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Gay Teen's Murder Goes Viral on TikTok; was His Death a Hate Crime?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday April 26, 2021
Originally published on April 26, 2021

Jason Pepper
Jason Pepper  (Source:Screencap/KREM)

19-year-old Jason Fox was killed last Sept. 14, and four men are charged with his murder. At least one of the suspects appears in nude photos online, and text message threads show a history of threats.

There's also a number of reports Jason filed with the police in which he alleges intimidation and property damage by two of the suspects.

But police have not confirmed what his mother, Pepper Fox, suspects: That the teen was killed for being gay, Inlander.com reports.

Pepper Fox claims in a TikTok video that her son's death was a crime of homophobic violence.

"This is my attempt to get ahold of Ellen Degeneres and Lady Gaga" in order to gain attention for her son's slaying, Pepper says in her video.

Her video was reposted by social media influencer Josh Helfgott, an "LGBTQ+ advocate with more than 3.3 million TikTok fans," Inlander said.

"I'm not Gaga, but you want your son's story to go viral, and I think I can help," Helfgott says.

"I'm a boy with lesbian mom's who's gay himself, and I felt like if this happened to me, I know that I would want my story shared," Helfgott said, news channel KREM reports.

Pepper's theory went viral after Helgott's reposting of her video, and has "garnered more than 1 million likes," Inlander notes. "The hashtag #justiceforjasonfox has nearly 13 million views overall, and Pepper's own TikTok profile has taken off as well."

"Pepper says she has evidence proving her son was killed because he's gay, but law enforcement in Pend Oreille County remains hesitant to say his sexuality was the reason he was killed," the article says.

The teen texted mere hours before his death that he had reservations about meeting up with friends for fear that one of the suspects,Riley Hllestad, would also be there. In his text to Claude Merritt, - who is also one of the four suspects in the case - Jason asked, "ur place and is it fr ["for real"] not Riley?"

Added Jason: "Like I fr wanna kick it, I just ain't down for drama."

In the end, Jason decided to go ahead and attend the gathering at Timber River Ranch. Inlander recalls that "Jason was killed that night, and his body was found weeks later buried in a shallow grave at the ranch."

The article identifies the four suspects in Jason's killing as "Hillestad, Merritt, Matthew Raddatz-Freeman and Kevin Belding," and cites heated messages between Jason and Raddatz-Freeman. Pepper claims that evidence pointing to her son's death being a bias killing can be found in Jason's iCloud account. Inlander reports that police have been granted a warrant to access that account.

"There's a lot of gay men who either grew up in rural areas or their parents rejected them after they came out as gay," Pepper told the outlet. "He could have been them."

Pepper helped "lead a Pride parade in Newport earlier this month in honor of her son," the article said.

Watch the KREM news clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.