Family hopeful for answers in 1998 slaying of Tacoma teen

Staff writerJune 17, 2013 

BRYCE CHENEY

Bryce Cheney died June 8, 1998, after being stabbed near his Tacoma home.

FAMILY PHOTO

Bryce Cheney has been dead for 15 years, but he’s still an ever-present part of the family.

They talk about him so much that nieces and nephews born after he was killed pout that they didn’t get to meet the loving 19-year-old. Framed photos of Bryce — from school, at prom, smiling at Air Force ROTC events — still hang in a back room of his parents’ Tacoma home in the 300 block of East North Lane.

It’s the same home Bryce staggered inside in the early morning hours of June 8, 1998, telling his parents he’d been stabbed.

After years without an arrest, the cold case joined the other 159 unsolved cases in the city. Tacoma police detective Gene Miller recently pulled it from the shelf and is working the evidence again, hoping to shake something loose or generate a tip that could lead to the killer.

“Here you have a kid that should have never been a victim,” Miller said.

Bryce and his father, Ralph, had just returned from delivering papers for The News Tribune when Ralph spotted a prowler looking at a broken 10-speed bicycle leaning against the shed in their backyard.

He yelled at the prowler, who reached inside his jacket and walked toward Ralph. Ralph ran to the front of the house, hollering for his son to call police. Instead, Bryce went out the back door to check on his father and met the prowler on the back steps.

Witnesses said the prowler walked casually away from the scene after stabbing Bryce once in the chest. Police, who later found a pink girl’s bicycle in the street, believe the prowler might have been planning to steal the Cheneys’ bike on his way out of the neighborhood.

“It was over such a stupid thing — a bike,” said Kelly Cheney, Bryce’s sister-in-law. “It’s the dumbest thing to take a life over something so minute. I would just hope that whoever has information would tell us so we can finally put this to rest. Not knowing is the worst.”

Miller said there are possible suspects but hopes somebody with new information will come forward. He said the killer might have told somebody what he did, or come home that morning with blood on his clothes, or a witness might recall a memory that could provide a trail for detectives to follow.

Bryce was a big teenager — 6 feet 3 and about 300 pounds — which might have intimidated the prowler. But loved ones said he was a big kid who loved spending time with his family and watching wrestling.

He was a special needs student at Foss High School and joined track, doing shot put and discus. He was so proud when he brought home a size 56 letterman jacket. He collected baseball cards, which his mom tucked safely away after his death.

“He was just a big, lovable kid,” his father said. “He’d do just about anything for you.”

Bryce’s brother Ralph Cheney Jr. said he was the sweetest, most caring boy. They were so close that Ralph Jr. and Kelly Cheney took Bryce camping with them for their honeymoon. His death devastated the family. His mother, Carrol, couldn’t bear to go upstairs to her son’s room. Ralph Sr. kept thinking his son had gone out the back door wanting to help him.

They took a week off work after Bryce died but decided to go back, knowing they needed a bit of routine to keep them moving forward. And they found that talking about their son helps.

“We talk all the time about him,” his mother said. “Bryce was a very loving child. He was just like a big teddy bear. He didn’t understand there were bad people out in the world.”

The family hasn’t given up hope that one day the man who killed their son will be held accountable. They’re grateful Miller has reopened the case, even featuring it on “Washington’s Most Wanted” and Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers.

“Time heals, but it doesn’t bring an end to it,” Ralph Sr. said. “Bryce is still here. He’s always going to be here. He’s always going to be part of our life. It would be nice to have some type of closure.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653
stacia.glenn@thenewstribune.com

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