The Shocking Family Triple Murder Case Roiling Humboldt County
Amid a scourge of violence against Native and Indigenous peoples, police say a relative turned on his own.
Shelly Moon’s overnight get-together with her cousins came to an abrupt and bloody halt in the early hours of a clear Wednesday morning.
On the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria Reservation in northern California, 16-year-old Moon’s mother, Margarett, a Bear River tribal member, found the group drinking alcohol at about 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 10, according to an affidavit for a police search warrant. Within 30 minutes, the cousins had been picked up by family.
But at some point, authorities said, a resident of the house invited then-18-year-old Mauricio Johnson, who is also related to the Moon family and Indigenous, to the home. And within two hours of the cousins leaving, statements from family and those familiar with the events—some of them second hand—included in the affidavit suggest Margarett Moon’s fiancé, Nikki Metcalf, found Johnson “getting with” her daughter.
Metcalf reportedly hit Johnson, which is when things took a deadly turn, according to the affidavit, which contains information from Humboldt County Sheriff’s Investigator Scott Hicks. Johnson proceeded to shoot him and Margarett Moon, before fatally shooting teenager Shelly Moon as well and fleeing to Utah, according to statements in the affidavit, which was issued by the Utah State Bureau of Investigation.
The reason? “Because he did not want to have any witnesses,” a statement included in the affidavit says.
Now Johnson, who was arrested in Utah on a murder warrant issued by the Humboldt County District Attorney’s office after allegedly being found with his mother, Melissa Johnson, and her boyfriend, Von Keener, is being held without bail. He is also fighting his extradition back to California, according to Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal.
The crime involving a single family, which shocked this small community just off Highway 101, further emphasized the widespread issue of violence against Native people, especially women. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, while research out of the Justice Department in 2008 found Native women on some tribal lands were murdered at more than 10 times the national average in some places. With a national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement calling for awareness and justice surrounding this crisis, crimes like these illustrate just how high the stakes truly are.
“The last people you would think would be into any sort of, you know, situation like this or anything, would be Margarett, Nikki, and Shelly, you know?” Cameron Moon, 22, who is cousins with Shelly and Margarett Moon, told The Daily Beast. “So, to hear that it was all three, it... honestly, I broke down in tears.”
Cameron Moon said he remembered Shelly volunteering for the local elementary school, helping to tutor the students. He described her as having a “giving heart,” just like her mother.
In Humboldt County, authorities were alerted to the homicides at about 8:15 a.m on Feb. 10., when Shelly Moon’s surviving 13-year-old sister dialed 911 to report finding “her mother, sister, and father bleeding out,” according to the affidavit.
“It’s just a tragedy all around,” Sheriff Honsal told The Daily Beast. “We can’t recall a time, you know, within my tenure here, that we’ve had a triple homicide. And so, this has taken this community by surprise and, you know, we’re all devastated.”
Shelly Moon and Metcalf were both found dead, while Margarett Moon was still alive and transported to the nearest trauma center, according to the affidavit. She later succumbed to her injuries. All three had gunshot wounds to their heads.
David Moon, 32, who is Margarett Moon’s nephew and used to live with the family, said his sister picked up his daughter and niece from the home just 30 minutes before the shooting. He added that his sister told him Johnson, the accused killer, was acting “weird.” David Moon also said he learned from another cousin, who lived next door to Margarett Moon and her family, that Johnson and Keener banged on her door “frantic,” trying to get a ride, before Johnson allegedly fled the state later that morning.
According to the affidavit, Mauricio Johnson’s brother Damon said the accused came to his home in the early morning on Feb. 10 with a pistol and blood on his clothes. Mauricio Johnson allegedly told him “he had shot someone and later clarified that he shot multiple people.”
The affidavit states that following the shooting, authorities were able to track Melissa Johnson’s vehicle because it had been purchased at Sole Savers, a car dealer. Authorities were then able to find that vehicle, along with another associated with Mauricio Johnson, in Utah.
By about 2 p.m. on Feb. 11, the Utah Highway Patrol caught up with the vehicles, which were running one in front of the other, about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City, according to Sergeant Evan Kirby of the Utah Highway Patrol. He told The Daily Beast they activated their emergency lights, and while the vehicle with Melissa Johnson in it stopped immediately, the other continued ahead. He said police threw out spikes and after about two miles, the vehicle containing Johnson and Keener stopped in the middle of the freeway.
He said officers then “took them into custody safely. They didn’t resist or anything like that. They followed our commands.”
Melissa Johnson has since been released without charges, but Sheriff Honsal said aiding and abetting charges could come in the future. Keener was arrested on a parole violation and could also see aiding and abetting charges. He is being held without bail in Humboldt County jail.
Melissa Johnson did not return messages seeking comment. Attempts to contact Mauricio Johnson and Keener’s attorneys were unsuccessful.
According to Sheriff Honsal, California’s attorney general has issued a governor’s warrant in Utah Superior Court, requesting Johnson be sent back to Humboldt County. Sheriff Honsal said he expected Johnson to be back in custody in California within the next four weeks.
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said her office had filed three counts of murder against Mauricio Johnson, as well as “special allegations for use of the firearm and for committing multiple murders.”
She added, “As soon as he is extradited, he will be arraigned on those charges.”
When asked about charges for Melissa Johnson and Keener, she said the investigation was ongoing, “but no charges as of now.”
David Moon, who started a fundraising campaign to help raise money for the victims’ family, said Mauricio Johnson’s mom, Melissa, and Margarett Moon actually grew up together. He described his late aunt, Margarett, as someone who would “always do what she could to help anyone.” He said she had been depressed, but things were starting to look up after she met Metcalf and began working at the local elementary school.
“She was, like, in a really bad spot before she met Nikki,” he said. “And then so when Nikki came, they got to be happy…. He was like everything that she needed. And he treated my little cousins like they were his kids.”
Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria Chairwoman Josefina Cortez told The Daily Beast that they were not prepared to make a public statement on what happened, but did confirm that tribal police have been involved with the investigation.
Jesse Armstrong, 31, said he worked with Margarett Moon for two years, through his role as parent-teacher facilitator for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, and coached her surviving 13-year-old daughter’s basketball team.
He told The Daily Beast that she, along with other members of her all-Native team, spent the 2019 season working to spread awareness about MMIW. They painted red handprints across their mouths for games, which symbolize violence against Indigenous women, and wrote the name of a woman who has been missing since 1991 on their arms and legs.
Armstrong said just months before the young girl found her family killed, she had been extremely devoted to the issue and had been trying to plan an awareness game out of state.
“It’s just, you know, weird that a year ago they were supporting the movement with me in basketball, and now they’re part of the statistic,” he said.