PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – The parents of slain 6-year-old Jenise Wright attended the first court appearance Monday for murder suspect Gabriel Gaeta, who was ordered held on $1 million bail, and said afterward that Gaeta had been a family friend.
“How are they going to be able to trust anybody if I say it’s OK that they come through the door and we feed them like we did Gabe, they spend the night like we did Gabe?” asked Jenise’s father, Jim Wright, alluding to their two other children. “This is part of our culture.
“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Wright said. “How could I possibly have known that an ill will would happen to us?”
Gaeta, a 17-year-old wrestler and athlete at Olympic High School, is expected to be charged as an adult with first-degree murder and first-degree rape of a child in Kitsap County Superior Court.
He was ordered to undergo a competency evaluation and appear again in court next on Aug. 28; formal charges are not expected to be filed before then.
New details emerged in the tragic case of Jenise Wright.
Court documents said she died from blunt force trauma to the head, with possible strangulation. She was then buried in a mud bog.
In the documents, a Kitsap County sheriff’s investigator siad that when Gaeta was asked in a police interview if he was the only one involved in Jenise’s death, he “clearly nodded yes.”
Wright’s body was found Thursday submerged in a muddy bog adjacent to the mobile home park in East Bremerton where she lived. A small wood pallet was lying over the body, further concealing it in mud, deputies said.
The Kitsap County Coroner’s Office said Jenise’s body also showed evidence of sexual assault.
DNA evidence led investigators to obtain a warrant on Gaeta’s home, where they said they found blood-stained clothing and a bloody towel in Gabriel’s bedroom.
Gaeta’s DNA was obtained earlier in the investigation.
Jenise was last seen Saturday night, Aug. 2, at her home. Jenise’s parents have said they would allow Jenise to walk through the neighborhood on her own and thought when they woke up Sunday morning that Jenise was already out playing. When she didn’t return home Sunday night (Aug. 3), the parents called police.
The girl’s disappearance struck the tight-knit community, and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson said hundreds of tips poured in since Sunday on the missing girl.
Jenise’s body was found in a wooded area near her mobile home park Thursday. Officials said it was an FBI team with specially trained dogs that found the remains.
On Aug. 9, Gaeta was taken to the Bremerton Police Department for a joint FBI and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office interview. He was allegedly quiet and reserved, speaking only on topics relating to school and wrestling, and avoiding questions about Wright. Deputies said he cried during the interview, saying “something similar to ‘it wasn’t right,’” in response to questions about Jenise’s death, court documents show.
When Gaeta allegedly nodded to being the only one involved in Jenise’s death, the 17-year-old was arrested and taken to the Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Center. A search of his home allegedly uncovered clothes belonging to Wright, as well as muddy clothes of his own.
Gaeta appeared in court Monday at a probable cause hearing, his head covered in a jacket.