— It was just a simple sales transaction set up via Craigslist, the Internet classified ads site. The item being offered was valuable — a 1.07-carat diamond ring, with an asking price of $1,050 — but James Sanders, a trusting man, felt there was nothing to fear.
“He’s sold different things on Craigslist,” Charlene Sanders told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Tuesday from Puyallup, Wash.
Tragically, Charlene Sanders is a widow today and her husband, James, is dead. He died defending his family from four people who came to the house in response to his ad. They didn’t come to buy the ring; they came to steal it, along with anything else of value the family had.
“Our whole life has been ripped apart,” Charlene said. “We’re just trying to put it back together as best we can. It’s hard.”
Transaction turns to terror
Charlene was speaking on national television for the first time since the April 28 robbery and murder. At her side was Derek Sanders, her husband’s younger brother.
She described a terrifying scene that began with a young couple at the door and a friendly transaction, and ended in gunshots and death.
It was around 9 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and James and Charlene were upstairs in their Edgewood, Wash., home with their two sons, Jimmy, 14, and Chandler, 10, watching a movie on television.
James was expecting a couple to come about buying the diamond ring he had advertised on Craigslist. He went downstairs when they arrived to show them the ring.
The woman who came to look at the ring said she wanted it as a possible Mother’s Day present. She was accompanied by a young man. Two other male accomplices remained hidden.
James showed the couple the ring. Charlene became involved when her husband called her downstairs to answer some questions about it.
“Do you want the ring?” the young man asked the young woman.
“Yes,” she said.
Charlene told Vieira the man pulled out a wad of cash and said to James Sanders, “How’s this?”
“That’s fine,” James Sanders replied.
“Well, how about this?” the man asked as he pulled out a gun.
“That’s how it all started,” Charlene said.
Panic and violence
It was a nightmare, a blur of terror.
“I could feel rushing around. My husband and I were looking at each other, panicking, saying, ‘Just take it, take it, take anything you want,’ ” she told Vieira. “We just kept chanting it: ‘Take it.’ Then all of a sudden we’re getting zip-tied and put down on the floor in the kitchen. I could tell that people had been rushing in.”
Two more males joined the couple who initiated the robbery. Charlene said they went upstairs to bring down the two boys.
Meanwhile, robbers were screaming at James and Charlene, who were on the kitchen floor.
“I had a man come over to me with a gun to the back of my head,” Charlene said. The home invader started to count down, as if he were going to kill her, demanding to know, “Where’s the stuff? Where’s the stuff?”
“What stuff?” she said.
“Where’s the safe?” the man said.
“At one point he kicked me in the head,” Charlene told Vieira.
“I was screaming. The kids were standing there and I went, ‘Oh, please God, don’t let them kill me. Don’t let them kill my kids. Don’t let them kill me in front of my kids,’ ” Charlene said.
He died defending them
Someone pulled her wedding ring off her finger as the robbers took her husband to open the family’s safe, which was located in the garage. Charlene has said she’s not sure of the sequence of events, but she knows that Jimmy, her 14-year-old, at some point jumped on one of the robbers and got pistol-whipped. Her husband managed to break the zip ties that had bound his hands and went to Jimmy’s defense.
Charlene heard three shots from the living room. When the robbers finally left, she found James dying.
One of the boys called 911, telling the dispatcher, “My dad has been shot. Please hurry! Hurry, please! We don’t know if they’re going to come back!”
Charlene cradled her 43-year-old husband in her arms.
“I just kept saying, ‘Honey, stay with me. Stay with us. Stay with us. Don’t go. Don’t go.’ And he was just barely gasping for air, and he was all white. He was starting to get white. I saw that half his ear was shot off and I thought maybe he’s just in shock. That’s why he’s white,” Charlene said.
But he wasn’t in shock.
“He died,” Charlene said.
A father’s example
Craigslist released a statement saying violent acts related to ads on the popular site are rare. But Detective Ed Troyer, who is investigating the case for the Pierce County Sheriff’s office, warned: “If you have something nice, somebody’s going to figure out a way to take it from you. Craigslist is a tool to do that.”
Four people have been arrested in connection with the case and charged with a number of crimes, including first-degree murder. The suspects have been identified as Clabon Terrel Berniard, 23, Amanda Knight, 21, Kiyoshi Higashi, 22, and Joshua Reese, 20. Berniard turned himself in to authorities last Thursday. The other three were arrested at a traffic stop in California.
Meanwhile, the surviving Sanderses are trying to put their lives back together and make James’ death mean something.
“He’s an example of a real man, a family man, a husband and a father. He’s the type of guy a lot of people should aspire to be like,” Derek Sanders said of his older brother.
Jimmy, the boy who was pistol-whipped, has told local reporters in Washington that he will follow his father’s example.
“I will become the man my dad wanted me to be,” Jimmy said. “In time I will forgive these evil people that robbed my dad from me.”