Hey, y’all. Life as a teenager should be about exploring possibilities, preparing for adulthood, and carving out your identity. It should be about living. But for 17-year-old Riley Whitelaw, this journey was abruptly and tragically cut short in the most horrific way imaginable. Riley, a bright, vivacious teen, who was busy juggling school and her job at Walgreens, fell victim to a terrifying act of violence on June 11, 2022. Her life was stolen by an older co-worker, Joshua Johnson, who apparently couldn’t handle the blow to his ego when Riley rejected his advances. A simple ‘no’ should never be a death sentence, but in this dark tale of male entitlement, it was.
The Victim: Riley Whitelaw
Riley Whitelaw, just 17 at the time of her murder, was a beacon of light, optimism, and drive, touching the hearts of all she encountered. Remembered for her compassion and positive energy, her spirit seemed to radiate across the community.
Riley was the kind of girl that was always learning, always growing, and it was contagious. She was a straight-A student across all subjects at Air Academy High School in Colorado Springs who was also on the brink of entering her senior year.
With an interest in genetics, she had big plans to carry that passion into her college studies. But her talents didn’t stop at academics – she was a creative soul, too, with a flair for drawing, strumming the guitar, and expressing herself through dance.
One of the ways her infectious spirit shone brightest was through her participation in the color guard for her school’s marching band. Riley was determined to excel in the color guard, even though she started off with zero experience.
But with that classic Riley determination, she put both feet in and threw herself into practice. True to form, her improvement was outstanding – she even landed the position of co-captain for the team that year.
The night of June 11, 2022, started out just like any other for 17-year-old Riley Whitelaw, who was on shift at the Centennial Boulevard Walgreens store in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
At some point during her shift, Riley decided to take her usual 15-minute break, casually heading toward the break room. Always known for being on time, her coworkers started to get worried when her break extended beyond the usual 15 minutes and she hadn’t returned.
Deciding to check on her, Riley’s coworkers walked into a scene straight out of a nightmare. They discovered Riley’s body in the break room, lying lifeless on the floor, surrounded by a pool of blood.
The police arrived, and an initial examination showed that she had been stabbed several times in the neck leading to her death.
The room told a horrifying story, indicating signs of a struggle with splashes of blood all over. Riley’s ID badge and her earpiece – used for communicating with coworkers – were found discarded on the floor near her. Riley Whitelaw had been brutally murdered.
When Riley’s supervisor decided to check the security tapes during the suspected time of the horrifying incident, things started to become clear.
On the screen, Joshua Johnson, a fellow Walgreens employee in his late twenties, was spotted. The footage showed Johnson setting up some boxes in a particular way, which happened to obstruct the view of the security camera focused on the break room. And it was noted that the break room windows were mysteriously blocked and a “bathroom out of order” sign was conveniently hung outside the room.
While looking for Riley, another coworker stepped out to the store’s dumpster and was met with a whiff of bleach in the air. As she tried to push open the door, a voice from inside, distinctly male, said he was in the middle of changing.
Taken aback, she scampered off to find the store manager. By the time they returned, the mysterious man had disappeared, leaving only an empty bleach bottle in the dumpster as a clue.
As the police were swarming the scene, a teen customer who had been shopping earlier that evening drove by. Spotting the flurry of police activity, she pulled over.
She recounted to the officers how, while browsing the deodorant aisle around 5:45, she had heard something that sounded like a woman’s scream and a series of stall doors slamming shut. But when all went silent afterward, she brushed it off, assuming she must have misheard.
The shocking details of Riley Whitelaw’s demise were revealed in the post-mortem examination. Conducted by the coroner’s office of El Paso County, the report stated that Riley had suffered a staggering 42 stab wounds, including ones on her face, chest, and neck.
The cuts on her arms and hands indicated a struggle, suggesting she had tried to protect herself during the attack. The weapon used was identified as a single-edged knife.
The autopsy report also mentioned trauma inflicted on Riley’s extremities, head, and torso. Following a toxicology test, it was confirmed that she had not consumed any drugs or alcohol at the time of her death.
The cause of her death was declared to be multiple stab wounds, primarily to her neck, and the manner of death was ruled as homicide.
Given his unusual behavior at the crime scene and his presence in the store, Joshua Johnson quickly became the focus of the investigation.
The police identified a person of interest: Joshua Johnson. Joshua, who worked with Riley at the Walgreens store, was taken into custody on suspicion of her murder.
The alleged perpetrator Joshua Johnson had a disturbing track record of unsettling behavior toward Riley. A whole year before the horrific incident, Riley had raised concerns about Joshua’s inappropriate conduct to her boss.
It was a particularly unnerving situation considering their age gap – Riley, a minor, and Joshua, 12 years her senior. The manager mentioned that Joshua was confronted about this issue and seemed open to backing off from Riley.
Riley took measures to avoid crossing paths with Joshua at work. She proposed a shift change to ensure they wouldn’t be working the same hours. But in the run-up to the tragic incident, Riley needed extra work hours, and this meant she inevitably had to share shifts with Joshua.
Another coworker had witnessed Johnson showing signs of jealousy when Riley’s boyfriend, Jacob Leacock, joined the Walgreens team just three months before Riley’s murder.
The police report indicated that Walgreens management was aware of the issues between Riley and Joshua. Their boss acknowledged that Riley had previously reported Joshua’s unsolicited advances that made her uncomfortable.
He also mentioned that he’d warned Joshua to maintain a professional demeanor at work, and Joshua had appeared to take the warning seriously.
The next day Joshua was picked up while he was walking down I-25 and was brought in by authorities for questioning without resistance. During this interrogation, he confirmed that he was present in the break room with Riley.
At first, he claimed to have entered the room only upon hearing Riley’s screams and suggested that he was assaulted by an unidentified man, hence the scratches on his face. He explained his change of clothes as a result of slipping in Riley’s blood while fleeing from the assailant.
Joshua Johnson was charged with one count of first-degree murder on June 12, 2022.
Could Walgreens Have Done More to Protect Riley?
Now let’s get real here. Walgreens, with its cheery slogan promising a place “at the corner of happy and healthy,” should have done more to ensure Riley Whitelaw felt safe and secure in her work environment.
Sure, the fluorescent-lit aisles are filled with convenience products, offering everything from aspirin to zit cream, but when it came to providing a basic guarantee of safety to its employees, Walgreens seriously dropped the ball.
And we’re not talking about slipping on a spilled bottle of Dr. Pepper here. We’re talking about Riley’s multiple pleas to management about her discomfort around a particular co-worker.
She was practically shouting from the rooftops for a schedule change to avoid him, yet the suits in charge chose to dismiss her concerns. In the end, she was forced to work alongside a man who allegedly couldn’t handle rejection. Where was the “happy and healthy” when Riley needed it?
This incident is a also reminder of a larger societal problem – the incel community and its troubling association with male violence. These self-identified ‘involuntary celibates’ struggle with rejection and, in the most extreme cases, turn that bitterness into horrifying actions. They can’t handle the word ‘no’, and the idea that their desires are not reciprocated sends them spiraling down into a vortex of hate and aggression.
I’m not saying that Joshua was definitely an incel, but incel forums celebrated Riley’s death, even putting the blame for her death on her shoulders.
Yes, we should be teaching our sons that it’s okay to be turned down, and no, they’re not entitled to anyone’s affection just because they’re nice or they believe that they’ve earned it.
But this isn’t just a family or school issue, this is a societal issue. It’s the responsibility of all of us – employers included – to recognize the signs, take them seriously, and do our part to ensure safety and respect for all.
So come on, Walgreens. Step up. Make “happy and healthy” a promise, not just a catchy slogan. Be a part of the solution, not a contributing factor to the problem. Our girls and women deserve better. And Riley deserved better.
So, Joshua, who’s been blamed for the murder of 17-year-old Riley Whitelaw at a Walgreens in Colorado Springs, had his trial paused. This came about because Judge Eric Bentley granted the defense team’s motion for a competency evaluation. And this was just 17 days before Joshua’s trial was about to kick off.
This request for an evaluation came from Joshua’s own legal team. They had been interacting with Joshua, now 29, and something felt off to them. The other side, the prosecutors believe the move was a delay play.
We’re not privy to all the ins and outs because they’re under lock and key, but Judge Bentley decided the request seemed fair, so he gave the go-ahead for the evaluation. This meant delaying the trial that was meant to start on May 8.
Fast-forward to May 19. This is the new date they’ve put on the calendar for a hearing, expecting by then they’ll have the results of the evaluation. If Joshua is found to be in the clear mentally and agrees with that assessment, they’ll go ahead and pencil in a new trial date. But if he’s deemed unfit, he’ll be sent off to the Department of Human Services to get his mental game up to speed.
At a hearing on May 19, 2023, Joshua was declared fit to stand trial. Even though Joshua was deemed fit, his legal team didn’t agree with the evaluation results and requested a second evaluation. Surprisingly, the judge agreed to their request.
As of this writing, a new trial date has not been set.
The Riley I. Whitelaw Memorial Scholarship Fund
Riley’s family is channeling their grief into a purposeful project: setting up a scholarship fund in her honor. The goal is to provide the first scholarship to a student from Riley’s graduating class.
This is about highlighting the positive, outweighing the negative, just as Riley would have wanted. Every day that Riley’s family faces without her, they find strength in knowing that their actions are in line with what Riley would have expected of them.
The Riley I. Whitelaw Memorial Scholarship Fund is all set up now and officially recognized as a nonprofit. All contributions go directly to the fund and are tax-deductible, a small incentive for potential donors.
The collected funds will be used for scholarship purposes and, if the collected amount allows, for supporting genetic research – a field that particularly interested Riley, especially DNA analysis.
To qualify for these scholarships, candidates should exhibit good academic standing, engagement in school and community activities, a solid work ethic, and, most importantly, they should embody Riley’s kind and empathetic nature. The application process is being fine-tuned, and more details will be released soon.
Riley’s story forces us to confront some harsh realities. One of these is the potential danger women face in rejecting men. This is not to say that every rejection will lead to tragic outcomes like Riley’s, but it highlights a societal issue that we need to address. No one should fear for their safety because they chose to say no.
Riley had expressed discomfort about her co-worker to the management at Walgreens. The question then arises – could Walgreens have done more to ensure the safety of their employees? Should they have taken Riley’s discomfort more seriously? These are important questions that the management at Walgreens and other corporations need to ponder. Safety measures at workplaces need to be stringent and non-negotiable.
While we grapple with these tough issues, it’s crucial not to lose sight of who Riley was – an inspiring, kind, and driven young woman. Her legacy is being carried forward in the form of a scholarship fund, a beacon of hope in the wake of a tragedy. The fund not only embodies Riley’s dreams and passions but also signifies a concrete step toward positive change.
As we remember Riley, we must strive for a world where such violent acts are unheard of, a world that’s safer for everyone. And in doing so, we can ensure that the darkness of her untimely death does not overshadow the light she brought into the world. The pursuit of justice for victims like Riley is where we begin to create a better, safer world.