Category Archives: Tacoma Homicides

Fifth Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Trey Tolbert

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In the early evening of May 11th, police responded to calls of shots being fired. They arrived in a parking lot in the 9200 block of South Hosmer Street. There they found 17-year-old Jatarius Tolbert, shot in the head. He died shortly after medics arrived.

Jatarius went by ‘Trey’ and I really wish I had more to report than that. Unfortunately, neither the Tacoma Police Department nor the Medical Examiner’s Office had anything further to share about this homicide. It’s also worth noting that the media has little to nothing to say about the murder of Trey.

A lack of public information can mean a number of things. It could mean anything from the police being hot on the trail of Trey’s killer or it could mean they have perilously close to nothing to go on.

I wish the police department the best of luck in apprehending Trey’s killer. This is the second homicide in that area in less than a week though there is no indication that the two murders are connected in any way.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of Trey. Please feel free to share your thoughts and memories of him. No comments of hate or anger will be accepted. All comments are moderated and approved by me before they are posted.

Jack Cameron

Fourth Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Stephen Cunningham

Sunday night Tacoma Police were called to a house in the 3400 block of South Proctor Street that they were familiar with. There was a noise complaint. It was just after 10pm.

Earlier in the day 48-year-old Stephen Cunningham was in an altercation with a man. The man left. When the police knocked on Stephen’s door his mother says he thought that the man had returned. Stephen answered the door with a gun in his hand. The details of the confrontation have not been released and so it’s unclear what happened next. But the encounter ended when a 34-year-old six-year veteran of the Tacoma Police Department shot and killed Stephen Cunningham. This is the first homicide involving the Tacoma Police Department in over a year.

Interviewed by KIRO 7, Stephen’s mother said that she did not blame the police for their actions and understands that had Stephen not been armed, the situation would have turned out differently.

Stephen had a concealed carry permit. The gun he carried was legal. It’s reasonable that a gun owner might answer his door with a gun in his hand if he expected trouble. Unfortunately, without the information of what happened during his encounter with the police, it’d pointless to speculate on whether or not the shooting is justified.

Regardless of the justification for the death of Stephen Cunningham, a mother lost her son on Mother’s Day. Friends and relatives lost someone they cared for. And another life is gone from the city of Tacoma.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim who might want to share thoughts or memories of Stephen. All comments are approved by me before they appear on the page.

If anyone has a photo they’d like me to use of Stephen, please send it to jackcameronis@gmail.com.

– Jack Cameron

Third Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Brandon Quinton Morris

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Spring has taken hold here in Tacoma. This weekend it’s supposed to be in the 70’s. Perfect weather for walking to the local convenience store and picking up whatever treats strike your fancy. Friday May 1st, 19-year-old Brandon Morris had done just that with his girlfriend, Jordan and a couple of friends at a convenience store near South 45th and South Union. They were walking down an alley when an SUV pulled up and fired eight shots. Brandon was protective of his girlfriend and friends and was the only one shot. He died five days later becoming Tacoma’s third homicide this year.

Brandon was going to Bates Technical College and studying to be a diesel mechanic. He was close with his family and known to be protective of those he cared for.

Tacoma Police have arrested a 23-year-old gang member for the murder. Neither Brandon or any of his friends with him that day are associated with any gangs. It is believed that the shooting was a random act of violence or a case of mistaken identity. The motivation hardly matters as it’s clear that this was a senseless act.

Drive-by shootings are relatively rare in Tacoma these days. It’s rarer still that they result in a homicide. While there is a very real gang presence in Tacoma, it is a far cry from the 1990s when drive-by shootings happened almost every hour of every day. We literally had hundreds of drive-by shootings a year. It’s good that our crime rate has gone down so much, but these statistics fail to make the loss of life that does occur any less devastating for friends and family of the victim.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim who might want to share any thoughts or memories of Brandon. The section is moderated by me and I approve comments before they are made public.

My thoughts go out to Brandon’s friends and family.

– Jack Cameron

Second Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Larnell Griffin

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In the early morning hours of Thursday April 16th, two or three men arrived at the apartment of Larnell Griffin on South 40th and S. Lawrence Street. One of them had a dispute with Larnell over a cellphone. According to a witness Larnell put his hands up and backed up. When his attacker did not lower the weapon, Larnell struggled to disarm him and was shot. Police arrived at 1:45am to reports of shots fired. Larnell was taken to Madigan Hospital where he died.

The murder of Larnell Griffin is only the second homicide in the city of Tacoma this year. And yet, despite the lack of lethal violence in Tacoma lately and an active manhunt, local media have all but ignored this killing. I found exactly one article on komonews.com with no mention of Larnell’s attacker and no articles at king5.com or kirotv.com. Our local paper, The News Tribune, Crime Stoppers, and this site are the extent of the media coverage in the death of 33-year-old Larnell Griffin.

Of course this is nothing new. All major local television is based out of Seattle and in Seattle, Tacoma is often still regarded as a place where these sort of shootings happen every day. Thankfully the crime rate in Tacoma has continued to go down.

However, no matter how low the crime rate might get, those who are friends and family of its victims are still devastated by their loss. No lack of coverage by the news can minimize what’s happened. According to Larnell’s Facebook page he was married. Photos show a young child. Whenever a life is lost, countless lives are changed.

As always, the comments section is reserved for friends and family of the victim. Those who knew Larnell are encouraged to share their thoughts and memories. Each comment is approved by me to keep negative comments to a minimum.

To the friends and family of Larnell, I’m sorry for your loss. Here’s hoping his killer is apprehended and brought to justice quickly.

– Jack Cameron

Update: The person police believe is responsible for the murder of Larnell was arrested on the evening of 04/21.

First Tacoma Homicide of 2015: Jesus Isidor-Mendoza

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Jesus Mendoza and his son

In the early afternoon of Monday February 10th a resident reported to police that there was a nylon bag containing what might be a body in a ravine near the 3000 block of Delin Street near South Tacoma Way. The bag was found in a steep area that was difficult to access behind an abandoned house frequented by transients.

On Tuesday the body was identified as 18-year-old Jesus Isidor-Mendoza, father of one.  He’d been missing since October of last year. On October 22nd, Jesus left his mother’s house to go to class at Pierce College. He never arrived for class and he never returned home. His mother later reported him missing.

Police arrested two men in their 40s and one woman in connection with the death of Jesus. Charging papers state that Jesus met the two men in a detached garage that they lived in. For reasons unknown, Jesus was raped and drowned using a bucket of water. The assailants then cut his body into pieces, sealed them in plastic bags, and put those bags in a nylon bag. The nylon bag was found in the ravine.

This is easily the most horrific homicide I’ve ever written about in Tacoma. All three suspects are being held without bail.

As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew Jesus Isidor-Mendoza and want to share memories of him.

– Jack Cameron

Getting It Right

On November 1st, the body of Elaine Mansfield was found in a hotel room in the 8800 block of South Hosmer. Shortly after this, police said they were looking for a man who was seen with her near the time of her death. As this page talks about homicides that happen in the city of Tacoma, I contacted police spokesperson Loretta Cool and asked for details. She said that Elaine’s death was ‘Not Homicide’ and the there was an ongoing investigation.

When this happens, I don’t typically write about it because then I would have no choice but to write about all deaths in Tacoma and I simply don’t have the time or resources to do so.

This evening the police caught up with the man they were looking for. Tacoma Weekly reported it with the following Tweet:

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There’s nothing wrong with the Tweet. However, if you go to that link this is what you get:
TacomaWeekly
The headline is an attention grabber but it’s also inaccurate. Not only has the death not been ruled a homicide, but the article itself says as much in the first paragraph.

Let me be clear that this is not me trying to beat up on the Tacoma Weekly. While there are certainly media outlets that practice this sort of thing on a regular basis, I’ve seen nothing from the Tacoma Weekly to indicate this is any sort of pattern on their part. It’s likely just a lack of communication between the writer of the article and the writer of the headline.

Unfortunately when it comes to deaths, there are circumstances that are fairly typical. Recently there were two local gun deaths that took place in a house which had all the hallmarks of a suicide homicide. However, it turned out to be a double suicide. I had actually already written up the article fully expecting it to be a homicide and just waiting for the names to be released. But I waited to make sure it was before I posted about it.

Like that incident, the death of Elaine Mansfield has hallmarks of many other homicides I’ve reported on. A dead woman in a hotel room and a man the police have apprehended as a person of interest certainly sounds like a murder.

I’ve gotten things wrong before as well. It’s an occupational hazard. It’s also why I tend to wait for more information and multiple sources before I post something.

It may seem like a harmless mistake but there are people who will see this man’s photo and the headline and never read the article. There may be family and friends of the victim who will see this and think she was murdered when she wasn’t. There are real consequences to getting things wrong.

I’m hoping that the Tacoma Weekly will modify the headline and issue an apology.  I will update this article when and if they do.

– Jack Cameron

UPDATE 11/28/14: Tacoma Weekly has still not taken down the headline or apologized for it. The Tacoma News Tribune posted an article about the same thing with a much more responsible headline.

Eleventh Tacoma Homicide of 2014 John Scott Ware Jr.

Two weeks ago a portable speaker was stolen from a 38-year-old man. For reasons unknown, he blamed 35-year-old John Scott Ware Jr. Last week he confronted John and the two of them got into an argument. This past Monday John Scott Ware Jr. was walking near South 12th and State Street. The same man started following him on a bicycle. At some point the man confronted John again. He knocked John to the ground and stabbed him repeatedly while asking him to beg for his life.

At some point John managed to get away from his attacker and went to a nearby house. He knocked on the door. A stranger answered the door. John said, “Help me.” before collapsing. Unfortunately his injuries were too severe and he died.

A few days later, police officers were able to arrest John’s killer using eyewitness testimony, surveillance footage from a camera at a house, and good police work.

This is Tacoma’s eleventh Tacoma homicide this year and the third homicide this year on Tacoma’s Hilltop. Unfortunately as the year winds down, our homicide rate seems to be increasing despite starting the year with almost three months with no homicides at all.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find much about John Scott Ware Jr. As always, the comments section is reserved for those who knew the victim. Please share your thoughts or memories of John. If any loved one has a photo they’d like to share, please email it to jackcameronis@gmail.com.  I am sorry for your loss.

– Jack Cameron