Arrests made in teen's murder

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | November 10, 2020 1:00 AM

NEWPORT — Four Pend Oreille County residents face first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping charges in the death of Jason Michael Fox, 19, whose remains were discovered Oct. 4.

Riley J. Hillestad, Matthew J. Raddatz-Freeman, Claude L. Merritt, and Kevin M.K. Belding each have been charged with first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping in connection to Fox's death. In addition, Sean D. Bellah has been charged with providing false or misleading statements, according to Pend Oreille County Sheriff's Office officials.

The arrests follow an "exhaustive investigation" by the Pend Oreille County Sheriff’s Office and Newport Police.

Fox was reported missing on Sept. 16 and a missing persons investigation, conducted by Newport Police, led to Fox’s remains being discovered near Newport, Wash. Based on evidence recovered at the scene, the 19-year-old's death was determined to be a homicide due to blunt force trauma to the head.

All suspects are current Pend Oreille County residents and additional charges may follow, POCSO officials said.

"Although arrests have been made in this case, the investigation is still ongoing," they said in a Monday press release. "In a continued attempt to preserve the integrity of this case for prosecution purposes, no further details will be provided at this time.

In early October, Fox's parents, Michael and Susan, told Spokane TV station KREM that he had not responded to text messages since Sept. 14. That's the same day that he missed lunch with his family.

In a text message thread with Jason, Michael asked his son where he was on Sept. 14, and Jason responded that he was busy and forgot about their plans. Michael told Jason he loved him and Jason did not respond after that point.

"The loss of Jason is a devastating blow to our family,” Michael Fox said in a statement to KREM after his son’s body was discovered. “We fervently hoped for a different outcome. We would like to thank everyone who helped to bring him home. The long hours put in by both Newport PD and Pend Oreille County Sheriff's Office, taking and following up on tips provided by the public as a result of the KREM 2 segment, the thousands of shares of the Facebook posts, the Instagram and TikTok videos, so many people helped in this difficult time and we want to thank each of them. This is not over for us or our community yet though, arrests have not been made, the animals who did this are roaming free when they should be caged for life."

The Fox family is urging the public to contact the sheriff's office if they have information about the teen's disappearance and murder.

"Jason deserves justice," Fox's family said "This will never be over for us until that happens."