Crime

Teen who lived in same neighborhood as victim arrested in connection with death of Jenise Wright

The day after hundreds of people gathered to remember 6-year-old homicide victim Jenise Wright, authorities said they arrested a 17-year-old male suspect.

He was arrested Saturday after forensic evidence positively identified him, said detective Lt. Earl Smith, incident commander with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

“This investigation is far from over,” Smith told reporters at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “We have a lot still to do.”

The unidentified teen, who is a resident of the East Bremerton mobile home park where Jenise was discovered missing last Sunday morning, will be booked into Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Center on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter and first-degree child rape.

Smith said Saturday’s arrest was a “significant break in this homicide investigation,” which has involved more than 300 personnel from as many as 15 law enforcement agencies, including the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.

“Yesterday we made a promise to Jenise Wright that we would find justice for her,” Smith said. “Today we have fulfilled that promise.”

Smith also said the FBI and detectives will continue conducting interviews and collecting evidence in the field.

It was unknown Saturday if the suspect and Jenise knew each other, but Smith said that is a possibility given the nature of the small community.

The suspect, who was living with his parents, was detained without incident at his residence in the 1300 block of Northeast Steele Creek Drive around 2:50 p.m. He will appear in Kitsap County District Court on Monday.

More information will be released as the investigation proceeds.

Smith praised the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab for working “24/7” to positively identify the evidence that led to the arrest.

Jenise’s disappearance and murder has shaken the region.

She was last seen Aug. 2 when she went to bed. Her parents didn’t report her missing until the following night, because they say the girl had wandered around the Steele Creek Mobile Home Park alone before.

Officials have said that there were no signs of forced entry into the Wright family home, and authorities said there’s no indication she was taken from her room.

Jenise’s body was found Thursday in a wooded area near the mobile home park, and an autopsy report released Friday ruled her death a homicide.

Authorities have said the girl’s parents have been cooperative in the investigation, and both agreed to take lie detector tests.

After the search began, state child welfare workers removed two other children, an 8-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, from the home.

Jenise’s father, James Wright, was charged more than a decade ago with molesting two girls, ages 8 and 15, court records show.

He eventually pleaded guilty in Whatcom County Superior Court in December 2001 to a misdemeanor assault charge related to the older girl. It was not immediately clear why the molestation charges were dropped, according to an Associated Press report.

A judge in Whatcom County Superior Court sentenced Wright to a year in jail but suspended the entire term as long as he followed certain conditions.

Authorities were aware of the past charge against the father.

The four-day search for Jenise included hundreds of officials, who went door to door around the mobile home park, pulled surveillance video of nearby businesses, and checked in with sex offenders in the county.

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