'Mr. Henderson went on a killing spree': Police say case solved in 4 Federal Way murders
FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- A string of four separate murders in Federal Way two years ago has been solved, police there said.
Prosecutors are recommending multiple murder charges against primary suspect Justice Henderson, who was 17 at the time, police officials said.
"Mr. Henderson went on a killing spree," Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang said Tuesday during a news conference announcing the arrests.
Hwang said Henderson's first victim was Jeff McLaren, who was fatally shot on April 3, 2016. McLaren was just days away from his 20th birthday when he was shot dead in a parking lot outside his apartment complex in Federal Way. Hwang said the motive was robbery in that case.
Court documents say a witness told investigators that Henderson had a new .22-caliber pistol and "wanted to see the effects of shooting someone with it." He ended up choosing McLaren, court documents say.
About five weeks later, Henderson would allegedly go on to kill three people at random within a two-day period, Hwang said. On the evening of May 9, Henderson allegedly shot 26-year-old Alex Kelley at the Arcadia Townhomes on Southwest Campus Drive, Hwang said.
Court documents say Henderson was looking for a car to break into and thought Kelley had seen him and was calling 911. A witness said Henderson shot him in the back, court documents say.
About an hour later, 27-year-old Frank Cohens, Jr. was found dead slumped over a parked vehicle, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Court documents say a witness told investigators that Henderson shot Cohens in a robbery of Xanax.
The next night, 30-year-old Adam Gutierrez was fatally shot while on a late night jog with his dog.
Court documents say a witness said Henderson asked Gutierrez if he needed help walking his dog. He said no. That made Henderson mad, so he "dumped his clip" into him, court documents say.
"I can't speak for (Henderson) except the evil that this guy carries with him," said Javier Gutierrez, Adam's father. "I don't understand."
Hwang stressed that the last three murders were completely random.
Henderson was charged Tuesday with four counts of first-degree murder. Court documents describe him as a gang member who engaged in "thrill killings." He admitted "he was responsible for these crimes to a number of individuals and recounted details that only the killer would known," court documents say.
Henderson was arrested on July11, 2016, for an attempted murder in Pierce County, and Federal Way investigators tied Henderson to their four murders shortly thereafter. With Henderson off the streets in jail, eventually sentenced to 12-years in jail for that case, Federal Way investigators said they took their time to build their case in the four murders.
"Because Henderson was in custody and not a danger to society, we held off disclosing his identity or charging him with Federal Way’s homicides at that time," Hwang said. "That gave us the strategic advantage of thoroughly and completely investigating our four cases before revealing the perpetrator and his accomplices."
Two other men are also expected to face charges in the murders, Hwang said, identifying them as Marshae Garrison and Kamajah Skannal. Garrison is considered an accomplice in the McLaren murder and will likely be charged with first-degree murder and robbery, while Skannal was charged with first degree murder and robbery Tuesday in connection with Cohens' death, prosecutors said. Bail was set for Skannal at $5 million and prosecutors say he had several prior convictions.
Skannal was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the death of Cohens.
"We are so relieved for the families," Hwang said. "This is the type of moment why people become police officers and detectives. How many people get to do this type of investigation and bring some sort of justice and relief for the family?... (So) I would tell you for our detectives, great job at so many different levels -- for the community, for the victims' families and our police department in general, kudos to them."
Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell made a promise two years ago "that we would find those responsible and hold them accountable."
"Ladies and gentlemen that day has arrived," he said Tuesday.
Family members of the victims were left still stunned by the news.
"It's just such a disappointment," said Marianne Gutierrez, widow of Adam Gutierrez. "Of course, loss of life Adam and all of the other families affected, but also a 17-year-old kid. I don't know why they would do that, and it really doesn't matter why."
His mother Heidi Gutierrez said her son "was always there for family and to not have him here is wrong."
"I really want to ask him 'why?' I want to know but I know I'm never going to get that answer," his mother said.
Added Marianne Gutierrrez, "Remember that he was in the Navy and he fought for our country, and he did everything right, and he followed the rules."
McLaren's aunt Lisa Wollum remembered her nephew as an amazing musician.
"He was a happy guy. He was friendly to everyone."
Like the other family members, the random nature of it all is devastating.
"I think it was totally random and I think that's for the victims' families the hardest."