Investigators and many in the Oak Harbor community are struggling to understand how and why four young people could have been involved in the murder of a teenage boy last week.
The alleged shooter, 20-year-old Brian Rayford, “carried out a hit” against John “Jay” Johnson, 17, because his friend was upset over a $400 impound fee, according Detective Ed Wallace with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.
“The catalyst does seem to be the tow fee,” Wallace said, admitting that detectives are as baffled as anyone by the apparent senselessness of the crime.
Detectives arrested Rayford, David Nunez, Jr., 19, and Kitana Hernandez, 19, Friday afternoon. The fourth suspect, 16-year-old Derek Reeder, was arrested that night.
None of the four suspects had a felony criminal history or a history of violence. They all went to Oak Harbor schools; Reeder was still a junior at Oak Harbor High School. Their Facebook pages are filled with “selfies,” photos of family and friends, and posts from friends; it all appears to be typical for young adults. There’s little indication of fights, threats or crime.
In a telephonic hearing Saturday, the judge found probable cause to hold all four suspects on suspicion of first-degree murder. The judge ordered Rayford and Nunez, Jr. to be held without bail. Hernandez and Reeder were ordered held on $500,000 bail each.
Johnson died Friday morning at Harborview Medical Center as a result of the gunshot wound to the head, according to the police report. Johnson went to school in Oak Harbor and had a network of friends and family in the community.
A family friend set up a GoFundMe page, www.gofundme.com/vdamjhf8, to help Johnson’s grandmother with medical and final expenses.
“The world lost the coolest kid on earth on November 13, 2015, when 17 year old John ‘Jay’ Skylar Johnson was murdered in his home by people he thought were his friends,” the page states. “Four offenders have been apprehended, and justice will be swift.
“Jay will be best remembered by his quick wit, his compassion for life, and a love for his family and friends. Jay had a way with words; he could uplift anyone around him with his compassionate words and empathy for others.”
Early in the morning of Nov. 11, a friend of the Johnson family called 9-1-1 after finding the young man unconscious and bleeding at his home on West Green Valley Road on North Whidbey.
Johnson was taken to the hospital, where doctors discovered he had a gunshot wound to the head. Detective Ed Wallace was called in to investigate. Johnson was airlifted to Harborview, but never regained consciousness.
Detectives could not find a gun at Johnson’s home. The young man’s 15-year-old girlfriend contacted detectives and explained that she had been video chatting with him just prior to the shooting on the night of Nov. 10. They were interrupted by a knock at the door.
According to Wallace’s report, the case quickly came together later in the day after another young woman, who was with the suspects just before and after the shooting, provided crucial evidence even though she was afraid for her life.
The report indicates that Nunez was upset with Johnson over the impound fee. Johnson had borrowed his car and it was impounded by the Washington State Patrol.
Rayford, Nunez and Reeder hatched a plan to either beat or shoot Johnson, Wallace wrote. Reeder kept asking Rayford to let him “do it” but Rayford kept possession of the gun, the report indicates.
After his arrest, Rayford admitted to shooting Johnson.
Wallace’s report indicates that Hernandez drove Rayford, Reeder and Nunez to Johnson’s house; Rayford and Reeder walked up to the house together. After speaking with Johnson briefly at the front door, Rayford pulled a .22-caliber handgun “out of the pocket of his hoodie, pointed the gun at Johnson, closed his eyes, turned his head and pulled the trigger,” Wallace wrote.
Rayford didn’t see where he shot Johnson because he and Reeder ran back to the car, the report states. Nunez and Hernandez later threw the gun into the water, Wallace wrote.
In an interview with the detective, Reeder allegedly admitted that he was in the car on the night of the shooting but claimed that Rayford went to the house alone, came back and said, “It’s done.”
Wallace wrote that Nunez sanctioned the “hit” and poses a threat to witnesses because he demanded in texts that they remain silent and referred to them as “loose ends,” the report states.
“The Island County detectives did an amazing job of swiftly solving the case, locating all four defendants and taking them into custody without incident,” Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said. “The safety of the witnesses who informed on the alleged perpetrators was a paramount concern for us.”
Banks said prosecutors were also shocked that “some chippy dispute” over an impound fee could result in murder. He points out that Hernandez has no criminal history and Nunez has only a misdemeanor history with such minor crimes as trespassing in the windmill at Windjammer Park.
Rayford was in juvenile drug court two years ago but was kicked out after he allegedly lead police in Kittitas County on a chase in a stolen car and a stolen gun was found in the car, according to the prosecutor. His record, however, doesn’t show any convictions in that county.
Reeder recently entered juvenile drug court; he had faced a theft and minor in possession charges, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Banks said he will charge the suspects today. If charged with murder, Reeder, a minor, will be charged as an adult in Island County Superior Court, he indicated.
With the current evidence, the murder is not a death-penalty-eligible case, Banks said.