Family remembers Benton City stabbing victim

Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 21, 2013 

Mike Edwards Dog Death

James Edwards, 57, of Naches holds his brother's dog named Bear recently while standing outside his trailer in the Elm Grove R.V. Park in Benton City. The body of homicide victim Mike Edwards of Benton City was found Sept. 9 in the parking lot of the Assembly of God church about a mile from his home. Edwards said the dog remained a faithful companion and was found curled up with the disabled man's body.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

Sitting in the shade of a small tree in a Benton City park, James Edwards flipped through old family photos and reminisced about his little brother.

In between drags from his King Mountain cigarette, Edwards explained each photo and his memory of it.

He smiled when he came to a picture of his brother Michael, fishing rod in hand, on his boat near Ice Harbor Dam.

"He loved life," said the 57-year-old from Naches. "We were sturgeon fishing that day. He used to tease me because the only fish I caught was too small to keep."

Now, the photos are all James Edwards has left to remind him of his brother, who was found stabbed to death Sept. 9 in a church parking lot in Benton City.

Three Benton City teens have been arrested in connection with the slaying. Noel A. Gonzalez, 19, has pleaded innocent to first-degree murder. Noah Matlack, 18, remains in the Umatilla County jail in Pendleton, where he's fighting extradition.

A third teen, Tyler L. Isom, 19, is accused of having a gun and other items stolen from Edwards' home.

Michael Edwards, 55, let Isom stay at his place recently and loaned him money, his brother told the Herald.

James Edwards said he believes Isom may have lured his brother to the church where he was killed, and then the three suspects returned to the mobile home to party and steal money, prescription drugs and his coin collection.

Investigators said in initial court documents that Michael Edwards called his brother the night he was killed and said people were at his home. But James Edwards said investigators misunderstood what he said, and he's since talked with them to explain that he talked to his brother earlier in the day but Michael Edwards was only worried about his deteriorating health.

The slaying has left Edwards' family struggling to understand why a man beloved by so many was killed so brutally.

"He was a very generous man," said his mother Diane Boyd. "He would take the shirt off his back if he thought he could help you. He didn't deserve to die that way."

Though he was crippled by degenerative arthritis of the spine, Michael Edwards still found time to go through the trailer park, checking in on his neighbors, his brother said. He routinely preached about God and let neighborhood kids play video games in his trailer.

After his death, swarms of friends stopped by Michael Edwards' trailer to tell his family how he touched their lives.

"There were people coming from everywhere," James Edwards said. "I was thinking to myself, 'If I died, I don't think I would have that many people come by.' "

Michael Edwards was a collector of rare coins, classic cars and antique toys. He was passionate about gardening and was most at peace with a fishing rod in his hand.

He was a cross-country truck driver for eight years and would call his family from places he never dreamed of visiting as a young boy growing up in Yakima.

His mom remembered one call in particular when he told her about stopping his truck to run into the Atlantic Ocean.

"He called and said 'Mama, I'm swimming in the Atlantic Ocean,' " Boyd said. "He was so proud."

Recently, he was rebuilding a 1972 Mustang for his 16-year-old niece. He recently installed new parts and a new interior.

The Mustang -- which family said was Edwards' prized possession -- was found in the church parking lot with a door still open and it was clear there'd been a struggle.

"They told me that's where he died," James Edwards said. His body was found behind a nearby storage shed.

James Edwards said he believes his brother's killers couldn't figure out how to drive the car's tricky transmission to steal it also.

He described the moment he heard his brother had been killed as "being hit with a sledgehammer between the eyes." He was driving on a mountain with a bad cellphone connection and heard his wife say "your brother has been murdered."

A few nights later, James Edwards slept in his brother's mobile home. As he locked the door for the night, not knowing if he should bring a knife to bed with him for protection, anger suddenly rushed over him.

"It was hard at first to even go in there. I was thinking about everything," he said. "The first thing you turn to is anger."

James Edwards then thought about his brother and the messages of faith he preached to others -- his anger subsided.

"I had to put that anger in its right place or it could destroy me," he said.

Michael Edwards' family believe his death, though tragic, finally ended all the pain he was suffering from his arthritis and the surgeries on his back.

They strongly believe if he hadn't died that day, someone else would have.

"It certainly wasn't fair," Boyd said as she started to cry. "But in a way, the Lord took him that way to put him out of his misery. He is up in Heaven now."

-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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