HENDERSON, Nev. — Matthew Minkler thought he was among friends when he was shot in the face last week during what Nevada police investigators have called a “modified” game of Russian roulette.
Two of those friends, Jaiden Caruso and Kody Harlan, are accused of shooting the 17-year-old and leaving him mortally wounded in an abandoned house in Henderson, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. They returned a short time later to clean up the scene and drag his plastic-covered body into a closet, police said.
Caruso, 16, and Harlan, 17, have been charged as adults. Caruso, who investigators said pulled the trigger, is charged with murder with a deadly weapon and robbery. Harlan, who is accused of dragging Minkler’s body into the closet, is charged with accessory to murder after the fact, destroying evidence and robbery.
The newspaper reported Friday that a third teen has been charged in the case. The boy, who is currently charged as a minor, faces charges of accessory to murder and destroying evidence.
Investigators are seeking to have him tried as an adult as well, according to Henderson police spokesman Scott Williams.
Williams told the Review-Journal Wednesday that the case “shocked the conscience” of the entire department.
"This one will stick with you because it's so sinister," Williams said.
Henderson investigators continue to investigate the involvement of other teens they believe were at the scene when the shooting took place. No one, including Caruso and Harlan, reported that Minkler had been shot.
“They never called 911,” investigators wrote in the probable cause affidavit for the teens’ arrest. “They never attempted to render aid.”
The Las Vegas Sun reported that Caruso and Harlan were arrested the night of June 8 after they took Henderson officers on a short pursuit in a stolen Mercedes and crashed the car.
Officers said they found a .375-caliber revolver in the car, with one spent casing in the gun’s chamber. Minkler’s stolen wallet was also in the car, officers said.
It wasn't long before Harlan, whose Facebook profile picture appears to show him pointing a handgun at the camera, began talking about the slaying that afternoon in an abandoned house on Cool Lilac Avenue.
The Sun reported that Harlan told detectives he, Minkler, Caruso and others had gone to the abandoned home, where he said Caruso pulled out a revolver and suggested the group play Russian roulette. The deadly game is played with a single bullet loaded into a revolver, after which point the gun's cylinder is spun so no one knows where the loaded chamber is. Participants take turns pointing the gun to their own heads and pulling the trigger.
Harlan told investigators Caruso never handed the gun over to the other participants.
"(Caruso) never allowed other participants to handle the firearm, or pull the trigger themselves, but rather, (Caruso) was the only person who pointed the gun and pulled the trigger," court documents said, according to the Sun.
Caruso’s own cellphone corroborated parts of Harlan’s story, the newspaper reported. One Snapchat video shot just before 1 p.m. on the day of the shooting appears to show Caruso in the abandoned house, showing the revolver and the single bullet in the cylinder.
In the next video, shot at 2:44 p.m., Caruso is seen speaking into the camera, saying, "Bro, I just caught a body," the Sun reported. He pans the camera to the kitchen floor, where Minkler lay bleeding.
A video shot six minutes later shows Caruso "calmly" walking to the kitchen sink and wetting his hands to clean blood off his sneakers as a voice off-camera asks what to do with Minkler's body, the Review-Journal reported.
Police said Caruso later used $300 taken from Minkler's wallet, which Harlan told investigators he grabbed before they fled the scene, to replace his shoes, the newspaper reported. The rest of the cash they allegedly stole from the victim was used to buy drugs, police officials said.
Arrest reports said that Caruso, who initially blamed the shooting on someone else, “broke down and admitted his involvement” when confronted with the videos. He told investigators the shooting was an accident and that he was high on Xanax when it took place.
Minkler's mother, Jamie Shanklin, told the Review-Journal the cash that was stolen from her son was money he had received for his recent birthday.
“He cared more about his shoes,” a weeping Shanklin said of Caruso.
The heartbroken mother said she does not believe the Russian roulette story.
"My kid was shot in the chin, like they were shutting him up," Shanklin told the newspaper.
She said she believes that Caruso had a “beef” with her son and pretended to be his friend to get close to him.
“(Matt) would have never gotten into the car with them if he knew,” she said.
Minkler's Facebook page was that of a typical teenage boy, but his last post on May 30 indicated he was lonely.
"I don't get asked to hang out no more," Minkler wrote. "I don't get any more texts from ANYBODY just to at least say, 'What's up?' I have people on here that don't even want to talk to me anymore. The list can go on and on."
The love family and friends poured out to him on the post turned to anguish after his death.
"Matthew, you (were) truly a sweet boy," wrote one girl who said she'd known him since elementary school. "I can't believe you're gone. May you rest in peace and finally know how much you are loved."
Minkler’s kindergarten teacher also offered her condolences.
"What a wonderful, full-of-life child," Elizabeth Ann Pesco wrote. "Full of curiosity about everything. Rest in peace, dear one."
Shanklin described her son, who was set to start his senior year in the fall, as a good child with a kind soul. She said his last words as he left home Friday afternoon were to tell his siblings, “Tell Mom I love her.”
"I've been mourning for days, and now I feel my anger," Shanklin told the Review-Journal Wednesday as she planned her son's funeral. "My baby never came home."
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