Category Archives: Tacoma Homicides

RIP Steven Chennells

I just received this email regarding Steven Chennells. This is what this blog is all about; putting a life to the names of people who should still be with us. I’ll post word when I hear any updates on this or any other homicide this year.
Here’s the email:
Steven, was born on Dec.19,1955 in Englewood NJ. Lived in Howell NJ until 1973 at which time he went into the US Navy where he spent the next 21 yrs serving his country, he is a father of 3 one son & two daughts who live in PA. His son Steven Jr has just gone in the Navy to fellow in his father’s steps. Steven’s Mother and two brothers still live in Howell NJ. Please find the sick f*cker who did this,my brother didn’t deserve to die this way.

Seventh Homcide of 2007 – Steven Chennells

Sorry this one took so long to post, I had to do a little research to find it:

On the evening of May 9th, two people were walking on South 12th Street under the Highway 16 overpass when they noticed a body in a sleeping bag. It had been there for at least two weeks. Initially detectives thought he died of natural causes, but the autopsy revealed evidence of homicidal violence.

The man has been identified as a local homeless man in his mid-50s. His name is currently unavailable.

Personally I find these deaths to be among the worst. There’s little to no media coverage and the likelihood of the murder being solved isn’t good. It’s what has been called a ‘misdemeanor homicide’. An anonymous nobody dies as anonymously as he lived with no one even noticing for two weeks.

If his name is released, you’ll read it here, but few other places.


Update: His name was Steven Christopher Chennells. He was 51. When found, he was wearing a dark blue sweatshirt with an American flag on it. The last time anyone was known to have seen him was early April. Crime Stoppers is offering $1,000 reward for information in this case. To provide information, call 253-591-5959

Also if you have any information about Steven, who he was and that sort of thing, feel free to email me at or leave the information in the comments below.


Eighth Homicide of 2007 – Fernando Sandoval

On the evening of May 24th, seventeen year old Fernando Sandoval was walking through South Tacoma’s Manitou Park with his girlfriend. Also at the park were three other boys and one of their girlfriends. Two of the boys were also seventeen. One was fifteen. The fifteen year old had a gun.

One of the seventeen year olds recognized Fernando because his cousin had been in a fight with him. He started yelling at Fernando. Fernando ran. The three boys chased after him and the lead boy told the fifteen year old to shoot. The fifteen year old instead handed him the gun. There were several gunshots and then Fernando Sandoval was dead. The three boys ran off yelling gang taunts.

The three boys have been arrested and are being charged as adults.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the names of the three boys. This is intentional. Whenever possible, I avoid mentioning the names of people involved in a murder if only because I don’t think they should get any credit. Especially when it comes to gang-related crime, a good part of the reason these murders happen is to build ‘street-cred’. I’m a firm believer that criminals should not profit from their crimes. Not with money or fame. Not to mention, I may not be able to do anything about the fact that another citizen of Tacoma has been murdered, but I can at the very least respect the victim by denying their killer any notoriety.

Gang killings like this used to be almost a weekly occurrence in Tacoma. Living in South Tacoma in the early 90’s, I went to bed regularly to the sound of gunshots and police sirens. I had a collection of shell casings from nearby drive-by shootings.

By the late 90’s, gang crime had gone down in Tacoma. This was due to a lot of factors, but one of the major ones was Tacoma’s Anti-Gang Unit which was disbanded in the late 90’s. In May 2006, it became clear that gangs were once again becoming a significant issue in Tacoma, especially on the East Side and South End. A new Anti-Gang Unit was formed.

During the past year, the Anti-Gang Unit has lost two officers to the undercover narcotics squad and lost its funding when the 2007/08 budget did not include additional money for the Unit. However, Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell has managed to the keep the unit operating.

Really though, anyone who knows Tacoma, should know that an Anti-Gang Unit should be a permanent addition to the Tacoma Police. Just look at what they’ve done in the past year. Over 995 arrests, 65 guns confiscated, and the award for the Northwest Gang Investigators Association’s 2006 gang unit of the year. It is because of units like this that there aren’t more murders like that of Fernando Sandoval. It’s also because of units like this that when a murder like this happens, it is solved and solved quickly.

In other gang-related news, the killer of Rhaczio “RhaRha” Simms was sentenced to 60 years in prison for his involvement in the shooting last year outside of Club Friday which left Simms dead, and an innocent bystander paralyzed.

It was this killing that actually caused the Tacoma Police Department to respond by creating the Anti-Gang Unit.

Sixty years is a lot longer than most killers get in cases like this, but the killer had a lot going against him. He started shooting on a crowded street. He killed someone. He hit a bystander. He was in a gang. Each of these factors has a sentence and added up, it equals about sixty years.

Not that he’ll actually do that amount of time. He’s already talking about appeals. He called the sentence “B.S.”.  But really, what’s B.S. is the fact that after being convicted, this killer gets another chance for a lesser sentence. This is a chance his victims never had.  


Homicides Five And Six for 2007

 Twenty-one year old Kyle Grinnell was using a pressure washer on the triplex he lived in on South Tyler Street around 4:00pm on Wednesday. A dark sedan pulled up and fired a few shots at Kyle. He died the next day from his wounds. Police say it was not gang related and that they were following up on some leads. 

Drive-bys are nothing new in Tacoma. One year in the early 90′s we had more drive-by shootings than Los Angeles. Not per capita. We actually had more shootings than a city ten times bigger. The problem is even now, when a news outlet outside of Tacoma hears that someone got killed in a drive-by in Tacoma, their immediate response is, "Where’s the news in that?"

The same can be said of the shooting that occurred yesterday on Hilltop. Two cars with two people in them parked near each other. One man got out to talk to the driver of the other car. They began to argue. The man’s passenger also got out of the car and then pulled out a gun and fired several times at the driver.

The driver’s car went down a hill and hit a parked car on South G Street. Police say that the driver was acquainted with the shooters. No arrests have been made as of this writing.

Two homicides in two days is something that doesn’t happen often in Tacoma. The Associated Press wrote a quick article about it can be found posted on  Most of the time if someone gets shot on the east side or the south side or in a drive-by, it barely rates news coverage at all.

The major exception about this is The News Tribune and especially the News Tribune blog Lights & Sirens: Of course according to my stats, half of you found this page from Lights & Sirens so I’m not telling you anything  new.

This constitutes the fifth and sixth homicides for Tacoma in 2007 if you include the police involved shooting of Berry Milsap. The Milsap shooting was obviously justified, but justifiable homicides are still homicides.


The Second and Third Homicides of 2007

I used to work for the Law Enforcement Support Agency in Tacoma. I transcribed police reports and quickly learned exactly how many bad things happened in Tacoma that never got mentioned in the paper or on the news. At the time we had a three-month backlog. The problem was that there were far more criminal activities happening than there were people to transcribe them. They hired some temps, worked 24 hour rotating shifts and got it within 48 hours. My joke at the time, was, “Can’t we just ask criminals of Tacoma to just wait a couple days before they commit their next crime so we can get caught up?”

So I took a few weeks off of writing. Mainly because I needed to find a new day job and I wanted to start organizing my new site, . Don’t click the link yet, there’s nothing there. I also submitted a couple short stories to a couple of magazines, found a new job, and dealt with my grandfather passing away. It’s been a busy month.

Unfortunately it’s also been a busy month for crime in Tacoma. Since my last writing, there have been two more homicides.

Tacoma’s second homicide of 2007 occurred when twenty-three year old Dominick Garbagni got into an argument with another man in the early hours of January 20th at a tavern on the corner of South 56th and M Street. The argument continued as they went outside and one of them pushed the other (witness accounts vary as to who did the pushing). The fight continued and Domick fell to the ground and hit his head. Two friends of Dominick’s then attacked the man. Dominick died later that day from the head injury. The man who killed him was also injured and briefly taken to the hospital. Both he and one of Dominick’s friends were arrested.

After looking over the case, prosecutor’s decided not to file charges against the man or Dominick’s friend because they say it was unclear whether he acted in self-defense or not.

This is one of those cases where it’s easy to make assumptions about what happened and who is more responsible than the other. I think it’s clear that whatever they were arguing about, no one intended to kill anyone. But lack of intent doesn’t bring back a loved one.

As of this writing, detectives are still looking into this case and charges may yet be filed.

Another argument, this one on the Hilltop resulted in Tacoma’s third homicide for 2007. Two men were arguing around 1:40am Friday morning at a gas station on Hilltop. As the argument continued, a third man got involved. One of the two men then decided to leave at which point the third man shot and killed him. He then ran into the alley and hopped into a car.

A block away, a police officer heard the shots and was there in less than a minute. He saw the guy get into the car and soon after, the shooter was arrested.

I currently don’t have the name of the victim because his family has not been notified. Though honestly, I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it because someone getting shot and killed in the middle of the night on Hilltop is not something that rates much news coverage. I looked at the Seatle Times website and they seem more interested in the fact that next week’s Grey’s Anatomy is going to have some fictional disaster in Seattle. Any media organization outside of Tacoma is going to say “What? Someone got killed on Hilltop last night? Yeah, I’m gonna stop the presses for that one.” (And any news organization in Seattle is going to say, "What? Something happened outside of Seattle? Who gives a f*ck?")

This is a shame because Hilltop isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. In the early nineties during the summer, you could hear gunfire on a nightly basis. One year Tacoma actually had more drive by shootings than Los Angeles. But the anti-gang task force and a number of other factors, helped make Hilltop a better place. Though it’s still not a place to get into an argument at a gas station in the middle of the night, it’s better than Tacoma’s east side at this time.

Unless someone kills someone else in the next few days, my next entry won’t be about death. It will be about the attempted murder of one of Tacoma’s most famous landmarks: Bob’s Java Jive.

Until then, remember some people are as dumb as dumb as a box of hammers. Don’t argue with them. There’s no point.-Jack

The First Homicide of 2007

As 2006 ended, I wondered if I should continue reporting on the homicides that take place in the city of Tacoma. There were 22 homicides in Tacoma in 2006. That’s almost two a month.
And I just wasn’t sure I wanted to continue telling the world all about the
deaths that happen in a city that is actually a really great place. So I
figured I’d think about it for a week or two.

But no. For reasons he wants to keep to himself some 18-year-old student of Tacoma’s Foss High School took a pistol to school Wednesday morning and killed 17-year-old Samnang Kok. Two hours later, cops picked him up not far from the school. Because it happened at a school, this rated CNN coverage and any site that’s going to talk about Tacoma, had better talk about this. So here it is, homicide number one of 2007.

School shootings are nothing new and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Relatives of the shooter say that he’d brought a gun to school in the past and that he ‘bought and sold guns’. If this is true and the parents knew about it, then I think they too can be blamed for this tragedy.Because
regardless of what anyone might think, it’s not the video games or the music or the violent movies that help make kids into murderers. It’s the lack of
attention where there should be devotion. It’s outright apathy where there
should be love.It’s acting like you can’t be bothered to be a parent when you’re a parent that does the most to create these kinds of people. Parents look everywhere but in the mirror for answers to these questions. Parents will say that they ‘can’t control’ their children. And to a certain extent that’s true. But you can raise your children to have respect for life and respect for the law.You can give them the values that help them become good people.
And you can discipline your children when they misbehave instead of thinking,
‘oh well, he’s buying and selling guns’.

There’s talk again of putting metal detectors in Tacoma schools. This is a waste of time and money.
What’s to stop a student from just gunning kids down in the parking lot? Or
slipping a gun through a window? Or on the field? The truth is you can’t stop
students from bringing guns to or near schools and it’s wishful thinking that
you can. Even if you found a foolproof way to keep guns out of schools, what’s to stop that same kid from just doing a drive-by on the school?

Personally I’m tired of people passing the buck when it comes to who to blame for these things. The 18-year-old who shot Samnang Kok is to blame for the murder. The relatives of the shooter are to blame for not doing anything about his illegal and immoral behavior. And that’s where the buck stops. It is not the fault of the school for not having metal detectors anymore than it is the fault of Samnang Kok for not wearing a bulletproof vest.

Of course it’s a tragedy when these things happen at schools, but really it’s a tragedy whenever one person takes another person’s life. It destroys the families of not just the victim but the shooter as well. Here’s hoping the next tragedy doesn’t occur anytime soon.

Rest in Peace Samnang Kok.


Note: Whenever possible I avoid naming the murderers because I don’t think murderers names should be mentioned in the media or anywhere else. Often half the reason for the murder is for the fame the media gives these people. I don’t intend to give them that satisfaction.

Last Homicide of 2006

On the afternoon of December 11th two men entered the apartment of 33 year old web designer Louis Bernal on Tacoma’s East Side. They were angry over a debt. Mutual friends watched as the argument escalated. Once it got violent people began to leave, some of them report hearing three gunshots. When it was all over Louis Bernal was dead on his apartment floor.

Four days later Tacoma police spotted a 28 year old man who was a suspect in the murder. There was a short chase, followed by a crash. The man ran and police dogs were called out. A police dog found the man hiding in nearby bushes and bit him. He was treated and booked into jail. He and another man have now been charged in the murder. They’ve pleaded not guilty.

Personally I’ve never understood the whole ‘murder for debt’ motive. It’s not like someone can pay them if you kill them. Not to mention it’s best not to kill someone in front of a bunch of people who know you. All in all this murder was as senseless and stupid as most of the homicides this year.

It’s Christmas Eve. And I’m hoping that this will be the last Homicide of the year.

Tacoma's 21st Homicide of 2006

Tacoma had gone 42 days without a homicide until last Friday. On Tacoma’s East Side last Friday around 10:30pm 18-year-old Robert Tapia was riding in his girlfriend’s gray 1991 Honda Accord in the 3500 block of East K Street when a group of 6-8 males surrounded the car. Shots were fired as Robert’s girlfriend sped off. In the passenger seat Robert Tapia was mortally wounded. His girlfriend called 9-1-1 as she drove him to Tacoma General Hospital. An hour later 18-year-old Robert Tapia became the Tacoma’s 21st homicide victim for 2006.

Police detained two suspects Sunday in the attacks but released them due to lack of evidence. Initial reports do not cite a motive but claim that it was not gang related despite the fact that the murder occurred in an area known for gang violence.

Given the area, the time of night, and the fact that the vehicle was surrounded by a group of young males, I find it hard to believe that this was not a gang related activity. In fact, I’m wondering exactly how there is any way at all to say that when someone has their car surrounded and is shot that it’s not ‘gang related’. I realize that the Tacoma Police Department wants to at the very least appear to be curbing gang violence (and the past 42 days of no homicides is a good sign they’re succeeding), but I think it’s wrong to mislabel something just for the appearance of success.

However, regardless of the label you put on it, it’s clear that there are at the very least five people who know who shot Robert Tapia. They were there surrounding the car and in many states, they’d be held just as guilty as if they pulled the trigger since they aren’t coming forward. And no matter what the law says about it, it’s people like this that help criminals stay on the street. These are the people who make it possible for someone to think they can shoot someone and get away with it. And it’s these kinds of people we need to get through to if we’re going to make any changes.

When it comes to being a witness to a crime, the addage that ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem’ is very true. I realize this is rarely an easy thing. Movies, television, and society at large tells us that no one likes a rat. And at the very least, when you’re making a statement to police about a crime, you are betraying and exposing a criminal. But sometimes it’s worse that that. Sometimes it’s a relative or a friend. It’s not an easy thing to do, but not doing it isn’t just a crime, it’s a sin. And I don’t mean in some Christian fundamentalist you’ll-go-to-hell sort of way. I mean it marks you. To witness something you know and feel is wrong and not go to the authorities is to put yourself against the common good and against the people of the city you live in. It is this behavior that allows the true criminals to thrive.

Yes, there are consequences to becoming a witness. But really that’s true whether you say anything to the police or not. The only question you need to ask yourself is are you for or against Tacoma being a better place?

Rest in peace, Robert Tapia. Here’s hoping those who know the identity of your killer do the right thing.

Update 10/24/06:
A warrant was issued late yesterday for Jesus R. Mederos in the murder of Robert Tapia. Court documents say Mederos is the brother of Tapia’s girlfriend, Nancy Aguilar. However friends and family say Mederos was a friend of Tapia’s and not Aguilar’s sister.According to court documents that Aguilar and Tapia had been arguing. Mederos went into the house to get a gun. Nancy saw Mederos with the gun and drove off. Mederos fired hitting Tapia in the Torso. Witnesses to the shooting were questioned and identified Mederos as the shooter. No definite motive was mentioned. Mederos’ current whereabouts are unknown.

Given this new information it’s easy to see why it was not considered ‘gang related’ and is a great example of how easy it is to make assumptions given limited information.


The Tacoma Homicides of 2006 (so far)

I was thinking that with Tacoma’s homicide rate reaching 20 for the year, it’d be a good time to do a recap on the homicides this year. However, crime reporter Stacey Mulick over at Tacoma’s News Tribune beat me to it. Thankfully, she’s allowed me to repost it here.

Stacey maintains a great Tacoma crime blog at the News Tribune along with reporter Adam Lynn. You can find it at:

Here’s a brief look at the 20 homicides recorded so far this year in Tacoma. (See Stacey’s fine article about Tacoma’s homicides in today’s paper by clicking here.)

Jan. 5: Donald George-Oya, 18, was fatally shot while riding a bicycle along East 40th Street near East I Street. No arrests have been made, though suspects have been identified.

Feb. 8: Daniel Jacob Varo, 22; Darren S. Christian, 28; and Lindy A. Cochran, 21, were found fatally shot in Christian’s rental house in the 600 block of South Union Avenue. Prosecutors have charged three men and two women in connection with the homicides.

Feb. 19: Edward Ernest Drayton, 48, died of complications of a gunshot wound he sustained in 1988. A man was prosecuted at the time of the shooting for the assault.

Feb. 22: Beau Dee Pearson, 40, was fatally shot while meeting acquaintances in a travel trailer behind a house in the 4500 block of South L Street. Prosecutors have charged a man in the case.

Feb. 22: Haydon Kostelecky, 2, died. Doctors found bruises on his brain and recent spleen and liver lacerations. Prosecutors have charged Haydon’s stepfather in the death.

Feb. 26: Pepper L. Jones, 27, was found in the bath tub of her home in the 5600 block of South Thompson Avenue. Prosecutors have charged her husband in the death.

March 25: Marvin L. Arnold Jr., 45, was fatally shot by two Tacoma police officers after Arnold came at them with a knife in the 3700 block of 49th Avenue Northeast.

April 3: Desaundra Dixon, 35, was fatally shot in the chest about 2 a.m. in her home in the 5600 block of South Junett Street. Prosecutors have charged her longtime boyfriend with second-degree murder.

April 6: Robert Luea, 21, was fatally shot when he got in between an argument between his mother and stepfather in their home in the 4100 block of South J Street. Prosecutors charged his stepfather with second-degree murder.

April 20: Dien Kien Huynh, 55, was fatally beaten in the front lawn of his home in the 3800 block of South 16th Street shortly after he got home from work. Prosecutors have charged three Mount Tahoma High students with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the homicide.

May 10: Robert J. Barrow, 49, was found fatally shot inside his house in the 1200 block of South 72nd Street. Prosecutors have charged a woman with first-degree murder. According to court documents, she was working as a prostitute and went over to Barrow’s house for a date.

May 31: Morris Perry, 46, was fatally stabbed in his home in the 500 block of South 68th Street Prosecutors charged a transient who knew Perry with first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in Perry?s death.

July 4: Jason Outler, a 31-year-old single father, was fatally shot during an argument in the 3100 block of North Eighth Street. Prosecutors have charged another man in his death, alleging the two argued over money.

July 8: Rhaczio "Rha Rha" Demetri Simms, 18, was fatally near a downtown Tacoma nightclub in the 800 block of Pacific Avenue. Prosecutors have charged a teen with first-degree murder and first-degree assault in the suspected gang shooting.

August 7: Jeffery Norris-Romine, 21, was fatally shot in the 9000 block of South Alaska Street. Prosecutors have decided not to charge the gunman because of evidence he acted in self-defense.

Aug. 27: Velma Angeline Tirado-Salway, 45, was fatally shot in an alley on Court D Street South near the 1900 block of South Fawcett Avenue. No arrests have been made.

Sept. 3: Olga Carter, 39, was fatally shot during a domestic dispute in her home in the 4500 block of South Sheridan Avenue. Prosecutors have charged her boyfriend with first-degree murder.Sept. 8: Julius Williams, 24, was found fatally shot on the sidewalk outside Bryant Montessori School, 717 S. Grant Ave. No arrests have been made.

Tacoma's 20th Homicide of 2006

Friday morning, near the bus stop at Bryant Montessori School at 717 South Grant in the Hilltop neighborhood, 24-year-old Julius Williams breathed his last breath and became Tacoma’s 20th homicide of 2006. Children arriving for school were quickly escorted away from the scene and a yellow tarp was put over his body.

Julius died of multiple gunshot wounds though there were no reports that morning of gunshots. The previous night there were reports of gunshots on nearby South 8th and Ainsworth, but responding officers only found a man with a crack pipe. It’s unknown if the gunshots are related to the homicide. Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood has often been a place of drugs and violence though less so now than in the 90’s. Gun shots are not uncommon and not always reported. Many don’t report gunshots simply because they don’t want to call the police on an almost nightly basis.

Little is known about Julius Williams’ final days. He was a soldier from Fort Lewis, but has been absent without leave for weeks. He had a wife though he hadn’t been staying at his house. With very little to go one and very little known about his life in the weeks leading up to this, it’s unlikely detectives will have an easy time solving this one.

Hilltop has had a sketchy history. In the 90’s it was a haven for gangs, drugs, and violence. Gangsters came up from California and brought their violence with them. An anti-gang task force was set up and by late 90’s gang crime was down and Hilltop was making a comeback as a good neighborhood. Then a few years ago the task force was shut down and gang and drug crime began to increase. Still the crime in Hilltop now is nothing compared to the days of the early 90’s when I’d go to sleep to the sound of gunshots and sirens.

Like many police forces, Tacoma’s tends to be a bit reactionary rather than proactive. It’s not entirely the fault of the department. It’s hard to get money for something that’s not a problem. So if gang crime is down and the budget is tight, it’s easy to think that a gang task force isn’t necessary.

I don’t know if Julius Williams’ death was gang or drug related though the locale makes it a distinct possibility. What is clear is that Tacoma’s homicide rate has jumped from 13 last year to 20 this year and promises to go higher before the year is out and this is not an issue simply for the police department but for the community as a whole.