Crime

Masked Ki-Be student plotted to stab classmate at lunch, say detectives

Tri-City Herald

A Benton City teen admitted to detectives that he planned to sneak up behind a classmate and stab him with a knife during his lunch hour, court documents reveal.

Jeremiah D. Cunningham, 16, could be charged as an adult, depending on what prosecutors think is appropriate for the alleged murder plot.

Investigators described Cunningham as the mastermind, and state that the only reason he didn’t follow through is because some freshman students foiled his plans, according to court documents.

Documents claimed two other 16-year-olds — a boy and a girl — conspired with Cunningham to stab another student.

However, Cunningham is the only one so far arrested and booked into the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Detention Center in Kennewick.

Court Commissioner Jerri Potts found probable cause last week to hold Cunningham on suspicion of conspiracy to commit second-degree assault.

She set bail at $3,000, citing a threat to community safety, and said if Cunningham gets out he will be on house arrest in Benton City and can only leave to attend court.

He also was told not to contact the 18-year-old intended target.

Benton County prosecutors have until Tuesday afternoon to charge Cunningham, or let him go free without any bail while the investigation continues. Since he is 16, he could be bumped up to adult court automatically if charged with a serious felony.

The girl and other boy were released into the custody of their parents, according to sheriff’s Sgt. Bob Brockman.

If those teens are charged, they could be sent a summons with a date to appear in court.

Jeremiah Cunningham reportedly was waiting nearby and wearing a red mask. When the freshman students saw him, they “chased him into a field behind the store and taunted him,” court documents said.

Court documents said it was the girl’s role to lure the 18-year-old student behind the nearby Ki-Be Red Apple Market at lunch, where Cunningham was going to sneak up on him.

It was the job of the other boy to block one of the sides of the back of the 1215 Horne Drive store so their classmate could not escape, documents said.

Cunningham reportedly was waiting nearby and wearing a red mask. When the freshman students saw him, they “chased him into a field behind the store and taunted him,” court documents said. It’s not clear from the documents if they knew it was Cunningham.

The intended victim went to the market, but immediately returned to campus once he saw Cunningham, documents said.

A brief statement from the Kiona-Benton City School District last week said the three students were emergency expelled pending further investigation.

Superintendent Wade Haun did not respond Monday to multiple requests to talk about what happened.

Last Wednesday after the Benton County Sheriff’s Office released details about the plot, Haun sent out a news release saying district staff had become aware that students “may have discussed a plan to harm another student.”

Sheriff’s officials said the three students schemed for about a week and picked that particular classmate because he was new to the school and “disrupted the flow” of the social order.

Haun said staff looked into the allegations and referred the matter on Nov. 21 to the district’s school resource officer, who then referred it to the sheriff’s department for a full investigation.

“The district is concerned, at all times, and above all else, with the safety and physical well-being of its students,” Haun said in the Nov. 22 release. “District staff reacted accordingly and promptly upon receiving information suggesting that a student may have been at risk.”

However, Sheriff Jerry Hatcher said though school officials learned of the potential threat on Nov. 15 — the day the alleged plan was foiled — it was not reported to his detectives until Nov. 21. That’s when Cunningham was arrested and interviewed by detectives.

On Monday, Brockman clarified that Ki-Be High Principal Clay Henry reported a suspicious person on Nov. 15, but they couldn’t find anyone once a deputy arrived at the school.

Brockman also said there was a traffic collision near the market around the same time, which may have added to the confusion surrounding the alleged murder conspiracy.

Authorities said the three students schemed for about a week and picked that particular classmate because he was new to the school and “disrupted the flow” of the social order.

Kristin M. Kraemer: 509-582-1531, @KristinMKraemer

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