A Walgreens employee from Colorado was arrested and charged with the murder of his 17-year-old coworker, who had previously rejected his advances and had complained about making her feel uncomfortable.
Joshua Johnson, 28, was detained June 12 by state troopers about 100 miles outside Colorado Springs on June 12, a day after Riley Whitelaw’s body was discovered in the break room of the Walgreens where they both worked. Johnson has been charged with one count of first-degree murder, police said.
On June 11, a Walgreens manager in Colorado Springs found Whitelaw's body in the break room after the high school student never returned from her break, according to the arrest affidavit obtained by KKTV.
Police officers responded to the scene at approximately 6:55 p.m. and discovered Whitelaw lying in a substantial amount of blood with trauma to her neck area. Officers observed no signs of life, and the staff break room had blood on the floor, cabinets, and counter, the affidavit stated.
Justin Zunino, the manager, told police that Johnson had been warned a year ago to keep his conduct professional after Whitelaw complained that he had made advances toward her that made her feel uncomfortable. Zunino said Johnson appeared to be receptive to the warning, according to the affidavit.
However, several weeks ago, Whitelaw had asked for a change in her work shifts to avoid Johnson. Zunino told investigators that the teenager later requested additional hours and was made aware that the overtime would mean she and Johnson would cross paths.
Johnson’s interest in Whitelaw didn’t seem to be deterred when her boyfriend joined the staff at Walgreens three months ago. Crystal Ishmael, another manager at the store, told police that Johnson began “acting jealous" instead.
On the day of Whitelaw's death, a customer at the Walgreens store heard a woman screaming and the sound of stalls slamming, she later told authorities. Zunino, the manager, told officers that he had seen Johnson on the store’s surveillance video stacking bins in front of the camera to block its view.
Ishmael told police that during the search for Whitelaw, she had checked outside by a dumpster area where she smelled a “strong odor of bleach” and attempted to gain entry, but walked away after hearing a male voice say he was changing.
Johnson later told police that he was the person Ishmael had talked to by the dumpster and that he was trying to leave. He also admitted to being in the break room and told authorities that he fell in the blood, according to the affidavit.
Johnson was found by Colorado State Patrol troopers walking along the interstate. He had scratches on his hands and face and claimed that he had been attacked at Walgreens. He was arrested soon after the troopers learned that he was a suspect in the incident, KKTV reported.
Johnson admitted to police that he previously had a “crush” on Whitelaw but claimed that was no longer the case because he was now involved with Ishmael. Police noted that Ishmael did not mention being in a relationship with Johnson during her interview. Despite video evidence, Johnson denied attempting to obstruct surveillance cameras.
Whitelaw, a straight-A student at Air Academy High School, was an art enthusiast with a passion for genetics research, according to her friends and family. She was someone filled with "empathy, patience and compassion" who “allowed others to be seen, heard or recognized,” her obituary said. She was “wise beyond her years” and would be equally at ease in a room full of adults having conversations or kicking back with her friends to make goofy videos.
“If you were having a bad day, she had the innate ability to lift you up. She was dedicated, persistent, and passionate about everything she endeavored to try,” the obituary said.
The teenager's funeral will be held next week as the investigation into her murder is ongoing.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Fraser Engerman, a senior director for Walgreens, said that the company was "saddened" by the incident.
"The safety of our customers and team members is top priority, and we are working with local authorities in their investigation," Engerman said. "We are making counseling and other resources available to our store team members at this location," he added.