The 18-year-old student who was the target of an alleged murder plot in Benton City told detectives he was hesitant about going off campus to meet the girl he had recently broken up with.
After she persisted for two days — first through Facebook Messenger, then in person at Kiona-Benton City High School — he agreed to talk with her at a nearby store.
What he didn’t know is Jeremiah D. Cunningham was waiting for him behind the Ki-Be Red Apple Market, according to newly filed court documents.
Cunningham, 16, didn’t like the older boy and the week before had formed a plan: to sneak up and trip the teen, stab him in the chest, and drag his body up the hill and hide it in a bush, documents said.
But nothing went as planned, and Cunningham was charged Tuesday as an adult with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
The Benton County Superior Court case was bumped up to adult court automatically because of his age and the seriousness of the allegations.
Cunningham’s bail was raised to $500,000 from $3,000. He is in the Benton-Franklin Juvenile Detention Center in Kennewick.
The girl who tried to lure the intended victim, and another teen, have not been charged yet for their alleged roles in the scheme. They both are 16, and were released by authorities into the custody of their parents.
The teen girl, in her interview with detectives, said she told Cunningham “that if he came up with a plan to kill (their classmate), she would get him to the location.”
A 10th-grade witness told sheriff’s Detectives Scott Runge and Antonio Martinez that the girl previously dated Cunningham for four to five weeks, but the two broke up.
She also said Cunningham “would get very angry” when the girl talked to the older classmate, court documents said.
The girl said she had a 26-year-old boyfriend who had a birthday surprise for her. He was going to kill the classmate that broke up with her and that it was going to happen at lunch Nov. 15 behind the market, documents said.
She said the boyfriend’s name was Lea.
Cunningham would later tell detectives that he created a Facebook profile for Lea and the teen girl said she knew that the profile for her made-up boyfriend actually belonged to Cunningham, court documents said.
The witness was told “not to say anything or something bad would happen to her.”
When detectives interviewed the alleged victim, the 18-year-old said he had been romantically involved with the teen girl for about one week. That was two to three weeks before the teens tried to kill him, documents said.
The older teen said he felt Cunningham was overly attached to the girl, and that Cunningham had been spreading rumors about him at school. He ended his relationship with the girl after just one week because Cunningham “was getting too protective over her,” court documents said.
The classmate said he first started getting messages from the girl on Nov. 13 to meet at the market to talk. She told the boy that if he agreed, she “would let him do whatever he wanted to her,” documents said.
She again persisted during class the morning of Nov. 15, and he eventually agreed. They went into the market and bought a drink, then left.
The 18-year-old said after walking outside, he saw two boys running back and forth yelling toward someone behind the store. He then saw someone in a red mask gesturing for the teen to approach him, but instead the intended victim left and returned to school, court documents said.
Authorities have said Cunningham was the masked person and was taunted and chased into a field behind the store by freshman students.
High School Principal Clay Henry has said in a letter to district parents that he learned after lunch about a threat to kill a student. He talked to some students and called a non-emergency dispatch number about a man in a trench coat and mask harassing students by the market.
He went to the market but was sidetracked by a car crash involving two high school students near the market.
Court documents said Henry contacted Ki-Be’s school resource officer, Deputy Brad Klippert, on Nov. 15 about the alleged plot to kill a student.
But Klippert, an 8th District representative, previously told the Herald he was doing legislative work in Olympia at the time.
Henry’s letter to parents said he talked to another deputy who was on campus for another reason but was told “when I completed the investigation and if I needed his help to call them back.” He expelled two students for 10 days, interviewed students and got the videotapes from the market.
He gave the information to Klippert when he returned to the school on Nov. 21 and Klippert requested help from sheriff’s detectives, documents said.
Cunningham was arrested the afternoon of Nov. 21.
He told Runge and Martinez that he started forming the plan on Nov. 9 because he “didn’t like” the classmate, and after school let out went with the other 16-year-old boy to the market to scope out where the security cameras were located, documents said.
Cunningham alleged things started to unravel when the girl led the victim around the wrong side of the store. He claimed he threw his knife in a Dumpster behind the school.
Documents do not say if authorities found the knife.