PORT ORCHARD — Based on the investigation so far, sheriff’s Detective Lt. Earl Smith believes there are other people out there that have information — key information — that could lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the Careaga murders.
“We’re still getting leads, we’re still investigating, we’re still sending evidence to the crime lab,” Smith said on March 14.
Three members of the Careaga family were found dead Jan. 27 in their Seabeck home, which had been set on fire. The father, John D. Careaga, was found dead in his pickup truck on a Mason County tree farm two days later. His truck had been destroyed by fire. Investigators determined all four family members had been murdered.
Smith said investigators haven’t determined where John Careaga was killed; video footage at the Camp Union Store near his home showed that he had visited the store about two hours before the murders occurred at his home.
Smith asked for the public to be patient — and to share information they may have about the murders.
“It’s kind of like the Gerald DeJesus case,” he said, referring to a double homicide in East Bremerton in March 2015. “We didn’t make an arrest until a few months afterward. Not every case is solved in one day. We were able to quickly make an arrest on Feb. 21 for [an unrelated shooting in Seabeck] because someone came forward with information and we were able to solve that in a timely manner.”
Smith said anyone with information about the Careaga murders can call anonymously: Detective Lissa Gundrum, 360-337-5669. And Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound is offering a $4,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect or suspects. Call 1-800-222-TIPS or go to www.crimestoppers.com. Again, callers can remain anonymous.
At 11:28 p.m. Jan. 27, a caller phoned 911, reporting violence at the Careaga home near Lake Tahuyeh. Investigators later identified the caller as Hunter E. Schaap, 16, one of the victims.
At 11:35 p.m., Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue Engine 56 arrived at the home. Deputies searched outbuildings for other people and called in the King County Sheriff’s helicopter to search the surrounding woods from the air.
At 11:55 p.m., firefighters extinguished the house fire and, after the smoke cleared, investigators entered and found three bodies inside. The three are later identified as Christale Lynn Careaga, 37; her son, Johnathon F. Higgins, 16; and her husband’s stepson from a previous marriage, Hunter Schaap. The three were found in separate rooms of the home, Gundrum said Feb. 3.
The home is situated on a large, forested lot. There was no evidence of forced entry and no evidence of a struggle. “Not that we can tell,” Gundrum said. However, the scene was altered by the house fire and the process of extinguishing the fire, she said.
The search began for Christale’s husband, John Careaga, and his F-150 pickup. At 5:27 p.m. Jan. 29, investigators found Careaga’s body in his truck, which had been destroyed by fire, at a tree farm in Mason County. Careaga’s remains were identified on Jan. 31; investigators say he had been murdered.
At 9 p.m., about 2.5 hours before violence broke out at his home, John Careaga was shopping at the Camp Union Store less than three miles from his home. The store’s video surveillance tape documented Careaga’s visit there.
Did he go home or was he intercepted? “We don’t have that information, and unfortunately there’s nobody to ask,” Gundrum said. Investigators believe he was killed elsewhere. “We do feel that John was the focus because he was killed at a separate location than his family.”
The Careagas had an authorized medical marijuana grow at their home, and investigators found approximately $60,000 in a safe at the home. The Careagas owned two businesses: Juanito’s Taqueria and Christale’s Java Hut on Kitsap Way. “Detectives did locate some cash and secured it for safekeeping from the burned-out residence,” the sheriff’s department reported on its Facebook page. “This family were business owners and it is not unusual for a business owner to have cash on hand.”
Investigators do not believe the marijuana and cash were factors in the murders. “No,” Gundrum said. “I should say, we don’t know if that was a motive, but that’s not where our focus is.”
At this point, investigators are not releasing the manner of death — that is, how the four died.
An estimated 700 relatives and friends gathered Feb. 7 at GracePoint Church in Bremerton for a celebration of life in honor of the four.