and Weiss say they did their own investigations and hired private investigators that generated more information that pointed towards Freeling’s death being a homicide.

They met with police and the D.C. Medical Examiner frequently.  They felt they had an ally in the Medical Examiner, who they say vowed to continue looking at this case. Though, they were frustrated with the pace of the investigation; citing police workload and issues with accreditation at the crime lab.

"I think we felt the only way it was going to move forward was if we moved it forward, we spent time, we spent money, a lot of emotional energy working on that. And, again, thankfully we found the right ears that would pay attention to what we were saying that really did care, and at the end of the day it made a big difference.  A huge difference," Bruce Weiss said.

The D.C. Medical Examiner tells FOX 5 that additional ballistics testing was a factor in changing the manner of death to homicide, but declined to elaborate further.

Isa Freeling and Bruce Weiss say they continued to fight for Zack to preserve his legacy, adamant that this was not a suicide, and are happy for this crucial step towards justice.

"You can’t truly love somebody unless you fight for them. And he’s not gone for us, and he’ll never be gone for me. Unless you’re willing to fight to the bitter end, you know, I fought for my brother, and I fought for my other nephew, and none of this should have happened. None of it," Freeling said.

FOX 5 reached out to Dr. Karl Williams, the retired Medical Examiner in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where Pittsburgh is.

Williams is not associated with this case, but FOX 5 asked for context on whether changes like this are normal in the field of forensic pathology.  He says it’s not uncommon for a change like this to be made.

"I don’t detect anything but an honest effort to get at the story, meaning, the story that best matches the evidence. And that can keep changing over the course of the investigation," Dr. Williams told FOX 5.

D.C. Police tells FOX 5 this change means they can arrest and the U.S. Attorney prosecute this case if an arrest is made.