SEABECK — A Kitsap man brought in for questioning in an alleged assault in September has been identified as a person of interest in the Jan. 27 murder of four members of the Careaga family.
And in a recording of a 911 call released to news media at a news conference Jan. 11 in Port Orchard conducted by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, family member Hunter Schaap tells the dispatcher that he had been shot and other family members were dead.
Investigators identified the person of interest as 39-year-old Danie Kelly Jr. He was not identified as a suspect.
Surveillance video was released showing John D. Careaga’s pickup shortly after 9 p.m. in front of the Camp Union Grocery the night of the murders, with another unidentified vehicle pulling alongside, as well as an extended version of the 911 call placed from the home by Schaap, 16, Careaga’s stepson.
Careaga’s truck was seen leaving the grocery’s parking lot and later viewed pulling into a church parking lot, parking and turning its lights off.
Christale Careaga, her son Johnathon Higgins, and stepson Hunter Schaap were found dead in their Seabeck home late Jan. 27, 2017. Careaga, Christale’s husband, was found dead the next day at another location — in his pickup truck, at a Mason County tree farm. Fire had been set to the house and pickup. Authorities say all four were murdered and that the slayings were not random.
Investigators told reporters that Kelly is the person in surveillance video obtained from the Target store in Silverdale. In the video, Kitsap County Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Jon Van Gesen said Kelly was seen wearing clothing associated with the Banditos’ Motorcycle Club.
“Investigators have spoken to Mr. Kelly,” Van Gesen said. “Mr. Kelly remains a person of interest. There are other persons of interest, some who are known associates of Mr. Kelly. All persons are being actively investigated by the task force.”
He said identification of those individuals may be released later. Some of the persons of interest who have been interviewed have provided false or misleading information, Van Gesen said. If true, he added, their cases could be forwarded to the prosecutor’s office for possible charging.
Van Gesen said the extended video and 911 call were being released in hopes of generating more tips in the murder case.
Kitsap County Sheriff Gary Simpson said, “As the one-year mark of the Careaga family approaches, we want to provide information on the progress of the investigation, as well as ask for the public’s assistance.
“The response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive during the time this family, their friends and our community have continued to mourn the loss of four lives one year ago.”
Just as important, Simpson said, was the need to remind the public and the Careaga family that the murder victims have not been forgotten.
“We will continue to be meticulous and persistent as we move forward,” Simpson said. “Every bit of information received, every bit of evidence obtained brings us one step forward toward completing this investigation.”
Simpson said the combined members of law enforcement investigating the murders wanted to acknowledge “the void this family has endured over the past 12 months and the sense of uncertainty as they grieve their loss.
“We all seek justice, but justice will not bring back Christale or John (Careaga), or 16-year-old brothers Johnathon (Higgins) and Hunter (Schaap).”
John and Christale Careaga owned two local businesses — Juanito’s Taqueria and Christale’s Java Hut — and had a licensed medical marijuana grow on their property. Earlier, authorities said no marijuana plants were taken, nor was $60,000 cash that was in a safe in the house, although Van Gesen said it’s not known whether the suspect or suspects knew of the cash in the safe.
Earlier, Van Gesen disclosed that the sheriff’s office has a lead officer and a co-lead officer assigned to the case, and all detectives are assisting in addition to their regular daily workloads. Several outside agencies are assisting as well, he said.
Van Gesen said he believes an arrest or arrests will be made. “We’re getting closer every day. It’s a very complicated case,” he said in an earlier interview.
Also addressing the news media was FBI acting supervisor special agent Norm Sanders, who said: “We have special FBI agents specifically and solely devoted to this investigation. We’ll continue to review every tip and lead that comes in from the public. While we’re reluctant to discuss the investigative details and methods, the FBI will exploit every technology and resource available to us to identify any individuals responsible for these murders.”
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.
At 11:28 p.m. Jan. 27, 2017, 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.
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.”
As for motive: “It’s all in the mind of killer or killers,” Van Gesen said in an earlier interview. “It could be revenge, it could be a crime of passion, it could be retaliation. We will never truly know what the motive is [until trial]. That’s the why everyone wants to know.”
Deputy Scott Wilson, the Sheriff’s Office public information officer, said questions would not be taken at the news conference because of “the complexity of this investigation and the integrity [that] necessitates that.”
— With reporting by Bob Smith, Nick Twietmeyer and Richard Walker of Kitsap News Group.