It was a foggy Thanksgiving night in Tacoma, Washington. Joe and Evangeline Britt’s relatives gathered in their split-level home at 1018 S. 75th St. for a holiday feast, laughter, and quality time with family and friends.
Kimberly Carol Riley, 19, was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle and originally from Volcano, Hawaii. She had moved to Tacoma at the beginning of the fall semester.
Kimberly only knew a few people in the Tacoma area. Through her brother, James Riley, she met the Britt family. James was a Seattle electrician who “had bonded with many of the Britt family members through their love of working on cars,” according to the true-crime podcast Unresolved. The Britt family invited him for Thanksgiving, and he asked his sister.
Over two dozen people filled the Britt home on Nov. 28, 2002. After the big meal, the adults cleaned up on the upper level while several young people settled downstairs to play pool and watch the movie “Men in Black II.”
Around 10 p.m., shielded by darkness and fog, a lone gunman approached the front of the home at the lower level window. He opened fire, striking Kimberly, the Britts’ grandson, Jeremy Britt Bayinthavong*, 5, nephew Jeff Spencer, 22, and niece Harmony Spencer, 20.
The shooter had fired eight shots through the window into the wall, striking the four victims inside, according to Det. Brian Vold. The victims were seated just below the window, Vold said.
Jeremy succumbed to his injuries at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center later that night. Kimberly died the next day at Madigan Army Medical Center.
Harmony Spencer survived three shots to her arm, back, and abdomen, while Jeff Spencer was shot in the leg, cutting the limb’s nerves.
According to a February 2023 King 5 article, Riley was Jeff Spencer’s girlfriend.
“I can still remember just looking at her face and holding her and I told her in her ear ‘I love you’ and I just knew that…I just felt like she was alone, and she needed help, but I didn’t know what to do,” Jeff Spencer said. Kimberly died in his arms.
Harmony recalled a year after the shooting, “Before it could even register with me what had happened, it was over.” She had been cradling Jeremy because he was not feeling well.
Tacoma police processed the crime scene but found very little evidence. Investigators collected remnants of bullet shells to send to the state crime laboratory.
Neighbors of the Britts heard the shots but could not see the shooter because of the dense fog. However, they said he had dark hair, wore a puffy jacket, and ran around the corner of the house southbound on L Street.
One neighbor saw a dark-colored 1970s to 1980s full-size Ford pickup truck with a weathered white canopy with windows, loud exhaust, and ‘FORD’ in white letters across the tailgate. The vehicle sped down South 76th Street following the shooting. The News Tribune reported that the driver turned on the vehicle’s headlights at the top of the hill before turning out of sight.
Tacoma police believe the Spencer siblings’ father, Leonard Spencer, 51, saw the gunman.
“They figured he stepped around the corner of the house and I walked right by him,” Spencer said in 2003. Spencer had been upstairs with the other adults and rushed outside to see where the noise had originated.
“It was dead silent. There were no tire tracks. There was nobody running away.”
Investigators wondered if the shooting was related to a previous shooting at the same residence more than two years earlier.
Around 8:20 p.m. on March 3, 2000, an unidentified person fired several shots into the Britt home. Detectives recovered 23 rounds from both levels of the house. Joe Britt and his wife were inside, but no one was hurt. That shooting remains unsolved, too.
Detectives were confident of one thing: the Thanksgiving shooting was not random.
“It’s tied to the house or somebody in it,” police spokesman Jim Mattheis told the Tribune in 2002. “This is a totally dead-end street. They came here with a mission and obviously accomplished it.”
However, the police did not know whether the gunman was shooting at someone specifically or did not care who he shot. The shades were partially drawn, and condensation covered the window, so the shooter could not see people sitting directly under the window.
By December 2002, Tacoma had seen 16 homicides, five in November alone. There were 17 homicides in 2001.
Finding the Thanksgiving shooter has not been an easy task for investigators. They have little evidence to work with and never established a motive for the shooting. The four people shot had no criminal background or gang affiliation.
Tacoma police publicly appealed for information in 2017 and said they know some people have information on the killer’s identity and motive but will not come forward for whatever reason.
The Britts sold their home shortly after the shooting. Refin.com reported the house last sold on August 29, 2003. Evangeline Britt passed away in July 2021. Joe Britt and the Spencers still reside in the Tacoma area.
Despite being a double murder that occurred on a major holiday, the crime received little media coverage. Earlier this month, Tacoma Police Department homicide detective Julie Dier asked the public for information. Anyone with information can contact Crime Stoppers or call anonymously at 1-(800) 222-TIPS.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
I think the 2000 and 2002 shootings at the Britt home are connected. Of course, there are differences:
- The shooter in the 2000 incident fired at least 23 rounds.
- He shot at both the lower and upper levels of the home.
- Nobody was injured or killed.
But two shootings at the same residence are not a coincidence.
I feel the shooter targeted the Britts for whatever reasons. Did any of them owe money and didn’t pay up? Any altercations with anyone? Associations with gang members? There has to be a motive for the shooting. The four victims had clean records and no known affiliations with gangs or other criminal organizations.
Was there anyone who was invited to the Thanksgiving dinner but backed out? Did anyone leave the party early?
The gunman took a big chance shooting at the front of the home and at 10 p.m. when party guests might have been leaving. Why didn’t he arrive sooner? It would have been dark by around 6:30 p.m.
Whoever the gunman was, he knew there was a gathering at the Britt home. He had to know someone in that house.
Detectives have no idea if there was a targeted person or if the killer didn’t care who he shot. The latter doesn’t fit with a non-random act of violence unless the gunman never intended to kill anyone, only frighten or warn someone, like in the 2000 incident.
I found Leonard Spencer’s account strange, and it doesn’t make sense.
Spencer said the police figured he walked by the gunman when the man stepped around the corner of the house. Well, Spencer would have been heading west out of the home. His statement implies the man came from the south and walked east around the corner. But a neighbor saw the shooter running around the corner of the house southbound on L Street. So, Spencer should have been behind the shooter, not walking by him.
Now, maybe Spencer came out the back entrance of the home, then his story would make more sense.
Spencer also stated nobody was running away when he went outside. But we know the witness saw otherwise.
He also said it was dead silent, but another witness saw the Ford truck with a loud exhaust driving away on South 76th Street, a block away. So, how did Spencer not hear or see the vehicle? Also, why would you go outside if someone had been shooting? Maybe he thought the noise was firecrackers or something related.
Before you blow a gasket, I’m not saying Spencer had anything to do with the shooting. I’m attempting to make sense of his statement.
In 2002, an old brown truck with a white canopy would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Yet, no one reported seeing it other than one witness. There are definitely people protecting the gunman and getaway driver.
I tried finding Eric Britt on social media but had no luck.
Boone, Cheyenne. “Tacoma homicide detective asks public for information about 2002 Thanksgiving murders.” The News Tribune. November 3, 2022. https://www.thenewstribune.com/latest-news/article268250472.html
“Kimberly Riley & Jeremy Britt-Bayinthavong,” Unresolved Podcast, November 28, 2019.
Mulick, Stacey. “Drive-by Victim Dies, Police Search for Link.” The News Tribune, November 30, 2002.
Mulick, Stacey. “Families Face Holiday With Sadness, Resolve.” The News Tribune, November 26, 2003.
Mulick, Stacey. “Sadness Remains Six Years After Killings.” The Olympian, November 29, 2008.
Robertson, Sebastian. “Tacoma police still investigating deadly Thanksgiving Day shooting over 20 years later.” King 5 News. February 16, 2023. https://www.king5.com/article/news/crime/unsolved/thanksgiving-day-shooting-tacoma-2002/281-756c467c-11c0-4b61-9cca-7e701b66c13e
“Unsolved Homicides 2002: Victims Kimberly Riley and Jeremy Britt-Bayinthatvong,” Crime Stoppers of Tacoma/Pierce County.