WILLMAR, MINN. – Robert Warwick and Brok Junkermeier were a familiar sight around town, a pair of teens with trouble in their pasts who often hung out together, sometimes outside the gas station where a former teammate worked.
Junkermeier was 19, a recent high school graduate with a history of petty crimes, described as someone who had been picked on occasionally in school and didn’t have a lot of friends.
Warwick, 17, had just finished his junior year at an alternative school. Friends described Robbie, as they called him, as a quiet kid who recently had gotten involved in drugs, particularly marijuana. Warwick appeared to be the leader of the group whenever he, Junkermeier and Devon Jenkins, 16, got together, they said.
Now Warwick and the two others are in custody in Kandiyohi County, with Warwick accused of instigating the break-in by his friends that led to the killing of his 79-year-old grandmother.
Lila Warwick, an active church member and volunteer, was mourned Saturday by hundreds of relatives, friends and community members at her funeral.
Cheri Ekbom, Lila Warwick’s daughter and Robbie’s aunt, said something made her think of Robbie immediately as a suspect when she heard of her mother’s killing.
“He was the first thought that came to my mind. I knew he was a hurting, angry boy. He needed some help. He was hanging with some unhealthy people,” Ekbom said.
According to police and prosecutors, Robbie Warwick was the impetus behind the plan that led to Junkermeier’s attack on the elderly woman early Monday morning while Jenkins stood watch. Junkermeier forced her to write him a check for $1,500 before choking and stabbing her to death, authorities say.
“I never would have thought him to kill somebody — God, it’s insane,” former teammate Bryce Enstad said of Junkermeier.” He never seemed like a kid who would do something like that.”
Jayline Nevarez, a former girlfriend of Warwick’s, said that when she saw the trio around town, it always seemed that Junkermeier was following Warwick’s lead.
Warwick had been featured in a story in the West Central Tribune last year that described the students making quilts at his school, the Willmar Area Learning Center.
He told the newspaper that the class, designed to improve students’ social skills and teach them about volunteering to help others, had taught him the value of “sticking through it even if you don’t like what you’re doing.”
Nevarez, who quit dating Warwick four years ago, said they had remained in touch. He had taken to using marijuana recently, she said.
“He was really nice, but I guess anything can happen,” she said.
His grandmother was trying to get Robbie help, according to Ekbom, his aunt. But police say Robbie was the one who directed Junkermeier to his grandmother’s house and gave him the access code to her garage.
An initial plan to rob Lila Warwick a week earlier was abandoned, police said, but early Monday morning, Junkermeier and Jenkins went to the Warwick home just outside town, where Junkermeier accosted her in the garage.
Junkermeier was arrested Wednesday and gave police a statement confirming many details of the crime, repeating the account he had shared a day earlier with his friend.
When investigators interviewed Jenkins, he said Junkermeier came out of the Warwick house Monday, put several items in the back seat and said he had killed “Robbie’s grandmother.”
Junkermeier, whose history of petty crimes includes theft, receiving stolen property and tampering with a motor vehicle, had few friends, Enstad said.
On Monday, just hours after Lila Warwick’s death, Aby Nevarez, Jayline’s sister, saw Junkermeier when he stopped at the town’s Burger King with his mom. She asked her former classmate what he was doing.
“ ‘Nothing, just keeping out of trouble,’ ” she said he replied.
“He was a good kid,” she added. “I don’t know what happened.”
Junkermeier’s father, Bradley, told the West Central Tribune that his family extends its “deepest, deepest sympathy, condolences to the victims, friends and family for this horrific catastrophe.”
The mourners at Redeemer Lutheran Church, where Lila Warwick had spent years worshiping and volunteering, remained in shock over the charges against the teens, especially her grandson.
Many said they were trying to focus on the generous, caring life Lila Warwick lived instead of her gruesome death. But it was hard to avoid the specter of her grandson orchestrating the assault that led to her killing.
“She was an outstanding woman, always a giver, always serving other people,” said Mary Ann Kon, a longtime friend who was in a senior citizen exercise class with Warwick. “For us widows, it’s scary.”
“She wouldn’t swat a fly,” said Brad Tallakson, a former co-worker who grew up with Lila Warwick’s son, Robbie Warwick’s father. He lives near the home where Warwick was killed and said the killing has made the whole community jumpy about burglaries.
“You just don’t expect it,” Tallakson said.