A scholarship fund is being planned in the name of Colorado teenager Riley Whitelaw, who was found murdered earlier this month in the Walgreens break room where she worked.
Her 28-year-old colleague, Joshua Taylor Johnson – whom she had repeatedly complained to management about – has been charged with her first-degree murder.
Friends and family of Ms Whitelaw, a straight student at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs, were preparing for her funeral the following morning on Wednesday as a GoFundMe in memory of the teenager had already more than tripled his goal.
The site was set up on June 12, a day after the shocking murder of the girl, by a team of fundraisers including Jeremy Model, with Ms Whitelaw’s mother Courtenay listed as a beneficiary. Its stated target was $10,000 but it had already passed $32,600 on Wednesday.
“All funds will go to a long-term scholarship fund in Riley’s name and to genetic research projects that we think she would enjoy,” according to a GoFundMe message sent by Mr. Model to The Independent.
“We feel all the love and support we have been showered with from the community and hope people will wear a bit of Riley in their daily routine. Although she is only 17 years old, she is a unique person who knew how to be truly present for others.
“It’s not just his smile that gets to you, it’s his compassion and empathy. Be nice and be present.
According to a Colorado Springs police press release, Ms. Whitelaw was found dead on June 11 by her manager at a Walgreens on Centennial Boulevard in the city about 60 miles south of Denver.
Her colleague, Mr Johnson, was arrested the following day after management revealed Riley allegedly said he was uncomfortable with his ‘advances’ a year earlier.
According to Ms Whitelaw’s obituary, which details her “short but rich life”, the teenager was known for her “empathy, patience and compassion”, as well as her “dedication, perseverance and passion for all that ‘she tried hard’.
The obituary adds: “Riley was a quiet leader among her peers and was always ready to lend a helping hand to those around her. Her passions were of an artistic nature, as she enjoyed drawing or painting canvases as well as playing the guitar. His art was recognized throughout his life and won numerous school and local awards.
“She not only had A’s throughout her time at the Air Academy, but was a member of AAHS Colorguard, worked part-time and had just started volunteering at the Humane Society and had found the time to keep animals. Riley inspired others with her artistry, eclectic musical tastes and bright personality.
Police arrived at the Walgreens where Ms Whitelaw worked around 7 p.m. on the day of the murder after manager Justin Zunino made a 911 call, according to an affidavit. Mr. Zunino had informed dispatchers that he had first suspected something was wrong when another manager reported that Riley had not returned from his break.
When he went to the store to investigate further, he said he “found a body in the break room” with “blood everywhere”.
Responding officers wrote in a report that “there was a large amount of blood on the floor around the victim’s head”, with a significant amount of blood stained on “the floor, cabinets and counter from the rest room.
They assessed at the time that the victim had “significant trauma to the neck area” and that there were no signs of life.
Mr Zunino told officers about Mr Johnson after seeing the employee on surveillance tapes before finding Riley’s body.
Mr Zunino allegedly saw Mr Johnson stacking bins in front of one of the store’s surveillance cameras, until the frame was completely covered. The window in the rest room appeared covered in duct tape, with a sign that said ‘toilets closed’.
After viewing the tapes, the director entered the break room and found the scene of the brutal murder.
The official also pointed out that apart from the videotapes, he had other reasons to suspect Mr Johnson of foul play. According to the affidavit, a year before the fatal incident took place in the break room, Riley had filed a complaint against a colleague of Mr Johnson for making inappropriate ‘advances’ towards him while they were working .
And then just recently, the teenage employee had asked managers to refrain from putting them both on the same schedule, because her older colleague would have started to make her “uncomfortable”.
The teenager later asked for more hours, but her superiors told her that if she wanted those hours she would work alongside the man who a year earlier she had reported for making inappropriate advances to her .
Another store manager reportedly told police she saw the suspected killer as he was cleaning up after the dumpsters behind the store. She claimed to have smelled “a strong smell of bleach” and said that while trying to open the door she heard a man shouting that he was changing.
When this director returned later, he was no longer there.
Mr Johnson was picked up the following morning by Colorado State Patrol troopers, about 100 miles from the Walgreens where his teenage colleague had been killed and was found with what police described as scratch marks on whole face and hands.
While being questioned by authorities, Mr Johnson reportedly admitted to having a ‘crush’ on Riley and said he had been in the break room where she was killed, but there was no remained until after his death.
“[Joshua] said he fell in the blood,” the affidavit reads, also noting that the man admitted to being the person the manager tried to speak to before he left the Walgreens. “He came home right after ‘it happened’ and took off all his clothes because they were all bloody.”
The suspect denied moving the trash cans in front of the surveillance camera, police said, even after being confronted with the footage.
A Walgreens spokesperson said The Independent that they are currently cooperating with authorities in the investigation and have offered their “sincere condolences” to family members and community members affected by the teenager’s murder.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident and send our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the family and loved ones of our team member,” the company spokesperson said in an emailed statement. . “The safety of our customers and our team members is the top priority, and we are working with local authorities in their investigation. We make tips and other resources available to our store team members here. »
Ms Whitelaw’s death was followed by a backlash against the chain on social media, along with the hashtag #JusticeForRileyWhitelaw.
“Shame on you for allowing a culture of harassment, IGNORING an employee’s sanity, not taking the safety of an underage employee seriously, grossly mishandling an HR situation and tell the world that women are NOT safe in your store,” one user tweeted at Walgreens on Tuesday. “#JusticeForRileyWhitelaw.”
A spokesperson for Walgreens, however, told The Independent that the company would not “discuss the situation any further at this time”.
Mr Johnson is then due to appear in court on August 26.