A week ago Saturday, Jareek Adams, 27, of Oakhurst Homes, was shot in the head and on Tuesday Johnstown police issued an arrest warrant for his alleged killer, 20-year-old Earl P. Mitchell Jr.
City police, departments from two surrounding communities and Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan are looking hard at the circumstances in this late- January murder, searching for any commonality that might help in solving five outstanding murders.
“A common thread in a lot of them, it seems to be drugs,” Johnstown police Chief Craig Foust said. “But we’re looking at the methods of the homicides, the circumstances, what activities the victims were involved in.”
In the case of Adams, Callihan said, there were witnesses, which does not seem to be the case in many of the unsolved homicides.
While a very young boy was said to have witnessed the murder of Richland Township resident Robert T. Williams Jr. more than a year ago, he was able to tell authorities that it was two black men who shot the victim.
The case is frustrating for the lead investigator, Detective Kevin Gaudlip of the Richland Township Police Department.
“The case is still very active. We’re always running down any leads we get,” he said. “It’s still very much under investigation.”
But those leads are coming in less frequently as time passes.
“We’re not getting much new information (from the public),” Gaudlip said. “We’re working with all surrounding departments, and we have officers on a lot of different police agencies seeing if they know anything.”
As for common links between Williams and the murders handled by the city, Gaudlip said it is something they continually look at.
“It’s certainly something that is in the back of your mind, but we don’t have anything to link them,” he said.
The increasing numbers of unsolved homicides in the county prompted Callihan in July to form a task force that meets and focuses its discussions on elements of the crimes.
“We examine if there were any similarities in these cases. We meet once a month or every two months,” she said.
Following each homicide, long before a suspect may be named, Callihan names one of her assistant district attorneys to oversee the investigation.
“It’s so police have a go-to person if police need something,” she said. “Someone is there if they need a search warrant or something.”
Also brought on board is a county detective to assist police if they need access to records, evidence delivered to the state police crime lab in Greensburg, anything like that, she said.
At the task force meetings, everyone is involved.
“I would say the more minds the better. When you put your heads together, you find everyone has different ideas,” she said.
As for the possibility that the same set of killers have committed all or most of the unsolved murders, no one is sure.
“There’s always a possibility. Certainly it is examined,” Foust said. “I can’t say for sure, but we’re watching closely and looking at the circles of friends.”
Callihan is confident that it is just a matter of time in all five of the slayings.
“Sometimes you need that lucky break. Sometimes someone is arrested for something, they’re in jail and they talk,” she said. “That’s what we’re hoping for here.”
An eyewitness is key, Callihan said, adding three people witnessed the Adams shooting.
“The other common thread in these that are not solved is we are lacking an eyewitness,” she said.
All except in the shooting being investigated by Johnstown police.
“We’re finding there were witnesses,” she said, offering no further information.
Meanwhile, it is for the families of the victims that Callihan is concerned.
“I know how hard it is for the victims’ families to not have answers, and I do my best to stay in touch with them,” she said. “But I do have limits on what I can tell them.”
Gaudlip reminds the public that there is still a $4,000 reward in the Williams killing.
Kathy Mellott covers the Cambria County Courthouse for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/kathymellotttd.
Unsolved Cambria murders
The lineup of Cambria County unsolved murders:
• July 25, 2012: Vincent Bloom, 38, of Norton Road, Lower Yoder Township, dies of burns to 70 percent of his body.
• Jan. 3, 2013: Robert T. Williams Jr., 38, Lydia Street, Richland Township, shot in head.
• June 28: Jamil Gray, 37, Johnstown, shot in head.
• Oct. 9: Alicia Welborn, 35, 100 block of Benshoff Street, shot multiple times.
• Oct. 9: Kevin Burt, 33, 100 block of Benshoff Street, shot multiple times.
Johnstown Police Department: 533-2075
West Hills Regional Police Department: 255-4145
Richland Township Police Department: 266-2922