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Boys playing with stolen guns led to murder-suicide, police say

SOUTH JORDAN — It was a tragic event that shook a community and left several families reeling with many unanswered questions nearly one year ago.

On Nov. 15, 2013, 12-year-old Taylor Wheeler and Dayton Gessell, 15, died of single gunshot wounds. The two were part of a larger group of boys in the basement of a house at 4781 W. Pine Canyon Way. Neither boy lived in the house. Three others, including two brothers who lived at the home, were also in the basement at the time — a 16-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

South Jordan police determined that Taylor was shot by Dayton, who then died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But detectives at the time said the investigation into where the guns came from, what the boys were doing or whether the initial shooting was intentional were still being investigated.

Now, after months of investigating, detectives believe the boys were playing with stolen guns and pointing them at each other when Dayton's gun accidentally fired and killed Taylor, said South Jordan police officer Sam Winkler.

"We believe that Dayton intentionally shot himself as a result of the stressful situation of what just happened," he told the Deseret News.

As part of their investigation, detectives learned that one of the other boys, the 16-year-old, stole three guns from a relative's home in Sandy. The boy was charged in 3rd District Juvenile Court with aggravated assault for pointing the guns at the other juveniles, three counts of felony theft for stealing the weapons, and aggravated burglary related to the theft of the weapons, Winkler said.

Police did not release the name of the boy, who is now 17.

The guns were reported stolen earlier that day.

After the incident, at least two of the boys from the basement ran out of the house and flagged down an off-duty West Valley police officer who lives in the area and was heading home.

An adult homeowner and another juvenile were upstairs at the time of the shootings. Winkler said no charges were filed against the homeowner, "as she was unaware of what was transpiring in the basement of the house."

What detectives do not know, and likely never will, is what, if any, plans the boys had for the guns other than playing with them in the basement.

Vigils were held for the boys shortly after the incident.

Charlé Meier described her son, Taylor, as "a smile and a hug."

Family members of Dayton wrote in his obituary, "There was always a smile on his face and a hug readily available. Dayton truly was a lover and a peacekeeper.

"Dayton could always light up a room. He always had a kind word and wisdom beyond his years."


Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam