In the wake of what authorities described as his 16-year-old son’s brutal rape and murder at the hands of a longtime friend, Washington dad Benjamin Eastman Jr.’s repeated message has been one of “love and togetherness.”
“I want [to] thank the community and friends for all they have done for my family,” Eastman, who goes by “B.J.,” posted Thursday on Facebook, adding that words could not “explain the love [I] feel right now.”
“There’s no way [I] could ever get through this without it,” he wrote. “I would like everyone to remember my son how they want to but most of all how he has made our community and other communities far and wide stop and forget about judgment and hate.”
“Our community is full of love and togetherness right now,” he concluded his post. “My son made the world a better place. He continues to do so and I will always honor him for that. I ask that we all focus on that.”
Prosecutors say it’s too early in the case to discuss a possible motive in the beating death of Benjamin “Ben” Eastman III a week after his birthday — but the details released so far have attracted international attention.
Meanwhile, his community in southwestern Washington has drawn closer together in the shadow of such a vicious crime.
“When you have a county as close-knit and tight as Lewis and a town like Randle, which is even smaller, a tragic incident like this is going to impact everybody,” Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Meyer tells PEOPLE.
Charging documents previously obtained by PEOPLE show how, according to investigators, Ben was tricked into going in the woods sometime after texting early on June 24 with another 16-year-old boy, Benito Marquez, a friend and classmate who had known Ben for years.
Marquez and his older brother, 21-year-old Jonathon Adamson, “lured” Ben “under the guise of a camping trip,” prosecutors said in a probable cause affidavit.
There the pair allegedly carried out an assault they had planned together: striking Ben for some “20 to 45 minutes” and kicking him more than 100 times. During the attack, Ben was sexually assaulted with a stick, according to the affidavit.
Adamson and Marquez beat him in the head with a large rock, just to make sure he was dead, authorities believe.
Finally, they allegedly buried his body on the property of a relative where it was discovered three days later, after Ben was reported missing by his father. His shallow grave was marked with a homemade cross of sticks.
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Marquez, who had seemingly posted on Facebook asking for help finding Ben before his body was discovered, was an early subject of the investigation, according to authorities. But he and Adamson then allegedly fled the county, traveling some 200 miles east, before being found by the state patrol on June 29, the probable cause affidavit states.
They were each interviewed by police and subsequently charged with first-degree rape and murder as well as tampering with physical evidence and unlawful disposal of remains, the affidavit states.
Detention records confirm they remain in custody in Lewis County in lieu of $10 million bond.
They have not entered pleas and an attorney representing them declined to comment to PEOPLE. They are scheduled to return to court on Thursday.
While B.J., Ben’s dad, has spoken out about the suspects and sat front row in court at their first hearing, on Monday, he has largely kept the focus on his boy.
“I want everyone to remember the love we feel for each other,” he posted on Facebook Friday, following a vigil for Ben. “My son will live in our hearts.”
He also offered this: “Remember to smile or say hi to a stranger.”
Speaking to local TV station KOMO earlier this week, B.J. said, “It’s easy to get caught up in the negative aspect of this, but I remember my son and his smile.”
“There is evil people out there,” B.J. said then. “I don’t know what makes them tick. I don’t want to know. I’m loved and my son was loved and that’s all I’m about.”
Prosecutor Meyer tells PEOPLE Ben’s death — the violence and intimacy of it — is “hard to put into words.”
“Ben was a nice kid from a good family,” he says.
Others who knew the teen have also paid tribute to his love of the outdoors and sports, especially the Miami Dolphins, and his loyalty and light spirt.
“You’d be in a bad mood and he’d just walk in — you’d just be mad as mad as you could be and he’d just crack a smile and make you giggle just over anything, always,” Ben’s brother Derek Dunaway told KOMO.
“He really liked to stand up for his friends,” Principal Chris Schumaker told the Daily Chronicle after a vigil Tuesday night at Ben’s school, where he was a rising junior.
“A lot of the time, his friends would get in trouble because of his shenanigans and somehow he was able to kind of sidestep getting caught. So then towards the end he would kind of say, ‘Mr. Schumaker, it was kind of me, I deserve the detention,’ ” the principal recalled. “And I would say, ‘No, you know they did the crime, they get the time.’ He tried really hard to plea-deal consequences his friends earned. But in the end, I would just say ‘Ben, go back to class it’s okay. They’ll get through it, you’ll get through it. There’s always tomorrow.’ “