Colorado Springs Police wrote in a press release this week that they were investigating the death of 17-year-old Riley Whitelaw, who was found dead on 11 June by her manager at a Walgreens on Centennial Boulevard in the city about 60 miles south of Denver.
Her coworker, 28-year-old Joshua Taylor Johnson, was arrested the following day after management revealed that Riley had allegedly reported being uncomfortable with his “advances” a year prior.
Police arrived at the scene at around 7pm on the day of the murder after manager Justin Zunino placed a 911 call, according to an affidavit. Mr Zunino had informed the dispatchers that he’d initially suspected that something was wrong when another manager reported that Riley didn’t return from her break.
When he went to the store to investigate further, he said he “found a body in the break room” with “blood everywhere”.
Responding officers wrote in a report that “there was a large amount of blood on the floor around the head of the victim,” with a significant amount of blood stained onto the “the floor, cabinets, and counter of the break room”.
They assessed at the time that the victim had “significant trauma to her neck area”, and there was no sign of life.
Mr Zunino tipped officers off to Mr Johnson after having seen the employee on surveillance tapes before finding Riley’s body.
Mr Zunino reportedly saw Mr Johnson stacking bins in front of one of the store’s surveillance cameras, until the frame was completely covered. The window to the break room appeared taped over, with a sign that read “restroom closed”.
After viewing the tapes, the manager went into the break room and found the brutal murder scene.
The manager also pointed out that, outside of the video tapes, he had other reasons to suspect that Mr Johnson of foul play. According to the affidavit, a year before the deadly incident unfolded in the break room, Riley had lodged a complaint about Mr Johnson coworker for making inappropriate “advances” towards her while they were working.
And then just recently, the teenage employee had requested that managers refrain from putting the two of them on the same schedule, because her older coworker had reportedly started to make her “feel uncomfortable”.
The teen had subsequently asked for more hours but was told by her superiors that if she wanted those hours, she’d be working alongside the man who a year earlier she’d flagged for making inappropriate advances towards her.
Another manager at the store reportedly told police that she’s perhaps seen the suspected murderer when he was allegedly cleaning himself up by the dumpsters behind the store. She claimed to have smelled “a strong odour of bleach” and said when she attempted to open the door, she heard a man shout that he was changing.
When that manager came back later, he was no longer there.
Mr Johnson was picked up the next morning by Colorado State Patrol troopers, approximately 100 miles from the Walgreens where his teenage coworker had been killed and was found with what police described as scratch marks all over his face and hands.
While being questioned by authorities, Mr Johnson reportedly admitted to having a “crush” on Riley, and said that he’d been inside the break room where she was killed but that he was only there after her death.
“[Joshua] stated he fell in the blood,” the affidavit read, also noting that the man had admitted to being the person that the manager had tried to talk to before he left the Walgreens. “He went home right after ‘that happened’ and took off all his clothes because they were all bloody.”
The suspect denied moving the bins in front of the surveillance camera, police said, even after he was confronted with the footage.
A spokesperson for Walgreens told The Independent that they are currently cooperating with authorities in the investigation and offered their “deepest condolences” to the family members and community members impacted by the teen’s murder.
“We are very saddened by this tragic incident, and extend our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of our team member,” the spokesperson for the company said in an emailed statement. “The safety of our customers and team members is top priority, and we are working with local authorities in their investigation. We are making counseling and other resources available to our store team members at this location.”
The Independent reached out to the Colorado Springs Police Department for comment but did not hear back immediately.
KOAA 5 reported this week that a makeshift memorial for the deceased teen had sprung up outside the temporarily closed Walgreens where she spent her last moments alive, with flowers and placards with messages reading, “we’ll miss you, Riley!” crowding the store’s vacant front.
Air Academy High School, where Riley had just wrapped her junior year, sent out a letter to parents and guardians on Sunday night to update them about the tragedy that had unfolded in the school’s community over the weekend.
“The loss of a fellow student and friend is incredibly difficult, and students may have worries, questions, and high emotions. They may feel sad, depressed or even angry. Therefore, it is in moments like these that we must come together and create networks of support. Please keep the AAHS family in your thoughts and hearts during this difficult time,” Principal Dan Olson said in the letter, according to KRDO News.
The investigation into Riley’s death remains open and an autopsy is being conducted by the coroner’s office to determine the cause and manner of death, which will be released at a later time.