PORT ORCHARD, Washington — The Washington state teenager accused of killing 6-year-old Jenise Paulette Wright is a family friend whom Jenise's dad had taken under his wing and was trying to teach how to be "responsible to his community," her father told NBC News on Monday. Gabriel Zebediah Gaeta, 17, a student at Olympic High School, was held on $1 million bail pending adult charges of first-degree murder with multiple aggravating circumstances and first-degree rape of a child. He could face life in prison if he's convicted.
"It was hard learning [the suspect] was a friend of the family," James Wright said outside the family's home in a mobile home park in rural Kitsap County. "We were friends. We fed him. He split wood with me at my house. I was trying to teach him to be responsible to his community — even when we leave home, we are responsible as men."
Wright and his wife were in juvenile court Monday seeking access to their two other children, ages 12 and 8, who were taken in by child protective services after Jenise disappeared Aug. 2. Her body was discovered Thursday in almost 4 feet of muddy water that investigators described as a "bog." Investigators said in court documents that Gaeta "nodded yes" when they asked him whether he was the only person involved in Jenise's death, which the state forensics lab had connected to him by DNA on Jenise's clothing.
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— Diane Duthweiler and M. Alex Johnson