Tevin Geike graduated early from Stall High School so he could follow in the footsteps of family members and join the Army to serve his country.

Now, three fellow soldiers from the same Washington State military base where Geike was stationed are accused of killing the 20-year-old Summerville man during a random confrontation on the street early Saturday.

The Lakewood (Wash.) Police Department is still investigating a motive for the stabbing that claimed Geike’s life, but authorities said it no longer appears that race was a factor in the killing, as early reports suggested.

Arrested and booked for murder are soldiers Jeremiah Hill, 23; Cedarium Johnson, 21; and Ajoni Runnion-Bareford, 21, police said Monday. Investigators described Hill as the “main suspect” in the case.

The men, who were booked into the Pierce County (Wash.) Jail Monday morning, were stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the same installation where Geike was assigned to a combat aviation unit, authorities said.

Two other suspects, also soldiers stationed at the base, are said to be cooperating with police.

Geike joined the U.S. Army after graduating in 2010 from Stall High in North Charleston. News of his death was a blow to students and staff in the school’s ROTC program.

Lt. Col. Lonnie Ford, senior instructor with the program, described Geike as a shy, unassuming and hard-working student who excelled in school and long had a plan to join the Army. Geike had relatives in the service and wanted to follow their example. He liked the assertive, disciplined nature of the military and the opportunity it afforded for travel, he said.

Geike was so intent on enlisting, he amassed enough credits to graduate early, Ford said. He stayed in touch with Ford after graduating, and passed along the good news that he had fallen in love and had a child, he said.

“He was just a good kid, a hard-working kid who was willing to put his life on the line to protect his country,” he said. “He had a lot of self-discipline and he enjoyed the ever-changing world of the military.”

Initial reports stated that someone inside a passing car shouted a racial comment toward Geike and two other white soldiers as they were walking along Pacific Highway in a largely industrial area of Lakewood, a major suburb of Tacoma that is home to about 60,000 people. Authorities said the soldiers shouted something back, and a group of five black men from the car stopped and surrounded the soldiers. During the confrontation, Geike was stabbed.

Detectives caught a break in the case Sunday afternoon when a military sergeant called and said he had learned information from a soldier about who might be responsible for Geike’s death.

Police gave the following account of how the case unraveled:

The soldier told his sergeant that another man in his unit, Jeremiah Hill, had asked for first aid for a knife wound on his right hand on Saturday afternoon. The soldier stated that Hill told him he cut his hand when he stabbed a guy to death over the weekend.

The soldier didn’t believe him initially, but then told his sergeant about what he’d heard. The sergeant confronted Hill, who insisted he had cut his hand while chopping vegetables. After Hill was taken to an area hospital for treatment, he told medical workers he sliced his hand cutting parachute cord.

Another soldier, 21, cooperated with investigators and admitted he was at the scene of the crime. He told detectives he was in a vehicle with four of his friends driving on Pacific Highway when words were exchanged between them and some men walking on the street.

He told officers he and his friends stopped to talk to the men, but nothing happened once they discovered they were all active-duty soldiers.

As he and his friends returned to the car, one man — Hill — appeared to “bear hug” Geike and pushed him to the ground.

The soldier told police that Hill was covered in blood when he got into the car and they discovered he had stabbed Geike and cut himself in the process. The group drove off and disposed of the knife.

Another cooperating suspect, a 19-year-old soldier, corroborated that account.

Detectives attempted to interview Hill, but he declined to make a statement and asked for a lawyer.

Investigators have seized the car the men were riding in Saturday, and “multiple items of evidence” were found during a search of barracks rooms, police said.

Geike was assigned to the 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, 7th Infantry Division.

According to unit records, Geike entered the Army in October 2010 and received his basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia. He underwent additional training at Fort Rucker, Ala. before arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in April 2011.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.