Brothers accused of 'Jungle' homeless shooting were runaways from DSHS care

SEATTLE -- Two of the three teenagers accused in a homeless encampment shooting will now be prosecuted as adults.

Police say they have recordings of the brothers admitting to the shooting.

During an undercover sting police say they managed to buy one of the guns involved.

Prosecutors called the recordings compelling. Detectives say one of the brothers even laughs during the confession.

“The lawlessness of the Jungle created the environment for this mass shooting,” King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg said.

Prosecutors say James Taafulisia, 17, and brother Jerome Taafulisia, 16, were behind those guns.

Detectives say the two teens and their 13-year-old brother confronted a low-level drug dealer to avenge a drug debt owed to their mother.

Using a .45 caliber handgun police say James shot the intended target and then the two oldest brothers shot four more people, killing two of them. Detectives say the brothers stole $100 worth of heroin and several hundred dollars after the shooting.

“We know that this particular .45 caliber pistol was stolen in a burglary in Seattle in 1976,” Satterberg said.

Detectives say Jerome was armed with a .22 caliber handgun and police are still tracing where that gun came from.

Investigators are also trying to determine what the boys' mother knew.

“Continuing interviews to determine the involvement of others, we go where the evidence takes us,” Assistant Police Chief Robert Merner said.

What we do know is the brothers were supposed to be under the care of DSHS at the time of the shootings.

All were reported as runaways by the state last summer.

“They were in regular contact with their mother, whose parental rights had been terminated by the state,” Satterberg said.

Detectives say the boys lived at a homeless camp near “The Jungle.”

Satterberg is calling for “The Jungle” to be shut down.

“It’s time to envision Seattle without the Jungle it’s time to shut it down,” Satterberg said.

He says the encampment is living up to its name with drug deals, sexual assaults and murders that go unreported.

“Let’s use this tragedy and use it as an opportunity for our community we can do better than that,” Satterberg said.

The big questions is what did DSHS do to find the runaway teens. Although they didn’t answer specific questions about the case. They released this statement.

 "While specific case details are protected by state and federal confidentiality laws, let us be perfectly clear: DSHS is deeply committed to the safety of youth who are in our care, including those on the run from foster care.

 "Foster youth leave for a number of reasons -- they feel a foster family is too strict, because they want to be with a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a sibling or a parent, or because they simply prefer to stay with friends. Regardless of their reasons for leaving and no matter how challenging they might be to find, DSHS does not give up on trying to find them and continues to work on ways to keep them from running. We have a talented team of locators who partner with social workers, law enforcement, family members and other contacts to find runaways in the most challenging of areas, including homeless camps like the Jungle.

 "We are finding ways to help foster youth recognize that running can have consequences far beyond what they anticipate, and yet it remains a challenge to keep a determined kid from running. As with all of the work we do, we know we can’t do this work alone, and we rely on extra eyes and ears in the community. If you believe a child is at risk, please call 1-800-END-HARM."