When police in Henderson, Nevada, pulled over a Mercedes full of teenagers allegedly driving recklessly last Friday, they never suspected the routine traffic stop would turn into a murder investigation.
After learning the car was suspected to be stolen, however, police took the group of teens in for questioning, authorities say.
That’s when one of them, 17-year-old Kody Harlan, revealed he had witnessed a murder earlier that day.
According to Officer Scott Williams, a Henderson police spokesman, Harlan allegedly told investigators that Matthew Minkler, also 17, had been shot by friend Jaiden Caruso, 16, at a party in what he called a game of Russian roulette gone wrong.
Williams tells PEOPLE that Harlan led investigators to an abandoned house where Minkler’s body was found stuffed in a downstairs closet. The boy had been covered with a plastic sheet with the words “f— Matt” written on the closet door.
Authorities believe Minkler death was no accident and that the boys he considered to be his friends had planned to kill him all along, Williams says.
“Clearly they were out to get him. They had ill feelings toward him,” Williams says, noting that he believes the Russian roulette storyline was a coverup.
Hours after Minkler was killed, Caruso and Harlan allegedly returned to the home to clean up the scene and hide evidence, with Harlan dragging Minkler’s body downstairs to the closet where it was later found, Williams says.
“This case will stick with the detectives just because of the coldness and the callousness of the boys,” he tells PEOPLE.
Both Caruso and Harlan are being charged as adults by the Clark County District Attorney’s Office, with Caruso facing counts of murder with a deadly weapon and robbery while Harlan is accused of of accessory to murder after the fact, destroying evidence and robbery, Williams says.
It is unclear whether Caruso or Harlan have retained attorneys or have entered pleas.
“They’re so unrepentant on this and they just don’t seem very remorseful,” Williams says, “and what’s haunting and chilling about this case is that they’re just kids.”
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Videos that were shared by the suspects give insight into the moments before and after the alleged murder, Williams tells PEOPLE.
The shooting did indeed occur during a party at the abandoned house, as Harlan had allegedly described, Williams says. It is unknown how many teens attended the event but drugs are believed to have been involved.
In one of the videos, which were recovered from Caruso’s cell phone, the teen can be heard after the slaying saying, “Bro, I just caught a body,” using slang for killing someone, according to police.
In another clip, Caruso is seen attempting to wash his shoes while a second person — who is out of frame — asks what to do with the body, authorities say.
Between Minkler’s slaying and Caruso’s arrest, Caruso allegedly used money taken from the dead boy’s wallet to buy himself a new pair of shoes, Williams says. When confronted by police, Caruso allegedly initially denied being involved before admitting to being at the party and being high on Xanax when Matthew was shot.
It is unclear who the Mercedes belongs to, Williams says. The suspected murder weapon, which was later found in the vehicle, was also stolen.
Police say the teens were taking a joy ride when they were pulled over later Friday night, after Minkler was killed.
“It’s really bizarre,” Williams says. “It sounds like a video game, and it is truly tragic because they were friends and we don’t know what the reasoning was. But clearly it appears there was some bad blood.”
A Mother Mourning
Speaking to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Minkler’s’s mother, Jamie Shanklin, says she never believed her son’s death was an accident and that the gathering at the abandoned home was a setup.
“Jaiden had a beef’ with my son,” Shanklin told the paper. “Jaiden never told him. He pretended they were friends.”
Shanklin recalled that on the day of her son’s death, as he left his Las Vegas home to meet his friends, he said, “Tell mom I love her.”
“He was a good kid and had a kind soul,” Shanklin said. “He didn’t even know how much he touched the world.”
As of Friday, a GoFundMe page started by Matthew’s family has raised more than $9,000.
“We are beyond devastated and hurting more than imaginable,” a relative wrote on the page. “We will never get to see that beautiful smile or get those loving Matt hugs that just brighten our days.”
Officer Williams tells PEOPLE he expects additional charges to be filed against Harlan and Caruso.
On Wednesday night, a third teen — who has not been named because he has not been charged as an adult — was arrested in the case, according to the Review-Journal. He faces charges “along the lines” of destruction of evidence and accessory to murder.
Anyone else who was at the party is urged to contact police at 702-267-5000.
“They may feel nervous that they’re facing charges, but they’re not the ones that pulled the trigger and that’s why its important for them to help the case and — more importantly — clear their conscience,” Williams says.
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