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Combat veteran murdered in East El Paso was starting a new life, registering for college

Murder victim Tyler Kaden Croke
Murder victim Tyler Kaden Croke
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Five people have been arrested in the stabbing death of a 23-year-old man at an east El Paso apartment. Tyler Kaden Croke, 23, was found dead May 7 at an apartment at Cantera Apartments on Lomaland Drive.

El Paso and Las Cruces police arrested five people in connection with Croke’s death, police said.

El Paso police said Croke died from stab wounds to his neck.

Tristan Chilton, 21, of Socorro, Texas; Stephanie Fernandez, 28, of Socorro, Texas; and Brandon Olsen, 27, of Las Cruces, N.M., were arrested by El Paso police officers.

Zachary Johnston, 20, and Adam Acosta, 19, both from Fort Bliss, were arrested in Las Cruces. They are awaiting extradition to El Paso.

The suspects planned on stealing drugs from Croke, court documents said.

According to the documents, a woman who lives at the apartment complex told investigators that she heard a man pleading for his life.

When officers arrived, they knocked on the door but no one answered. Officers entered the apartment to find Croke dead and naked inside the apartment.

The day the murder happened, a neighbor told CBS4 he saw several people get in a car and leave the scene.

Investigators recovered surveillance footage at the apartment complex and identified the getaway vehicle as a black Nissan Xterra that had an Eskimo Hut sticker on the rear windshield, court documents said.

That vehicle was spotted in Socorro by investigators and was stopped on several traffic violations. Chilton was the driver. Fernandez was found lying down in the rear passenger seat, according to court documents.

Chilton admitted to his involvement in the murder by telling investigators he held Croke’s legs down while Johnston and Olson wrestled him to the ground that night, court documents said.

Chilton said Acosta showed up with a shotgun and that’s how he and the other suspects made their way into Croke’s apartment.

Chilton said Johnston stabbed Croke in the neck with a knife. Olson then continued stabbing him as he tried to crawl away, killing him, according to court documents.

All suspects then left the apartment and got into the vehicle driven by Fernandez.

Fernandez told police that she and the four men had planned to steal drugs from Croke.

Ft. Bliss officials confirm to us that Brandon Olsen is an active Ft. Bliss soldier while Johnston and Acosta were no longer active soldiers at the time of their arrest.

Croke’s friends spoke to CBS4 but did not want to be identified. They say Croke was a father and a combat veteran. They say they recently signed up for college classes and doing so without Croke was hard.

“It was rough. There’s a lot of stuff like that that has been happening over the past few weeks that we are supposed to be doing together. Worrying about getting our place, getting into college, moving up here. All of this was supposed to be us doing it together.”

"He was working on getting out of the military. He came back from Afghanistan. He was a combat veteran from over there."

His friends said they want Croke to be remembered for more than just his murder.

“He’s very caring, giving, full of energy. Especially considering everything he had been through. He really just wanted to try and make the best of his situation, and I know he was really looking forward to moving on from that part of his life and moving onto the next chapter,” one friend said.

Another friend said, “No matter how many problems he had, he would always jump in and try to help you with yours before he would worry about his. He was a really good guy. Pretty much always in a great mood and full of energy! We’d go out to shows and it’d be the entire night, the second we walked in, he’d just start laughing and dancing and just having a great time and letting loose.”

Croke's friends said they were living in fear before the arrests.

“Checking over our shoulder. We didn’t know who it was that did it or exactly why,” they said.

His friends said Croke was working on turning his life around.

“The sacrifices he made for his country, for him to come back and still be working on making his life better. It’s incredible,” they said. “He really did sacrifice a lot and go through a lot, and for him to come back and still be such a positive person, and so giving and understanding and still want to move forward. He was really just one of the realest, most genuine people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I will spend the rest of my life missing Tyler.”

His friends said Croke was discharged from the military the Thursday before the murder.

“I would really like if I could tell his family that he had never forgotten about them. He always was looking to make his life better for them,” friends said.

All five were charged with capital murder. Fernandez was additionally charged with possession of methamphetamine, cocaine and four traffic warrants.

Police said they are continuing their investigation.

Croke's body was transported to Virginia for the funeral with his family. His friends said people in El Paso who want to remember his life can leave notes for him by clicking this link:

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