‘A surreal nightmare’: Brothers slain near Sawmill were close; one was father of 5
If trees spoke, they’d have told investigators who murdered two brothers more than one year ago.
But they do not. So the case remains unsolved.
For more than a year, Faye Reagan, the wife of Matthew Reagan, has done her best to keep her mind off knowing she’ll never see her high school sweetheart again.
Thoughts and memories come roaring back when the kids go to sleep and the house in Ohio is quiet.
Where her husband once laid his head next to hers since 2008, the space is now empty. She hasn’t gotten used to the reality that her best friend of 22 years is gone.
“This is all such a surreal nightmare,” she said. “I just still can’t believe this has happened to them.”
Matthew Reagan, 39, was the father of five young boys – Lucas, 10, Joseph, 7, Patrick, 6, Michael, 4, and Noah, 2.
Faye said he called their sons “his legacy.”
“We hoped for a large family,” Faye said. “We didn’t know what God had planned for us, and we got blessed with our five sons.”
Faye remembered Matthew was either at work or at home. He was a mechanical engineer and traveled frequently. When he returned home, she remembered he always made time for his sons and her.
“He was such a family man,” she said.
Her brother-in-law, Philip Reagan, 29, was a little brother to her. After all, she met him when he was only about 7 years old.
“He was just a little boy, like our little boys, when I first met him,” Faye said. “He always had a smile on his face and was really funny.”
Planning to move
Philip, or Phil as Faye called him, accepted a job at the Montecito Sequoia Lodge, located on the Sequoia National Forest in central California, and was planning to move.
On Feb. 17, President’s Day, Philip flew out to the lodge to inquire about getting a job there. Ten days later, on Feb. 27, Faye said Phil decided he was going to give it a shot and work at the lodge for at least a year.
Matthew wanted to help his younger brother move. They originally planned to leave on March 13 but Phil was given an extra week at his old apartment, which he took so he could take his time to clean and pack.
On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, Phil had dinner with Faye and Matthew. She remembers Phil being very “anxious” about the move. It would be his first time leaving Ohio to live somewhere else.
Faye remembered the two wanted to follow Route 66 and began making plans when Phil decided to move.
Matthew found Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly while searching for places to visit. It was along the historic route, Faye said.
Matt used Google Maps, Faye said, to route their way to Spider Rock Campground, which would take them through Sawmill, Arizona.
She added Matt had been to New Mexico before and had hiked in the Cíbola National Forest.
Faye remembered they had a quiet dinner and Phil said he wanted to get on the road.
“Phil kept saying, ‘I’m jobless and homeless, I have to go,’” Faye remembered.
Before the first reported COVID-19 case occurred on the reservation, on March 13, Canyon de Chelly National Monument closed the White House Overlook and trail until further notice. Three days later, on March 16, all tribal parks on the Navajo Nation were closed.
Nationally, the Trump administration informed the public there were no limitations for travel. Then Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield said people should “go about and live their normal lives” during this time. All federal parks throughout the country remained open except for parks on the Navajo Nation.
It had snowed in Sawmill and melting snow made the dirt roads muddy and slushy. The arrival of COVID-19 on March 17, in Chilchinbeto, created a wave of fear throughout the reservation.
On the day Matt and Phil were leaving, March 20, the Navajo Department of Health issued a stay-at-home order for all residents.
Eighteen hundred miles away, Faye and her oldest son, Lucas, woke early to see them off. None knew Canyon de Chelly and the reservation was closed and visitors were not allowed until further notice.
“I hugged Phil and told him that I love him, and that we’re here if he changed his mind, if California was too much,” Faye recalled.
She remembered feeling uneasy about their trip as she watched them leave, but she thought she was only being a worrier and quickly brushed it aside. She and Matt would stay in contact by phone, text and Skype.
Faye said the two brothers had originally planned to drive to a certain destination and spend a night. Instead, about 16 hours later, Matt told her they drove straight to Shamrock, Texas.
“I Skyped with them on Friday night and they were in good spirits. They were really exhausted,” Faye said.
Matt sent a picture of them posing in front of a Conoco gas station, the garage that became part of the movie “Cars.”
“They ended their drive and he (Matt) sent that for our boys, because it’s the inspiration for the movie ‘Cars,’” she said.
The drive after crossing the New Mexico-Texas state line, according to Faye, seemed quick except for one stop at the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa. Communication became sporadic because of bad cellphone service.
Faye received a photo of a train racing through the southwestern landscape at 4:26 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. It would be the last communication she had with her husband.
As day turned to night, a nagging feeling began to eat at her. The uneasy feeling she had felt the day they left returned. She did not receive any text messages or phone calls from Matt.
She thought they were making their final push to the Spider Rock campground, and that’s why she hadn’t heard from him.
By 8:26 p.m., four hours after she got the picture of the train, her worry became overwhelming. Earlier in the day, six-year-old Patrick wanted to Skype with dad but they weren’t able to reach him.
Last seen alive
More than 1,800 miles away, according to authorities, the two men’s vehicle had gotten stuck in the mud on Navajo Route 7, more than two miles away from the Sawmill Express Convenience store.
Faye said she was later told the time they were mostly likely last seen alive – around 3 p.m. at the store on Saturday afternoon.
Her uneasy feeling would not go away. But again, she surmised she was worrying too much.
“I was like, ‘Just wait a minute, they’re probably making that last push like they did the night before, and they’re probably just getting to wherever they’re staying, and then they’re gonna call you or they’re gonna Skype,’” she said.
But it was unlike Matt not to at least send a quick message.
“I have to tell you that, at that moment, it just didn’t feel quite right,” she said. “So I waited a little bit longer because I, you know, I’m trying to be calm and critical thinking. I knew that they had wanted to go through the Navajo Nation.”
As her angst worsened in Ohio, on the reservation the two men, according to authorities, began walking back to Sawmill.
It was during this time, investigators say, the two men were shot several times about a mile away from the store.
A passerby discovered their bodies on Saturday night, authorities said.
“Around what I would say is our bedtime here, I was like, ‘OK, this is weird, I haven’t heard from them,’” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Well, maybe their phones are dead, maybe there’s no service.’ All those things.”
She called and called, she remembered, and wondered if she should call the police, the hospital or hotels in Chinle.
“I feel like everything we’ve all seen on the news says you have to wait 24 hours, but I didn’t want to be the person who freaked out and looks foolish,” she said. “Like, they’re gonna call me in 10 minutes or something. I kept saying, ‘They’re gonna call you.’”
But the call never came.
Calling every hour
Sunday morning came. Faye said she began calling “every hour on the hour” trying to get a hold of Matt or Phil. Then she went to see her parents and told her father something was wrong.
She decided to contact law enforcement in Arizona because she concluded they had gotten lost while hiking.
To add to her stress, Ohio issued stay-at-home orders for all state residents. As she was preparing to run to the grocery store, her doorbell rang.
“I walked up the stairs into our living room and I could see the two policemen through the front door windows,” she said. “At that moment, I knew something was terribly wrong. I felt that way for the whole day. I answered the door and I talked to them. They were very kind.”
Police told her Matt had been found and she needed to call the Apache County Sheriff’s Office. She asked them about Phil because she knew they wouldn’t leave each other.
From this point, Faye said her recollection of the phone call is still “fuzzy.” She does remember an investigator from the sheriff’s office telling her something she’d never imagined she’d ever hear.
“I had no idea and had not ever (thought) I would hear the words that my husband had been shot to death,” Faye said as she began to cry.
“I just hope I can paint a picture of who they were so people can understand that these two were really good guys,” she said. “They were so gentle and so kind, gentlemanly and helpful. It’s really hard not understanding what happened.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the deaths.
Anyone with information can call the FBI at 623-466-1999, the Navajo Department of Criminal Investigations at 928-871-7519, or the Apache County Sheriff’s Office at 800-352-1850. Tips can also be sent to tips.fbi.gov.