Always pictured as smiling and proudly showing off her baby teeth, beautiful little six-year-old Jenise Wright went missing without a trace from her Bremerton, Washington, mobile home on Aug. 2. A trusted family friend and neighbor, 17-year-old Gabriel Gaeta, a star wrestler at Bremerton’s Olympic High School, joined others at a memorial service held for Jenise after the little girl’s body was discovered by the FBI's Specialty Search Dogs Unit on Aug. 7. On Aug. 11, Gaeta made his initial court appearance in Kitsap County Superior Court for the rape and murder of the little girl with the contagious smile, according to KIRO TV.
Although still a juvenile, Gaeta will be charged as an adult for Wright’s first-degree murder and the first-degree rape of a child. The judge set Gaeta’s bail at $1 million. The teen will be charged formally with the crimes against the six year old later this week. Lawyers representing Gaeta said their client will be undergoing a mental health evaluation.
KOMO News reported that court documents revealed that Wright “was strangled, sexually assaulted and had blunt-force trauma to the head resulting in multiple skull fractures.” Reportedly, the little girl’s body was moved sometime between one half-hour and three hours following her murder. A wooden pallet covered the lifeless body found mostly submerged in that muddy bog. On top of the pallet, investigators also found a nylon duffel bag. Searchers discovered Wright’s underwear and shorts not too far from where her body was discovered.
During the course of their investigation into the missing child, authorities collected DNA cheek swabs from many of the residents from Wright’s neighborhood. The crime lab was able to link the DNA collected from Gaeta to the little girl’s clothing. When officials interviewed Gaeta on Aug. 9, “he 'clearly nodded yes' when they asked whether he was the only one involved” in Wright’s rape and murder.
Sadly and ironically, Jenise’s father, James Wright, not only knew and trusted Gaeta, but had taken the teen under his wing and mentored him in the hopes of trying to teach the 17 year old how to become "responsible to his community," according to NBC News. Jenise's parents were present and sitting in the front row of the Kitsap County courtroom for Gaeta’s initial court appearance yesterday.
"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."