Tempe police charge homicide suspect Caleb Bartels without being in custody

Posted at 7:02 PM, Jan 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 18:14:26-05

Students at Mesa High School returned to classes Tuesday, their first day on campus after a three-day weekend when math teacher Ryne Zahner was shot and killed in his backyard.

"It's just surprising that somebody would take someone's life that was so meaningful to not just myself but everybody at Mesa High," said Abby Ramosmet. Students wore purple in honor of Zahner, who was part of a club dedicated to helping freshmen feel welcome on campus.

"It was really fun. He was the spirit of the club and pretty much the only reason people would go," Ramosmet said.

Zahner's sister echoed that sentiment, saying she would miss her brother's contagious smile and ability to make anyone laugh.

Police have identified 25-year-old Caleb Bartels as the suspect responsible for Zahner's death, and since identifying him took steps to have him charged with robbery, assault and premeditated murder despite not being in custody.

According to court paperwork, Zahner and Bartels know each other. Officials say the two were roommates at one point, and also got into a physical fight.

The night he was killed, authorities say Zahner was in his backyard after a friend built a fire. Someone entered the yard with a gun and told the two to put their hands up. The suspect fired 3-4 shots, hitting Zahner several times in the torso.

The friend told police he grabbed the barrel of the gun and began to fight with the attacker before running away to call 911.

Authorities said Bartels was charged without being in custody so a warrant could be issued for his arrest that would show up should another law enforcement agency come into contact with him. Previously, he has been questioned in connection with incidents in Utah and Nevada, according to court records.

In an update Tuesday night, Tempe police said Bartels might have left the state bound for Sacramento, CA, Reno, NV or Beaverton, OR.

Bartels is described as 5' 10" tall and 165 pounds, with brown hair and green eyes. He is believed to be driving a 2007 silver Pontiac Grand Prix with license plate BSK8972. Tempe police said he is to be considered armed and dangerous, and anyone who knows his location or sees Bartles should call police at 480-350-8311 or Silent Witness at 480-WITNESS.

Mesa High officials said a vigil will be held on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the school in Zahner's memory.