Three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers were arrested Monday in connection with the fatal stabbing of a fellow soldier but Lakewood police said they still did not know what provoked the slaying.
Pierce County prosecutors are expected to charge the trio Tuesday with the death of Spc. Tevin A. Geike, 20. The main suspect is 23; the other two are 21.
Prosecutors said they did not expect to charge two other soldiers who were at the scene of the attack early Saturday, and police did not arrest them immediately.
“There’s varying degrees of involvement with these five people,” police Lt. Chris Lawler said Monday. “The two not arrested were cooperative and had minimal involvement.”
The principal suspect is new to the Army. He listed Chicago as his hometown, and he joined the service in April, according to records provided by the 7th Infantry Division. He arrived at Lewis-McChord in July for an assignment with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
A military sergeant led police to the suspect Sunday when he called detectives to report that a soldier requested medical treatment for a knife wound to his hand and told a friend he received the cut when he “stabbed a guy to death over the weekend,” Lawler said.
When confronted by the sergeant, the soldier said he sliced himself cutting vegetables, police said. He told medical personnel the cut happened when he severed a parachute cord, police said.
The other two suspects, one from Texas and one from Maine, also serve in the 3rd Brigade. They both deployed with the Stryker brigade on its deployment to Afghanistan last year.
The News Tribune is not yet naming the suspects because they have not been charged.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office was considering a charge of first-degree murder against the 23-year-old, and rendering criminal assistance against the other two.
Police said the 23-year-old suspect did not give a statement, instead requesting a lawyer when detectives tried to interview him.
Geike’s friends left a small memorial to him at the scene of the stabbing. A star-shaped balloon decorated like an American flag flapped on the wind as soldiers stripped their combat patches and left flowers at the site.
They remembered him Monday as a fun-loving and caring friend.
“He was just very spontaneous,” said Joe Svitak, 17, of Tacoma.
“He was my little brother,” said Ramona Benningfield, 22, who lives at Lewis-McChord. They grew close in the past year in their free time when they’d hang out and make each other laugh.
“He made a lot of friends,” she said. “He was loved by a lot of people.”
The scene also drew the soldiers who were with Geike when he died. Brian Johnson and Matthew Barnes told KIRO-TV the attackers shouted something at them as they walked to a celebration marking Geike’s approaching separation from the Army.
The attackers “were looking for trouble,” Barnes told KIRO. “They were looking for someone to attack. And we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Police gave this account of the killing early Saturday:
As Geike and two friends were walking in the 12500 block of Pacific Highway Southwest, a passing car with five men inside – four black and one Hispanic – yelled a comment about “white boys” to the walking soldiers.
When one of Geike’s friends called back that they were disrespecting combat soldiers, the men in the car pulled into a nearby parking lot and surrounded Geike and his friends.
The driver determined both groups were made up of active-duty soldiers from Lewis-McChord and summoned his companions back to the car. One of the men passed Geike, “bear hugged” him and shoved him to the ground, witnesses told detectives.
Geike’s friends then realized he’d been stabbed.
“I’m sitting here holding him, trying to stop the bleeding with my right hand and calling 911 in my left, trying ... to get them here,” Barnes told KIRO. “Right before I got off the phone, I couldn’t feel a heartbeat anymore, and he was gone.”
Lawler said neither Geike nor the soldier believed to have stabbed him spoke during the brief altercation and the suspect refused to talk to police, so a motive remains unknown.
The two groups of soldiers did not know each other, police said. Geike and his friends are assigned to Lewis-McChord’s 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Police said over the weekend they were investigating the case as a possible hate crime, but authorities said Monday race did not appear to be a motivating factor.
“Both friends of the victim and friends of the suspect agree that race was not the issue here,” Lindquist said. “Detectives reported to me that there may have been some trash talk, but that race was a non-issue.”
Detectives interviewed two of the men from the car, ages 19 and 21, who both admitted they were involved in the confrontation. One soldier “told us that (the suspect) was covered in blood when he got in the car and they discovered he had stabbed the victim and cut himself,” Lawler said.
Police found the knife in a wooded area of Tillicum Monday, where it was reported to have been discarded, Lawler said.
They seized the sedan driven by the five soldiers and other evidence from their barracks room.
Geike was an aviation operations specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment. The Summerville, S.C., native joined the Army in October 2010 and came to Lewis-McChord in April 2011.
In Geike’s hometown, friends remembered him as eager to join the military.
“He was just a good kid, a hard-working kid who was willing to put his life on the line to protect his country,” ROTC instructor Lt. Col. Lonnie Ford told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C. “He had a lot of self-discipline and he enjoyed the ever-changing world of the military.”
Staff writer Alexis Krell contributed to this report.