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Murder case that closed the ‘Jungle’ finally resolved

Stuff sits under a stretch of I-5 in Seattle that was known as the Jungle. (AP, file photo)

More than four years after a group of masked individuals opened fire inside the infamous homeless camp known as the “Jungle” and shot five people, there’s finally a resolution in the case.

For those of you new to Seattle, the Jungle was one of the city’s original homeless encampments. It was hidden away under I-5 just south of downtown. It was a lawless zone of drug dens and crime.

Former mayor Ed Murray described it this way the night of the shooting: “The area behind us, on state right-of-way, commonly called the ‘Jungle,’ has been unmanageable and out of control for almost two decades.”

On Jan. 26, 2016, three brothers — ages 17, 16, and 13 — rode up on their bikes to a fire pit outside of a tent and opened fire. Former police chief Kathleen O’Toole told reporters that five people had been shot and two of them had died from their injuries, and the search for suspects was underway.

“We don’t think they were targeted because they were homeless,” she said. “They were targeted specifically for who they were.”

Ironically, the Jungle was supposed to be cleared out the next day.

“The area in question had already been signed for tomorrow for us to go in and do clean up,” Mayor Murray said. “Regrettably, the size of this tragedy, we didn’t get to them sooner.”

A few days later, the police arrested the Taafulisia brothers at another homeless camp. They went to the Jungle to collect on a drug debt owed to their mother. They came away with $100 of heroin and $200-300 in cash.

Jeanine Brooks, 45, and 31-year-old James Tran were killed.

The older brothers were tried three times. The first two trials ended without verdicts. The final time, Jerome and James Taafulisia were convicted, and Thursday they were both sentenced to 40 years in prison. Their youngest brother was tried in the juvenile system was found guilty of murder in 2018, though he did not fire a shot in the attack.

One of the reasons the first two trials ended without verdicts is due to the horrible upbringing the brothers experienced. They were forced by their mother to sell drugs and commit robberies. They were abused extensively and had been homeless most of their lives. Prosecutors and the defense teams agreed that they were less culpable for their crimes because of their histories.

The courtroom was packed Thursday with family and friends of the victims and of the brothers, and the survivors of the shooting. The Seattle Times reports that one of the brothers chose to address the group in song, singing, “I was just a kid when I was homeless. I tried to find a way out, but I was hopeless.”

The Jungle was shutdown nine months after this attack.

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