Five people have been arrested and are undergoing trial in connection to the torture and murder of a 19-year-old gay teenager.
In September, Jason Fox was reported as missing by his family. According to Bonner County Daily Bee, Fox’s body was then discovered buried in a shallow grave on a remote rural ranch in Pend Oreille County in October. His hands were tied behind his back, his body showed signs of torture, and police believe he was killed by a hit to the head.
Now, four people have been named as suspects in the murder, according to KREM2CBS. Kevin Kyle Belding, Riley James Hillestad, Claude Leroy Merritt, and Matthew Joseph Raddatz-Freeman have been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in connection to Jason Fox’s death. They are now awaiting arraignment on Friday.
Police reports say that the four gave conflicting accounts of when they had last seen Fox. Merritt told investigators that Raddatz-Freeman got into an argument with Fox and claims to have intervened. Meanwhile, Merritt said he and Belding showed Fox off the ranch and took different directions from him on Highway 20. Raddatz-Freeman, however, alleged that Hillestad and Merritt attacked Fox while was seated. He says they later bound his hands behind his back in the rear of a utility terrain vehicle.
Those weren’t the only reports. Fox’s last text message carried special weight in the investigation. The text was to inform a friend that he was at the ranch and that he was uneasy about Hillestad being near him. Then, in addition, Sean Damien Bellah has been arrested for making false statements to law enforcement.
While a motive for the murder has not yet been disclosed to the public, Fox’s family believes Fox’s sexuality could have been a factor. As Pepper Fox, Jason’s mother, told KHQ NBCQ6, “I have full reason to believe, and so do other people, that Jason was killed because he’s gay.” Michael Fox, Jason’s father, then clarified that Jason identified as bisexual. Michael also shared the belief that Jason’s sexuality was a factor, but not the only reason, for his death.
“The sad part is I was beginning to feel like he was finally getting in touch with who he was,” Michael said. “And he was comfortable with himself. He had finally admitted it to us a long time ago. The only thing we can say is we’ve known for a long time. It doesn’t matter at all, son. It’s best for your mental health that you’re not hiding this, but it matters not to us.”
The investigation and trial continue.