Who was Jason Fox? Murdered gay Newport teen goes viral on TikTok after his mother launches justice campaign
Pepper Fox, the mother of Jason Fox has taken to social media and sharing his story with the hashtag #JusticeForJasonFox in a viral TikTok campaign
NEWPORT, WASHINGTON: Pepper Fox, the mother of Jason Fox, isn't passively waiting for her 19-year-old son's alleged killers to be brought to justice. She has taken to social media, a few months after his body was discovered, sharing his story in a viral TikTok campaign with the hashtag #JusticeForJasonFox.
Jason Fox’s body was found buried three to four feet underground with his hands tied behind his back in an isolated area on the south side of a property in Newport on October 4, last year. Kevin Belding, Matthew Raddatz-Freeman, Claude Merritt, Riley Hillestad, and Sean Bellah have all been arrested in connection to his death. Hillestad, who has been described as the ringleader who orchestrated the murder, was formally charged with nine different counts in connection to Fox's murder. They include first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. His bail was set at $1 million in November 2020. Hillestad's trial is scheduled for May 3.
Belding and Merritt are charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and making false or misleading statements. Raddatz-Freeman is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, second-degree taking a vehicle without permission, tampering with physical evidence and false or misleading statements. A judge set their bonds at $750,000
Who was Jason Fox?
On Sept. 15, Jason, a gay teen, sent a message to a person who lived with his aunt saying he would be at 22 Yergens “in case something happens to him." That was the last time any of his family members heard from him, according to court documents. An emergency ping was conducted on his phone, showing it was at the address he has provided in the message.
When Jason did not show up for two days following the message, two law enforcement officers went to the location to see if the missing teen was there. They spoke with Hillestad, Raddatz-Freeman, Merritt, and a woman who all lived at the location, documents said.
According to court records, they each gave a different account of when they had last seen Fox, ranging from two months prior to one week prior. All suspects later admitted to Fox being at the residence on Yergens on the morning of September 15, just after midnight, and none of them could explain why they lied.
It was later revealed by the victim's mother that a meeting was organized between Jason and the accused killers. Jason questioned whether Hillestad was going to be at the meetup. “Is it fr [for real] real not Riley [Hillestad]?” the teen texted Merritt, according to Helfgott’s TikTok video. “I wanna kick it, I just ain’t down for drama,” he had added.
Merritt allegedly assured Jason that Hillestad wasn’t going to be there. Once Jason arrived at what was later discovered to be an “empty wedding venue,” Hillestad, allegedly, brutally kicked him to death. He also reportedly threatened others when they tried to stop him from kicking the victim.
On September 15th, 2020, a bisexual man named Jason Fox was brutally murdered by several attackers in Newport, WA. The woman on the left is his mother, who has been fighting for justice for her son. Pls share this and sign her petition (link in my bio) #justiceforjasonfox pic.twitter.com/fMeVdDM8jI— Jess / 海風⭐️ (@kaifu_ato) March 8, 2021
Merritt told police Raddatz-Freeman got into an argument with Jason and he intervened because he thought Raddatz-Freeman was going to assault Jason, documents say. Merritt said he and Belding followed Fox off the property after the incident and when they got onto Highway 20, they went different directions. While parts of statements by Merritt and Raddatz-Freeman contradicted one another’s, they both reportedly accused Hillestad of being the main perpetrator.
Viral social media started by Jason's mother
Pepper Fox, began campaigning for him through videos on TikTok, where she now has 76,000 followers. A video from February went particularly viral, garnering attention from a number of LGBTQ activists such as Josh Helfgott, who has 3.2 million followers on TikTok.
“Hi, this is my attempt to get hold of Ellen Degeneres and Lady Gaga,” she says in the video, which has been viewed 547,000 times. “My 19-year-old son was brutally murdered in Newport, Washington, which is not a gay-friendly area,” she says, “And I’ve been getting a lot of hate from the families of the murderers.” She went into details about the trial, which is scheduled to start on April 5, which is just a couple of days after what would have been Fox’s 20th birthday.
“I decided to throw the first annual gay pride parade in honor of my son, and I’m in over my head,” she says. “And I need your help.”
This video explains the situation with Jason Fox really well. It’s truly disgusting that this still happens. It also breaks my heart that Jason went through this as well as his mom who is currently fighting for justice for her son. #justiceforjasonfox https://t.co/op0Qfhau8D— wyatt swingle (@WyattSwingle) March 2, 2021
Helfgott recalled how he heard about Fox: "I was on a TikTok livestream speaking to 200 or 300 of my followers who are mainly LGBTQ+, and they kept saying, '#JusticeForJasonFox. There's no question that my followers found Jason's story from Jason's mother, who was asking for help literally saying, 'Make my son's story go viral.'"
"I stitched her video and I said, 'I'm not Gaga, but I can make your son's story be heard,'" Helfgott said. "I knew it would get views because Jason is 19, gay and was murdered," he added. "And that, in and of itself, is relatable to an audience and I think a lot of what makes a story spread is relatability."
As of March 23, his video explaining details of the case has more than 3 million views, 1.1 million likes, more than 35,500 comments and almost 100,000 shares. Pepper's account also gained thousands of followers overnight. "I burst into tears and I couldn't stop watching it," Pepper said, tearing up. "No one knew Jason but me, and it is awesome people care about something that I care about, and that means a lot."