Surveillance cameras, social media helped identify suspect in murder of Hartford teen rapper ‘YNT Juan’, records show

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An up-and-coming Hartford teen rapper found shot to death just two blocks from his North End home this summer was killed when an apparent plan to rob him of marijuana went disastrously wrong, new court records reveal.

Juan Bautista Garcia, the 17-year-old rapper who performed as YNT Juan, was found shot in the head in a Mercedes sedan on Martin Street one afternoon in early August.

The entire shooting incident was captured on city and private surveillance cameras nearby, and detectives used social media and DNA analysis to identify a teen suspect despite half-hearted attempts to conceal his identity using a pseudonym, according to an arrest warrant affidavit released this week.

Travis Johnson, 19, was arrested this week and charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He was arraigned Thursday in Superior Court in Hartford, where a judge increased his bond to $3 million and he remains in custody.

Garcia was shot just after 5:30 p.m. Aug. 8 outside 158 Martin St. and was found already dead when police arrived moments later after an alert on the city’s ShotSpotter gunshot detection system, court records show.

Footage obtained from several surveillance cameras in the area revealed two men walked from the lot of 161 Martin St. to meet Garcia, one of whom got into the front passenger side of his car, just before the shooting, records show.

The person in the front passenger seat abruptly leaves the vehicle moments later holding a firearm and fires one shot through the rear window of the Mercedes before both men run back to 161 Martin St. and speed away in a black Chevy Cobalt, the videos show.

The Mercedes rolled forward several feet and came to a rest, just as it was found when police arrived a few moments later, and Garcia never moved again.

The Cobalt was found the next morning — engulfed in flames — apparently burned intentionally, records show.

A review of Garcia’s iPhone with his family’s help revealed he had a brief Snapchat conversation with an account using the display name “Eddie Griffin” just before his death. The account user had messaged Garcia “need 2,” slang for buying drugs, and “161 Martin,” records show.

A quick social media search revealed a local Facebook account using the name “Eddie Griffin” that included photos of a man matching both Johnson and the man in the security camera footage seen firing into Garcia’s car. At least one of the photos of Johnson on that profile even included the same distinctive neon shoes the shooter wore when Garcia was shot.

Even though both accounts appeared under the display name “Eddie Griffin,” the actual usernames for both accounts were the same — johnsontravis35, police found.

Johnson himself even linked the accounts in a public April 2020 post on the Eddie Griffin Facebook page that read in part “my snap lit add me” followed by “johnstontravis35 everyone add it,” according to the affidavit.

In October, analysts also concluded Johnson’s DNA was present in samples taken from the front passenger seat area of Garcia’s car shortly after the murder.

An arrest warrant charging Johnson with murder was issued a few days later and he was finally arrested Wednesday morning when members of the U.S. Marshals Violent Fugitive Task Force and Hartford detectives took him into custody without incident, police said.

Johnson’s case will be screened for the court’s Part A docket, where the most serious cases are heard, and he is scheduled to return Nov. 18 to court.

Garcia was a rising rap artist with tens of thousands of followers on his social media platforms and a popular new music video released online just a week before his death. Friends remembered him at the time as a driven young man whose life was cut short just as he was on the verge of a professional music career.

A memorial to Garcia has been maintained outside his home at 89 Martin St. ever since his death, with candles lit every day in his memory and frequent visits from friends and fans.

The memorial itself was scarred in late September when Garcia’s friend and 16-year-old Weaver High School freshman Waldemar Santiago was gunned down near the candles in an apparent drive-by shooting. An investigation into Santiago’s death is ongoing, but no arrests have been made as of Friday and police have not said whether the two teens’ killings are connected in any way.

The capital city has recorded 31 murders so far this year and is on pace to record one of its deadliest years in decades. The city already is fast approaching the recent highs of 32 murders in all of 2015 and 33 murders in all of 2009 — with almost two full months still left on the calendar and as murders continue to spike in cities large and small across the country.

Zach Murdock can be reached at