The 17-year-old Washington boy who allegedly raped and murdered his 6-year-old neighbor attended a vigil for the girl the day before he was arrested for the shocking crime, investigators say.
Bloodied and muddy clothing was found in Gabriel Gaeta’s bedroom in the East Bremerton mobile home park where he lived nearby to Jenise Wright, 6, who went missing Aug. 2.
Gaeta strangled and beat to death Jenise after raping the little girl, police said. She died of blunt force trauma to the head and her body was found Thursday submerged in a muddy bog, covered by a wooden pallet in a patch of woods close to the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park where she also lived.
Cops busted the teen Saturday after retrieving a DNA swab Friday. His family previously told investigators the teen was too distraught to speak with investigators, The Kitsap Sun reported.
His DNA matched evidence found on the girl’s bloodied underwear and shorts, which had been found Aug. 4 only about 20 feet from where the girl’s body was found just days later.
Gaeta, described by little Jenise’s father as a “close friend of the family,” is charged as an adult.
“It’s devastating and it’s going to be hard to forgive,” James Wright told the Seattle Times.
The boy had been to the Wright house “many, many times” and was friendly with the older siblings, Wright went on to tell the newspaper.
Gaeta “clearly nodded yes” when asked during an interview Saturday if he had killed the girl, court documents say.
The teen, who was a wrestler at nearby Olympic High School, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree rape of a child. He spoke softly as he answered a judges questions Monday during his first appearance in Kitsap County Superior Court. A judge set bail at $1 million.
The little girl was last seen Aug. 2 when she went to bed. Police found no sign of forced entry into the girl’s room or the home.
A massive search had investigators in the Bremerton area, on the west side of the Puget Sound across from Seattle, check in with local sex offenders and take voluntary DNA swabs of the mobile home park’s residents.
A Kitsap Sun article last year profiled Gabriel Gaeta, one of three boys from the family to wrestle at Olympic High School.
“He’s the gentle giant type of kid,” school wrestling coach Troy Reynolds told the newspaper. “He’s not super aggressive in practice, but in competition, he’s a different animal. He’s freakishly strong. The mat is kind of his canvas.”