Fatal Arson, Murder Accusations at Young Champions of America Shakes Community; Children Had Victim and Suspects as Instructors

The woman on the voice mail message didn't want to give her name. She just wanted to let the public know something about the June 14 fire at Young Champions of America in Phoenix:

Her young children have been "exposed" to something awful.

"Nothing'll shock us anymore," she says. "Tell you what, this is tough."

Her son knew Josh Robinson, a karate instructor at Young Champions, for about four years. Then Robinson was replaced for a time by Jonathan Antonucci, who was later replaced by Jeffrey Otto.

Now Robinson is dead -- burned up in the fire that destroyed the Young Champions building at 5414 South 40th Street. He helped start the blaze, cops say, along with Antonucci, Otto and another employee, 19-year-old Moniza Murillo. The latter three face charges that include first-degree murder.

Comments to our July 6 post about the crime make it clear that these four touched the lives of many children -- a July 7 report by Channel 15 (KNXV-TV) says the company's programs served an estimated 10,000 "disadvantaged children:


I loved him like family!!! Id like to say Im sorry again, I know it wont make up for what I said. I am friends with all four of them, I care about all of them, I pray for each and every one of them every night!!!

from anonymous:

My daughter was student of josh and was waiting to test for her black belt so out of consideration for the kids affected by this please leave them alone. They knew everyone involved and knew nothing so leave them alone . To karatedude92 Josh will always be my daughter sensei too and we are thinking of all of you and our prayers are with you and everyone that knew and loved the people involved in this trajic situation.

from karatemom

karatemom 1 says:
To Sensei Josh's karate students: As a parent of an advanced student , I want the advanced students to know that you ALL have made a huge difference for all the kids in class. You are an inspiration in that many of you were leading class the first week after Josh's death showed such strength and character. You all have shown that what you learned in class meant so much to you.

Anonymous says:
My son was a purple belt student in Josh's classes. He started when he was four, and will be turning nine soon (so attended for 5 years with Josh). We were late to a karate lesson in June, the weekend after the fire, and we found out rather shockingly by a YCOA member who had come to talk to the parents. Since I was late, nobody warned me before I sat down with my daughter (6 years old... also in karate 2 years) and my son what the topic was about. Both my children and myself, were shocked and horrified. I have had to do a lot of discussing with my daughter, who loved Josh, about this tragedy. However, since this has all happened, my son has dropped out of karate and doesn't wish to talk about what happened (I still encourage him to). He has no wish, nor desire to return. He is angry, and rightly so... that the instructors he looked up to and admired, chose to do a terrible thing and Josh died as an unintentional result. Those involved in the arson ignored the motto and lessons that they themselves taught to all of our children.

YCOA Parent says:
I completely understand all the frustration, confusion, and anger. I thought a Sensei leads by example. When I first heard the story I thought "one bad apple" convinced a naive kid, but four of them is too much. I don't think I want to have my kids involved with Young Champions anymore. How can I be sure the other instructors won't also negatively influence my kids? How do I know they wont brain wash my kids and convince them to do some stupid act? How do I know they won't let my kids down like Josh, Jon, or the others? They don't didn't take classes with Josh but they saw him at the tournaments. The kids see all the senseis as one team. My daughter, 7 years old, actually asked me if her sensei was going to burn down a building or if he was going to die. That was a long conversation.


I am just sick over the situation for my children. My son only started last semester with Jon, Josh would substitute sometimes, after a problem with another instructor we went to Jeff, and now this has happened. My son is holding everything back and not wanting to talk about anything, I have never known anyone that has encountered a situation this severe and I am not sure what else to say....

It appears that Otto and Murillo have posted bond:

Anonymous says:
Regardless of if Jeff and Moniza were grieving, it is odd that they chose to attend the memorial knowing what they did and that they played a part in the tragic events that occurred. I am sure real grieving took place by them...they spent a lot of time with and looked up to Josh... but attending the memorial looks bad on their part and makes many angry that they went given the circumstances. The Sensei that trained Josh and gave the wonderful speech about Josh at the memorial... deliberately did not name Jon Antonucci as Josh's first black belt student because Jon was in jail and involved in the arson. He gave that honor to Jeff, unfortunately not knowing at that time that Jeff was involved.

suzieinaz52 says:
The bottom line is all these years of soccer are gone...HOW have all the other KIDS taken this???? I thought if I told her Jon is no longer teaching, we could go to AYSO with no more questions asked. that didn't work. why switch for just a strange reason. she said she'd settle for beth.but I didn't want her to hear the whole mess, on going back.on being persistant on not switching-I told her the corp office burnt to the ground. she thought it was a big lie, there wasn't anything left but to tell her Jon was in jail. she then wanted to cut up all her shirts.she still had to look for herself... and now decided to drop out of soccer all together. I am not even aloud to mention it in her presence.


The whole thing has broken my heart! I have chosen not to tell my kids because they stopped karate. I want them to remember Josh & Jon as they were. They adored them & looked up to them. I am so sorry that they made such bad choices and that Josh lost his life! Jon will be spending the rest of his life in jail.
I have so much trouble with the other two people. I did not know them personally. I can only say that I am sickened when I think how they were at the memorial YCOA arranged. They were laughing and having a good time with their friends.


UPDATE: Click here to read our January 21, 2010 feature article about this case.