Two people were charged last Friday with the murder of Justin Peoples, a black 30-year-old Navy veteran, youth pastor and father of two, who was fatally shot and stabbed at a California gas station last Tuesday in what authorities have called an “unprovoked” hate crime.
A release from the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office said co-defendants Christina Lyn Garner, 42, and Jeremy Wayne Jones, 49, were slapped with murder charges with a special circumstance alleging Peoples was intentionally killed because of his race, color, religion, nationality or country of origin.
Another defendant, Christopher Dimenco, 58, was also arraigned on accessory charges.
The Tracy Police Department said on March 15, it responded to a call about a male subject suffering from a gunshot wound at the Chevron gas station on North Tracy Boulevard shortly after 9 p.m.
When police arrived on the scene, they found Peoples with a gunshot and multiple stab wounds. He was rushed to the San Joaquin General Hospital trauma center in critical condition and died about two hours later.
“From what we’ve gathered, it was unprovoked, and again, a senseless act of violence,” Tracy Police Chief Sekou Millington told KOVR about the murder.
Garner and Jones were arrested following an investigation which showed Jones supported white supremacist ideology. Photos released by the office of San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar reveal tattoos on Jones’ body with the words “WHITE” and “PRIDE” as well as one with an image of a skeleton hugging a swastika.
"There is no place for hate in our community. No one should be victimized because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion,” Salazar said in a statement. “These types of crimes are reprehensible and my administration will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law to hold those who perpetuate hate accountable.”
And Millington agrees.
“There is no room for hate in Tracy or anywhere,” he said on Friday. “We will use our resources to bring those responsible to justice.”
The late veteran’s grieving father, Maurice Peoples, told NBC News that his son, who was working two jobs so he could save to buy a house, was at the gas station with his girlfriend to get quarters for laundry.
His son’s girlfriend, who stayed behind in their car, said when her late boyfriend entered the gas station, the suspects went inside after him. It remained unclear if there was a confrontation before the attack.
After the suspects were arraigned Friday, Maurice People remembered his son as a “remarkable young man” who had “the heart of a lion.”
"He had the heart of a lion to survive but he just didn't make it," he told NBC News.
The grieving dad said his son grew up in Stockton and attended San Joaquin Delta College before joining the Navy in 2010. A year later, he was medically discharged with ulcers.
At the time of his death, Justin Peoples, who had two sons, ages 11 and 2, was serving as a youth pastor with a local church along with working two jobs delivering auto parts and packages.
Justin had a "big kind heart," Maurice People recalled of his son, adding: "When he came around you could feel the light from his smile."