They went to lunch at the Ki-Be market and ended up foiling a murder plot

Watch: These Ki-Be teens foiled a murder plot

Kiona Benton City teens credited to foiling a plot to murder.
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Kiona Benton City teens credited to foiling a plot to murder.

Dalton Pullum and Matthew Phalen just wanted to get lunch at the Ki-Be Red Apple Market.

But on Nov. 15, they helped thwart an alleged murder scheme to kill a classmate.

Kiona-Benton City High School student Jeremiah D. Cunningham, 16, was charged this week with being at the center of a three-student plot to kill senior Ryan Vaughn, 18.

Benton County Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Caughey said Pullum and Phalen were among several students who saw a suspicious man outside the store and helped derail the attack.

The market is a popular lunch spot for students from the high school across the street.

When the two seniors pulled up in Pullum’s red Dodge pickup that Wednesday they were greeted by some friends.

Pullum, 18, said the other students warned them to be careful of somebody sneaking between cars.

The pair looked and saw a guy wearing a mask, hunched between two cars.

The person was wearing a black zip-up hoodie and a mask that looked like a red T-shirt with holes cut out for the eyes.

“It was like he didn’t have time to get a real mask,” Pullum said. “Like it was hastily done.”

dalton pullumcut
Dalton Pullum

“It was just weird,” said Phalen. “It’s not like it was a super cold day, where you need something to cover your face. Once he started hiding behind cars, peeking in the store, that’s when it got like, ‘What’s going on? What’s this guy doing?’ ”

He and Pullum, who joined the Washington Army National Guard a month after turning 17, said they weren’t really afraid of the guy but didn’t know what would happen next.

“We just reacted to what was happening,” Phalen said. “Go with it as it came.”

The teens said the person — later identified as Cunningham — began looking inside the market’s front windows, attempting to hide behind a soda machine.

matthew phalencut
Matthew Phalen

He noticed them watching and left toward the back of the market.

The teens followed him in Pullum’s truck, rolling the windows down. “We just started yelling,” Pullum said, asking why he was there and what he was doing.

Cunningham tried to waved them off but when they didn’t leave he ran off through a field behind the market through about 100 yards of empty lot attached to a house, then into some orchards.

Just then, a 16-year-old girl walked around the corner of the market with Vaughn, the intended victim. Pullum and Phalen told them they should get out of there.

It was like he didn’t have time to get a real mask. Like it was hastily done.

Dalton Pullum

According to detectives, the girl was in on the plan to lead Vaughn to the back of the store, where Cunningham would kill him with a knife and hide his body in the orchard.

After Vaughn and the girl left, the two teens started to drive away and saw the other 16-year-old student that detectives say was also involved in the plot.

Phalen and Pullum said they know the other students but they aren’t friends.

When questioned by detectives a week later, Cunningham admitted he didn’t like Vaughn, who had recently broken up with the 16-year-old girl.

Court documents say he allegedly offered to kill Vaughn as a birthday present for the girl.

Cunningham on Wednesday pleaded innocent to charges of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. He is being held at the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Detention Center in lieu of $500,000 bail.

The other two teens have not been charged but were expelled from school and placed on home detention.

Jake Dorsey: 509-582-1405, @JakeD_TRI

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