WILSON, N.C. — Wilson police have arrested three teenagers in connection with the death of a 17-year-old girl found dead in a field Tuesday afternoon.
James Johnson, 18, and Kenneth Meeks, 16, are each charged with first-degree kidnapping, murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon and rape in the death of Brittany Willis.
Julian Deans, 19, is charged with accessory after the fact.
Police say the arrests came after Johnson and Deans went to Wilson police Thursday night offering information about the case and mentioned a reward.
Investigators charge that Johnson and Meeks abducted Willis from the Brentwood Shopping Center parking lot Monday afternoon and took her to a nearby construction field, where she was raped and shot.
Willis' body was found late Tuesday afternoon in the field on Westshire Drive near the White Hall subdivision. The vehicle Willis had been driving, a 2000 Lexus sport utility vehicle, was found less than a mile away at the Wilson Woods apartment complex. Police believe the teens dumped the vehicle there.
Police believe the crimes happened in daylight, that Willis was picked at random and the motive was robbery.
"These people were looking for money. Based on our investigation they saw her and it was an opportunity," said Detective Johnny Hendricks of the Wilson Police Department.
Some classmates were stunned to hear the news of their classmates' arrest.
"It was a shock because the boys that have been accused are not those type of boys," said Anna Edwards, who recently graduated from Fike High School with Dean and Johnson.
Edwards said Dean and Johnson, a standout soccer player, had many friends and stayed out of trouble. She said she was shopping at Brentwood Monday around the same time as Willis.
"It could have been me, you know," she said. "It just hits home and it hurts."
News of the arrests came just a few hours before friends and family gathered at the First United Methodist Church, where Willis' funeral took place Friday morning.
"It's a very sad day for the entire family, but I think the news about the people who are actually responsible for this situation. There is some relief," family friend Mike McKeel said.
"They're really pleased we were able to make an arrest this quick, but nothing is going to change the pain they've got," Hendricks said.
A $20,000 reward was offered by Willis' family and friends for information leading to an arrest.
Willis, a Hunt High School graduate, would have turned 18 this week. She planned to attend Peace College in Raleigh in the fall. Malory Overton was supposed to room with Willis next year. She and others are now looking ahead a trial.
"We hope that justice is served and those people better be thankful that the people around here aren't handling them right now," she said.
The field where Willis' body was found remains sealed off. Investigators are still actively working the case and say there could be more arrests.