The last time Benjamin “B.J.” Eastman Jr. saw his son, Benjamin Eastman III, alive, the two were kicking back around a fire on a cool summer night in rural Randle, Washington, less than a week after celebrating the boy’s 16th birthday.
After laughing together over B.J.’s lackluster performance while playing one of Ben’s favorite video games, Rocket League, B.J. decided to call it a night around midnight or so. As he headed to bed, he told his son he loved him, like he always did.
“Love you, too,” Ben replied.
B.J. awoke the next morning, on June 24, to find his son gone from their house. But that wasn’t unusual for the upbeat, energetic and sociable teen, his dad tells PEOPLE.
B.J. recalls thinking that Ben must have gone over to stay with his best friend, Benito “Benny” Marquez, also 16. The two had been buddies since kindergarten and spent a lot of time together, B.J. says. Ben even had his first sleepover with a group of friends at Marquez’s house, way back when.
“I felt pretty safe when he was over there,” B.J. says.
Marquez was a football player with a hot streak, says B.J., who adds he got some comfort “that Ben hung out with him — because he [Marquez] was a pretty strong kid.”
Within days, that sense of security unraveled. First B.J. learned his son was actually missing and then, on June 28, the boy’s body was found buried in a shallow grave in a lonely stretch of local land. The dirt covering his body was marked by a homemade cross of sticks.
By the next weekend, authorities took Ben’s suspected killers into custody, bringing murder charges against both Marquez, Ben’s lifelong friend, and 21-year-old Jonathon Adamson, described as Marquez’s brother.
(PEOPLE’s attempts to reach Marquez’s family were not immediately successful. A lawyer for him and Adamson previously declined to comment, saying it was still early in the case.)
The pair, who are set to return to court on Thursday, stand accused of luring Ben to his death in an excruciating, pre-planned beating and sexual assault. They then hid his remains on property belonging to their relatives, investigators allege.
According to B.J., prosecutors believe Ben was dead by the morning after he left his house.
B.J., who has known Marquez for most of the boy’s young life, was stunned by his arrest in the slaying: “I never thought he could think up so much hate and pull something off like this.”
Brought to His Death — but Why?
While prosecutors tell PEOPLE it is premature to discuss a motive in the murder case, B.J. says he believes his son might have been killed over a girl.
Whatever Adamson and Marquez’s reasons for allegedly taking Ben’s life, B.J. says, “I just don’t know how they could have done this to him.”
Early on June 24, just hours after B.J. went to bed, Ben texted with Marquez, with his last message saying he was heading to his friend’s house, prosecutors stated in a probable cause affidavit obtained by PEOPLE.
According to authorities, it was all a ruse: Adamson and Marquez used the “guise of a camping trip” to bring Ben out in order to assault him, the affidavit states.
The court documents detail a savage attack, according to Adamson’s alleged admissions in a police interview:
After forcing Ben to the ground, the two spent about “20 to 45 minutes” hitting him — kicking him more than 100 times. At one point, while he was still alive, Ben was sexually assaulted with a stick.
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To “ensure” he was dead, Adamson and Marquez allegedly struck Ben repeatedly in the head with a large rock, according to the affidavit. They stripped off his clothes and buried him.
In addition to murder, the suspects each face charges of first-degree rape, tampering with physical evidence and unlawful disposal of remains.
B.J. and his family are still in disbelief over the viciousness of Ben’s death and what could have inspired such violence against a boy remembered for his playfulness, his good nature and his love of the outdoors and the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s one thing to get mad and fight him,” B.J says. “But for the two of them for 45 minutes to do what they did to my son — that’s pure hate.”
“The brutality in this … I just can’t imagine,” he says.
During the beating, he says, “I just hope the Lord put my son’s mind in a safe place.”
Coping with the Unthinkable
Despite the way his son spent his last moments alive, B.J. has vowed to deal with Ben’s killing with an open heart — and not mirror the hate of the alleged assailants.
“The best way I can honor my son is through love,” he wrote in a July 9 Facebook post, asking well-wishers to #sharethelove by being kind to others.
Ben’s family has set up a GoFundMe to help raise money for his funeral and memorial.
“The place in my heart that makes me want to be good and loving, I call that place ‘Ben’ now, and that’s where I’m making all my choices,” B.J. tells PEOPLE. “That’s what my son would want.”