20-year-old Tevin Geike was walking with two other white soldiers along Pacific Highway SW when a group of black men drove by and shouted a racial comment toward the soldiers, the Lakewood Police Department said.
"One of the soldiers yelled back something about the suspects treating combat soldiers with disrespect," Lt. Chris Lawler said.
The car turned around and the men confronted the soldiers, according to reports. As the verbal confrontation ensued, the driver of the vehicle realized the men were actually combat veterans and called his friends off. While the men headed back to their vehicle, one of the suspects appeared to have bumped into Geike, witnesses say.
The soldiers saw Geike fall to the ground as the car sped away. He was bleeding profusely from stab wounds and died at the scene.
"We came down here, and he was already dead in my brother's arms," said Glenn Zimmerman, a friend of Geike.
Friends say there was a party at the Biltmore Motel that evening, and Geike was gathering with family and friends after being discharged from the military. Zimmerman said Geike's contract was up, and he was celebrating serving his country.
"I don't understand how someone can do this - that man, he almost gave his life for people to enjoy the freedoms they have and he was just stabbed for no (expletive) reason," he continued.
The initial remark that started the encounter seemed derogatory in nature, said Lakewood police Lt. Chris Lawler. He said it was too early to say that race was the motivating factor, but investigators were exploring whether the killing should be classified as a hate crime.
"We are certainly considering it, for sure," Lawler said.
Police are searching for a midnight blue BMW-type sedan or VW Jetta-type car with four doors, tinted windows and stock rims, and low profile tires.
All five suspects are black men in their 20s, police say. The main suspect is believed to be in his early 20s, about 6'1", medium build, and was wearing a blue zip-up hoodie. The driver was described as having short cropped hair, and wearing a blue and white horizontal striped shirt.
Detectives were in the area Saturday looking for businesses or others who might have video from around the time of the stabbing. Lawler said the person who stabbed the soldier should come forward and show remorse now.
"He's going to get caught," Lawler said. "Nobody's going to give up until we catch up."
Geike, of Summerville, SC, entered the Army in October 2010 and reported to Fort Jackson, SC, for basic training. According to unit records, Spc. Geike was a member of the 7th Infantry Division, arrived at JBLM in April 2011, and had been in the Army 35 months.