The three were in a group of five black men who allegedly confronted three white soldiers who were walking along Pacific Highway Southwest early Saturday.
During the confrontation, one of the white soldiers, 20-year-old Tevin Geike, was stabbed to death. The group of black men then fled the scene in a car.
Based on information developed during the investigation, Lt. Chris Lawler of the Lakewood police said it does not appear the stabbing was a hate crime. Everyone involved - the victim and suspects - are soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, he said.
Detectives identified the three suspects after a soldier came forward Sunday and told his sergeant that another soldier in his unit, Jeremiah Hill, had asked for first aid for a knife wound on his right hand on Saturday afternoon. According to the soldier, Hill told him he cut his hand when he stabbed a man to death over the weekend, said Lawler.
The sergeant confronted Hill about this information, but Hill said he cut his hand while chopping vegetables. The other soldier ended up taking Hill to Madigan Hospital for treatment, where Hill told hospital staff he had slashed his hand cutting parachute cord.
Police then identified another person, a 21-year-old soldier, suspected of being involved in the crime and brought him in for an interview. The 21-year-old admitted to police that he was at the scene, Lawler said.
That soldier told detectives he was in a vehicle with four of his friends on Pacific Highway when words were exchanged between the men walking on the street and his friends in the car. He said they stopped to talk to the victims, but nothing happened once they discovered they were all active-duty soldiers.
As the suspects were walking back to their car, Hill appeared to “bear hug” the victim and pushed him to the ground. The soldier told police that Hill was covered in blood when he got into the car and they discovered he had stabbed the victim and cut himself, Lawler said.
The group fled the scene and disposed of the knife. Police have since recovered the weapon, Lawler said.
Another person in the group, a 19-year-old soldier, was later identified, and he corroborated the account given by the 21-year-old.
Detectives then attempted to interview Hill, but he would not make a statement and asked for a lawyer.
The other suspects were brought in for interviews and gave statements. The suspects' vehicle also was found and seized by detectives. The soldiers' barracks rooms were searched and several items of evidence were located, Lawler said.
The three suspects were arrested Monday morning and booked into Pierce County Jail for investigation of murder. The three were identified as Jeremiah Hill, 23; Cedarium Johnson, 21; and Ajoni Runnion-Bareford, 21.
Since the main suspect, Jeremiah Hill, did not make a statement, it is unknown exactly why he did this. But Lawler said that after interviewing everyone involved, it appears race was not a motivating factor in the homicide.
The suspects are all active-duty soldiers assigned to a combat infantry unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The victim, Geike, was an active-duty Lewis-McChord soldier assigned to a combat aviation unit.