Beheading victim served in the Air Force

Jacob Gonzales, a “person of interest” in her killing, might be bound for Las Vegas.

Jacob Gonzales (Island County Sheriff’s Office)

Jacob Gonzales (Island County Sheriff’s Office)

CAMANO ISLAND — A man wanted in the beheading of a woman on Camano Island might have fled for the Las Vegas area in a silver Honda Civic, the Island County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday.

Jacob Gonzales, 33, was named as a “person of interest” in the death of Katherine Cunningham, 26. Her body was found on the afternoon of March 3, on undeveloped land off Tamarack Lane. Gonzales had lived in a trailer on the property on the south end of the island, according to the sheriff’s office. He was gone.

Detectives suspect the silver 1998 Honda Civic he’s driving bears Washington license plates BHR7424.

Sheriff Mark Brown declined to say how Gonzales and Cunningham knew each other. Military records show they both served three years in the U.S. Air Force reserves in their home state of California.

Gonzales, an air transportation specialist, left the service in April 2014, in the midst of a criminal case where he was convicted of exhibiting gross negligence while shooting a gun at his home in Los Banos, California.

That case began two years earlier, in September 2012, when a SWAT team responded to reports of shots fired in his neighborhood. Police arrived to see muzzle flashes, and thought the gunman was shooting at them, according to the local newspaper, the Los Banos Enterprise. Gonzales was arrested when police saw him walking from the home. He was handed a 13-day sentence in May 2014, and banned from owning guns, according to court records in Merced County.

It’s not clear how long Gonzales and Cunningham had been in Washington, the sheriff said.

Records show Cunningham, who is from Merced, left the Air Force reserves in February 2015. She was a personnel specialist, a role akin to a human resources manager, according to the Air Force.

On his Facebook page, Gonzales posted about a year ago that he was living in Washington state. The sheriff said it wasn’t clear when he moved to Camano Island, or how long he’d been staying at the trailer on the property.

An autopsy showed Cunningham died of homicidal violence with decapitation.

Detectives have worked long, exhausting shifts on the case, Brown said. They uncovered a makeshift bunker dug into a hillside. It was stocked with guns and ammo. They spent days collecting evidence at the scene.

At first, sheriff’s deputies suspected Gonzales fled in a green Mitsubishi Montero, but that vehicle was found later and it belonged to someone else. Earlier the sheriff’s office said Gonzales was 34. He is 33.

Brown declined to say why deputies suspect Gonzales is en route to Nevada. Earlier the sheriff’s office said he could be fleeing to central or southern California.

Cunningham’s sister posted a desperate plea on social media asking people to be on the lookout for Gonzales. She declined to talk at length with The Daily Herald, but asked that photos of Gonzales be publicized.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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