A Jeannette teenager fatally shot a 16-year-old classmate in the face and took a picture with the body, which police used to charge him with the killing, according to court papers.
Maxwell Marion Morton, 16, is being held without bail in the Westmoreland County juvenile detention center on charges of first-degree murder, homicide and possession of a firearm by a minor in connection with the death of Ryan Mangan.
Morton, who was arraigned Friday, is charged as an adult.
Mangan's mother found him Wednesday in their Rankin Avenue home. He had been shot once in the face, authorities said.
Police said the photo they received shows Mangan as he was found at the crime scene.
A selfie of a suspect with a dead victim is a first for county District Attorney John Peck, who has been a prosecutor for more than 30 years.
“I've never seen it before,” Peck said, “but it was a key piece of evidence that led investigators to the defendant.”
Police said Morton sent the selfie by using SnapChat, an application for smartphones that allows users to send photo messages that disappear from the recipient's phone within a few seconds. But the boy who received the photo saved it before the message deleted itself, according to a police affidavit to support the charges. The recipient's mother contacted Westmoreland County 911. Attempts to reach the woman Saturday were not successful.
Morton confessed to killing Mangan after police searched his home Friday and found a 9 mm handgun hidden under the basement steps, according to the affidavit.
Investigators found a discharged 9 mm casing in Mangan's bedroom, Peck said.
“They haven't had time to match it ballistically,” he said.
Roy Hall, coach of the Jeannette High School football team, where Morton played “off and on” and wore No. 33 as a running back, said he was shocked by the news.
“I'm shocked about the whole thing. It's hard to believe,” Hall said.
Morton is a junior at Jeannette High, as was Mangan.
“(Police) received a copy of the photo which depicted the victim sitting in the chair with a gunshot wound to the face,” a police affidavit states. “It also depicts a black male taking the ‘selfie,' with his face facing the camera and the victim behind the actor. The photo had the name ‘Maxwell' across the top.”
Morton also allegedly sent text messages that read, “Told you I cleaned up the shells,” and “Ryan was not the last one.”
Investigators around the world have used social media posts to link suspects to crimes. In some cases, thieves have taken selfies with phones or other devices they have stolen, not realizing the photos automatically upload to the owners' accounts. In other cases, police found photos that criminals took of themselves during or shortly after committing crimes.
“This is really a question about criminal pathology rather than technology,” said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and a psychology and social media instructor at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif. “Perpetrators in need of validating their power and sense of self-importance have used all kinds of communications to ‘brag' about criminal activities — from the local hangout to social media, like Facebook.”
Rutledge made her comments in general, saying she did not know enough about the situation in Jeannette to address it specifically.
Police plan to examine the phone used by Morton for any other evidence and are continuing to look into a motive for the shooting, Peck said.
A man in Morton's Ridge Avenue home identified himself as the suspect's father and began to talk about his son's questioning by police, but he stopped abruptly when someone from inside the home slammed the door.
No one answered at Mangan's home a few blocks away. Neighbors declined to comment.
Laurie Malik, whose son and Mangan were best friends, said she never knew about Morton being in trouble.
“His name's never out there for being bad. I'm shocked,” she said.
Malik said she initially thought the shooting might have been an accident.
“I'm sick to my stomach, like when I found out he was killed,” she said. “My heart's broken for everybody.”
Mangan worked in the McDonald's store in Hempfield Plaza.
“I just think it's an unfortunate tragedy,” manager Louisa Payne said.
Counselors will be on hand to talk to students Monday in the high school. Hall plans to meet with football players to discuss what happened.
“I'll stress: If you have problems, there's always someone to talk to,” Hall said.
Mangan's funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Monday in Sacred Heart Church, 504 Cowan Ave., Jeannette, with the Rev. Paul A. Lisik as celebrant. Mangan will be laid to rest during a private interment in Sacred Heart Cemetery.
A preliminary hearing for Morton is scheduled for Feb. 19.
Staff writers Mike Wereschagin and Kristie Linden contributed to this story. Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.