From left, John D. Careaga, Johnathon F. Higgins, Christale Lynn Careaga, and Hunter E. Schaap. (Courtesy the Careaga family)

Careaga murders: Nearly four months later, the investigation continues

Detective Lt. Earl Smith: ‘I am very optimistic that this is a solvable case’

SEABECK — Three members of the Careaga family were murdered in their home on Jan. 27. A fourth family member was found at another location two days later. He, too, had been murdered.

As the four-month anniversary of the killings nears, the investigation continues and a lead detective on the case said he’s “very optimistic” that the case will be solved.

“We’re still making progress,” sheriff’s Detective Lt. Earl Smith said May 12. “We have a lot of things to go through. The state patrol crime lab is processing evidence. I am very optimistic that this is a solvable case.”

Smith returned to patrol this week. The new point of contact on the Careaga murders is Detective Lt. Jon Van Gesen.

As he exited as lead detective on the case, Smith declined to disclose any information he felt would compromise the case. Is an arrest near? Has a suspect been identified? “We have interviewed a lot of individuals and will continue to interview,” Smith said. “We still have evidence that needs to be processed.”

In earlier interviews, investigators asked residents to be patient, saying that they want to make sure they have enough evidence to result in conviction. They referred to the case of Geraldo DeJesus, who was arrested five months after the shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and a toddler in a home in the Kariotis Mobile Home Park. He was convicted and received two life sentences.

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, 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 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.

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.

Meanwhile, the family continues to raise money to help defray the costs associated with their loved one’s deaths. Go to www.gofundme.com/careaga-family-fund.

More in News

Poulsbo secures first phase of funding for PERC

$244,000 awarded to Poulsbo by Kitsap Public Facilities District for event and recreation center

Olympic High School cheer coach charged with sexual misconduct

25-year-old Tyson A. Ebert has been suspended without pay by CKSD

Poulsbo Lighted Ships Parade celebrates 50 Years

The City of Poulsbo and Mayor Becky Erickson have declared Dec. 14,… Continue reading

Senator Christine Rolfes speaks with Kitsap County residents in Kingston ahead of the 2020 legislative session. Nick Twietmeyer / Kitsap News Group
Rolfes talks transportation funding in the wake of I-976

On Dec. 2, Senator Christine Rolfes of Washington’s 23rd Legislative District met… Continue reading

Vikings await the Lucia Bride’s lighting of the Julefest bonfire at Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park. File photo
Poulsbo holiday tradition returns Saturday

While for many, Thanksgiving is the mark of the start of the… Continue reading

Bremerton Councilmember Leslie Daugs announces run for legislature

Rep. Sherry Appleton recently announced her plans for retirement at the end of her term in 2021

<em>Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Peninsula is at 19917 Seventh Ave. in Poulsbo.</em>
                                Photo courtesy of SCCA
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance expanding services in Poulsbo

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is expanding its services and care options at… Continue reading

Bay Street to go ‘full Santa’ on Saturday

Festival of Chimes and Lights takes its 21st bow

Photo courtesy of Patty Pace
                                These students from Patty Pace’s second-grade class last year at South Colby Elementary gathered in a circle to exhibit the true meaning of kindness and how it spreads in an interconnected way.
Rocks, water and the ripples

Second-graders learn how kindness can spread like ripples in the water

Most Read