SKYKOMISH — Two days after the winter solstice, a half-hour before sunrise, a hiker found a man’s body on a logging road near Skykomish.
His hands were in his pockets, and he had been shot once in the head, according to a King County sheriff’s deputy’s report. A single spent 9mm shell casing was on the ground nearby.
On Dec. 29, detectives arrested the alleged shooter in Northern California. Jeremy Tod Staeheli, 32, was charged in King County Superior Court with second-degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm. His bail was set at $2 million.
Brandt Stewart, 34, grew up in Snohomish. He wasn’t a perfect person, but he didn’t deserve to die, said his sister, April Stewart.
He worked off and on, mostly as a contractor installing appliances, she said. He didn’t have a stable housing situation and would move from spot to spot, and most recently stayed at a shed outside of a church in Snohomish.
Despite living a hard life, Brandt Stewart was often kind and thoughtful, his sister said. With what little money he had, he would buy presents at the pawn shop for his friends and family. Once, he gave his mother a rock saying the words “I love you.”
He had been addicted to drugs much of his life. But he wasn’t violent, April Stewart said. He didn’t own a gun, let alone shoot one, she said.
April Stewart said she wonders why someone would shoot her brother, leaving a young girl without a father.
It’s a question she may never hear answered.
“He just killed my brother for no reason,” April Stewart said.
Detectives found Staeheli within six days. People who knew Brandt Stewart reportedly saw him and Staeheli the night before. Staeheli was driving a red Ford Mustang, and security footage from a gas station showed the car’s license plate.
In social media posts written after the shooting, Staeheli gave detectives more hints.
On the day Brandt Stewart’s body was found, Staeheli posted a photo of a cemetery, captioned, “Don’t wait on me. One day again.”
Many of the posts were nonsensical and described conspiracy theories.
One commenter asked, “are you okay?”
Staeheli responded: “the state said I have a mental incompetence so I’m playing the (expletive) out of that card. You know an acadamy award winning film so to say…hahahahaba.”
In pending charges in Snohomish County Superior Court for third- and fourth-degree assault, a judge has twice ordered Staeheli to undergo mental health treatment at a state facility for 45 days. He was released from custody in May, under conditions that he attend future court dates, undergo a mental health evaluation and follow treatment recommendations.
On Dec. 28, Staeheli shared on Facebook that he was in Hornbrook, Calif.
King County sheriff’s detectives drove to Northern California, fearing he was trying to escape. They worked with local law enforcement to find a red Ford Mustang at a Hampton Inn & Suites in Red Bluff.
Around 11 a.m., detectives arrested Staeheli as he left the hotel. He reportedly was carrying a 9mm handgun.
Staeheli said he had both the car and the gun for the past two weeks, and that the gun was the same one used in the alleged murder, according to court documents. He reportedly said he knew Brandt Stewart from high school, and that they occasionally smoked methamphetamine together. They grew up in Snohomish.
He claimed that he shot Brandt Stewart in self-defense, according to charging papers. They had gone on a drive and stopped on a forest road to find a place to go to the bathroom. Outside the car, Staeheli said he turned around to see Brandt Stewart holding a knife in his hand. That’s when Staeheli allegedly shot him.
Detectives noted that Staeheli gave details that only the shooter would have known, including that Brandt Stewart had been shot in the forehead.
April Stewart said she didn’t hate Staeheli, but hoped to see him go to prison and get any mental health treatment that he might need.
“I hope he spends life in prison thinking about the bad decisions he made that affects everyone around him, including his own family,” she said.
An arraignment hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13.
Stewart’s family is planning a memorial.