From left, the investigation continues into the murders of John Careaga, Johnathon Higgins, Christale Careaga, and Hunter Schaap. (Courtesy Careaga family)

Detective: ‘We believe we will make an arrest’ for Careaga murders

SILVERDALE — It’s been more than seven months since four members of a Seabeck family were murdered in two locations.

An arrest will be made, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Jon Van Gesen said on Sept. 11, although he would not say when he expects that will happen. “We believe we will make an arrest for the murders,” he said.

The Washington State Patrol crime lab continues to process evidence collected in the Careaga murder investigation, Van Gesen said. An untold number of pieces of evidence — in the hundreds, Van Gesen said — have been collected.

The individual caught on surveillance video at the Target store in Silverdale and identified as a “person of interest” in the case has been contacted by investigators, but Van Gesen is mum on information investigators may have obtained.

Investigators have received between 250 and 500 tips related to the case. More than one person was involved in the murders and it wasn’t a random act, investigators have said, but Van Gesen said investigators don’t know yet the connection between the killers and the victims.

Two detectives are leading the investigation, and several detectives are working “more than full-time” on the case, Van Gesen said. “Both scenes involved a lot of fire that significantly altered both scenes,” he said. He reiterated an earlier statement he made: “It’s very important we do things right. It’s complicated, and it’s compounded by the number of victims.”

Person of interest

Investigators continue to seek and collect information about the man in the Target video, “his actions [and] his activities from people who know him, saw him, interacted with him,” Van Gesen said. Evidence led investigators to the store video, released to the public by the Sheriff’s Office on June 6, Van Gesen said. “I don’t know his full history, or whether he is known to law enforcement,” Van Gesen said at the time. “I didn’t know him before” he was identified.

Van Gesen said the person of interest “is local.” He is shown on store video entering the store and driving from the parking lot on Jan. 15, 12 days before the murders.

Meanwhile, John and Christale Careaga’s survivors have possession of the home in Seabeck where Christale and the couple’s 16-year-old sons, Johnathon Higgins and Hunter Schaap, died. John Careaga’s body was found a couple of days later in his truck at a Mason County tree farm.

Authorities are not releasing the manner of death or cause of death. “That hasn’t been released by the coroner,” Van Gesen said. As for motive: “Until the suspect or suspects are identified, we won’t know the motive.”

Meanwhile, information about the Careaga murders can be reported anonymously to sheriff’s Detective Lissa Gundrum, 360-337-5669. 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.

To recap:

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.

At 11:35 p.m., Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue Engine 56 arrived at the home, which is situated on a large, forested lot. 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 were 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.

There was no evidence of forced entry and no evidence of a struggle, Gundrum said in an earlier interview. “Not that we can tell,” she 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 determined he had been murdered.

Last seen at neighborhood store

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 in an earlier interview. 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 at the time 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.”

An estimated 700 relatives and friends gathered Feb. 7 at GracePoint Church in Bremerton for a celebration of life in honor of the four.

Meanwhile, family members now operate Juanito’s Taqueria and Christale’s Java Hut. As of Sept. 12, 189 people had donated $14,979 to www.gofundme.com/careaga-family-fund to help the family defray expenses associated with their family members’ deaths.

Van Gesen said in an earlier interview: “The important thing is, the public should keep the photograph of the family members who were killed foremost in their minds. We’re looking for somebody or somebodies responsible for the murder of four family members. Until we resolve this case, we have a family out there mourning.”

— Richard Walker is managing editor of Kitsap News Group. Contact him at rwalker@soundpublishing.com.