The four suspects arrested in Texas in the slaying of a 61-year-old Walker man during the burglary of his home were stopped by federal border patrol officers near the border with Mexico, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said Thursday.
An 18-year-old man accused in the fatal shooting of Rick McBride in his Walker home July 22, as well as three others connected to the case, were apprehended by federal authorities near El Paso, Texas, Ard said. At the border checkpoint, authorities matched the four suspects with arrest warrants issued by Livingston officials.
“A lot of people think you get out of town, (you’re in the clear), like outlaws,” Ard said. “And they’ll do it today … (but) normally it doesn’t work. With today’s law enforcement technology, we have a search network that’s going to catch them every time.”
Blayson Fife, 18, and Joe Baluch, 20, are accused of fatally shooting McBride while they attempted to rob the man of guns and money, Ard said. Fife fled the state after the incident with three others, Kerstin Avery, 18, Trevor Lockett, 17, and Kameron Jones, 17.
Baluch was arrested in Livingston on July 26. Ard said more people could be arrested as the investigation continues.
Avery, Lockett and Jones are accused of harboring Fife and helping him escape arrest by fleeing the state, their arrest reports say. The four were in possession of stolen guns from McBride’s house when they were arrested in Texas, the reports say.
McBride was found dead July 23 at his home in the 13900 block of Pine Park Drive. He had been shot four times, the arrest reports say.
His home is tucked behind a forest of trees at the end of a quiet, dead-end lane, raising concerns among neighbors about how and why he was targeted.
His daily early morning strolls with his walking stick were a constant in the neighborhood, where he had lived for 20 years. His neighbors on Thursday described him as a great guy who would often help them out by mowing lawns and keeping generators running during storms.
In fact, the neighbors said it was McBride’s absence from his morning walk that led them to believe something was wrong. A neighbor used a spare key to conduct a welfare check and that’s when they found him.
One woman who lives nearby, and who did not want to be identified, said she gave McBride his walking stick after she moved in so he could fend of any neighborhood dogs. McBride had welcomed her to the neighborhood, telling her it was a great place to live and locking doors wasn’t needed.
The slaying was the most shocking in a series of random incidents in the neighborhood in recent years. Residents complained about teenagers burglarizing their homes, siphoning gasoline from their vehicles, and running off with items they leave in their yards.
Neighbors said Thursday the arrests brought them some peace, but they are still shaken up about the news. One neighbor said he is installing more surveillance cameras on his home and another said she is carrying a gun with her.
One central question in the investigation remains: Why McBride?
Sheriff Ard said Fife and Baluch had heard from a peer who knew McBride that the man had a lot of guns and money at his home. That person was not arrested and Ard said investigators do not believe he played a role in the incident.
“We don’t expect that kid to have done anything maliciously, just having a conversation,” Ard said.
Fife and Baluch later went, armed, to McBride’s home to steal guns and money, their arrest reports say. McBride was a gun collector and a businessman who worked from his home, Ard said. A caution sign hangs next to McBride's door with the words "Due to price increase on ammo do not expect a warning shot," seemingly alluding to his gun collection.
“Their plan was interrupted by McBride — which resulted in his death,” Ard said. “This is a very unfortunate event. This particular person was targeted for what he had.”
Ard said detectives have not yet determined if the two men planned to kill McBride or thought he wasn’t home, but “those are things we are still trying to piece together.”
They do not believe the shooting suspects had any connection to McBride beyond a conversation about his firearms and wealth, Ard said.
After the killing, Fife and Baluch left the scene and then returned, possibly to carry out more guns, Ard said.
“It’s a very challenging crime scene. … This took a lot of legwork,” Ard said. “This guy lived alone, no family here, did work out of his home.
“It takes a lot to put these things together. We still have a whole lot more to do.”
Ard said a tip to Crime Stoppers was key in the initial stages of the investigation, and now his office is working with the State Police Crime Lab to analyze all remaining angles.
“The deceased can’t give a statement; there is nobody to say anything other than the bad guys, so we have to rely on the evidence, the scientific evidence,” Ard said.
Detectives said they believe there was no foul play on McBride’s part, which Ard said he knows can be even more unsettling for neighbors and other area residents.
“Always be cautious, always be careful about telling people certain information,” Ard said. He asked people to focus on the fact that “we made an arrest; we got who did it.”
The teens were held in Hudspeth County, Texas, until they were extradicted to Louisiana, with Livingston sheriff’s deputies booking them late Wednesday into Livingston Parish Detention Center.
Fife, 18076 Little Prairie Road, Prairieville, was booked on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated burglary.
Avery, 41450 Glen Williams Drive, Gonzales; Jones, 41356 Cemetary Road, Gonzales; and Lockett, of Coushatta, were each booked on one count of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
Baluch, 43457 Norwood Road, Gonzales, was booked on July 26 on first-degree murder and aggravated burglary.