Three soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state have been arrested in connection with the stabbing death of another soldier and police said they are no longer investigating the killing as a hate crime as race does not appear to be the motive, authorities said Monday.
The three soldiers were booked into the Pierce County Jail on Monday and are being held in connection with the killing of Tevin Geike, 20, the Lakewood Police Department said in a statement emailed to reporters. Formal charges are pending.
Three suspects were identified as: Jeremiah Hill, 23; Cedarium Johnson, 21; and Ajoni Runnion-Bareford, 21. The trio were active-duty soldiers assigned to a combat infantry unit. The victim was also an active-duty Lewis-McChord soldier, assigned to a combat aviation unit, officials said.
Originally, police had said that the slain soldier, who was white, had been killed in what was being investigated as a racially motivated attack by five black men.
But on Monday, authorities said they had redefined the crime. “It appears from interviewing everyone involved that race was not a motivating factor in this homicide,” police stated. “The main suspect, Jeremiah Hill, did not make a statement; so it’s unknown exactly why he did this.”
The incident began early Saturday morning when Geike and his friends were walking on Pacific Highway.
The three arrested suspects and two other soldiers, who were cooperating with police, were in a vehicle when words were exchanged between them and Geike and friends, walking on the road. Those in the car stopped to talk to those on the road, but once they found out they were all active-duty soldiers, they separated, police said. Hill appeared to give Geike a bear hug and pushed him to the ground, according to the police.
One of the cooperating soldiers “told us that Hill was covered in blood when he got into the car and they discovered he had stabbed the victim and cut himself. They fled the scene and disposed of the knife. Another cooperative suspect ... is brought in as well and he corroborates the accounts given up to that point,” police stated.
A military sergeant contacted civilian authorities by Sunday afternoon and told them he had information on Geike’s stabbing. A soldier had told the sergeant that Hill had requested first aid for a knife wound on his right hand. “The soldier stated that Hill told him he cut his hand when he stabbed a guy to death over the weekend. The soldier didn’t believe him initially, but told his sergeant about what happened. The sergeant confronted Hill about this information, but Hill said he cut it while chopping vegetables,” police said.
Eventually, the vehicle was seized and barracks were searched, police said.
“Multiple items of evidence are located,” police said but did not identify what the materials are.
The case was turned over to the Pierce County prosecutor’s office, which will decide on charges.