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Suspected Jungle shooter: It was a mistake not to shoot remaining witness

Three brothers, suspected in a shooting at The Jungle, lived under this 4th Avenue South ramp with their mother. They were arrested there on Feb. 1. (Jillian Raftery, KIRO Radio)

Three brothers arrested for a gruesome shooting last week went to The Jungle homeless camp to recover drug money for their mother, according to court documents.

Related: Heroin epidemic at root of Seattle’s homeless crisis

The three suspects — ages 13, 16 and 17 — have not been charged yet, but are being held on investigation of homicide at the Youth Detention Center. They are described as having Pacific Islander decent, with the eldest standing at 6’1″ and 260 pounds; the middle at 6’2″ and 265 pounds; and the youngest at 5’10” and 170 pounds.

Seattle detectives were able to track the brothers down through witnesses to the incident, along with informants. Police arrested all three on Monday night on 4th Ave. South near I-90.

The investigation

The brothers lived near the site of the shooting, in a tent with their mother under an on-ramp at 4th Avenue South and Edgar Martinez Way, according to court documents. The brothers are suspects in other robberies and homicides in 2015.

According to surveillance video taken on Jan. 30, the two older brothers told a police informant they were the primary shooters — one wielding a .45 caliber handgun and the other using a .22 caliber pistol. They said they went into The Jungle to meet with one of the eventual victims for a drug deal — James Q. Tran, known as Phat.

The brothers describe the shooting, saying that there was a group of people around a fire who all started screaming. The oldest brother allegedly told the informant that he noticed one witness around the fire and that it was a mistake not to shoot them.

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Witnesses described a similar scene and said the brothers approached from behind the fire, and Tran got up to meet them, according to police documents. Witnesses said the brothers were wearing leather clothing and masks. One of the brothers then pulled out a gun and shot Tran. A woman came to Tran’s aid, but she was shot as well. Another woman began to scream and begged not to be shot, but the brothers shot her as well, a witness told police. One brother then turned the gun on another person sitting at the fire and asked them if they had any problem. That person was not shot, according to police.

While under surveillance, the youngest brother allegedly laughed when talking about the shooting and how he witnessed his two older brothers firing upon people around the campfire. He described the sound of the guns as they went off. The youngest brother said that after Tran was shot, he grabbed his belongings and ran away. Among those belongings was $100 worth of black tar heroin and $200-300 cash, according to court documents.

Police say the two older brothers also said that a woman in a nearby tent was screaming throughout the shooting, so they shot her.

An informant was able to purchase the .45 caliber handgun the brothers said they used in the shooting. The informant attempted to purchase the .22 caliber pistol, but the brothers said it was their mother’s and had to ask for permission to sell it first, according to the documents. The .45 caliber gun was later tested and it allegedly matched the rounds recovered from the shooting.

On Feb. 1, another informant assisted police and told detectives that the brothers had bragged about the shooting, and allegedly said that they went into The Jungle to recover $500 that Tran owed their mother for a drug deal.

After their arrest and upon being interviewed by detectives, the three brothers denied ever visiting The Jungle. But their stories slightly differed. They said on Jan. 26 they were celebrating their mother’s birthday and were at a restaurant in North Seattle between 6-9 p.m. before spending the rest of the night at a motel, also in North Seattle. Another brother said they attended the movie “Straight Outta Compton.”

Eventually, the youngest brother told detectives that he didn’t want to answer many of their questions because he didn’t want to get his brothers in trouble, according to court documents. He said that their mother was angry when she heard about the shooting. He finally told the detectives that if he could go back in time, he would never have gone up the hill that night.

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