Update: Drug fueled ‘Russian Roulette’ leads to St. George fatal shooting, murder charge

We are conducting a press briefing for the homicide which occurred yesterday afternoon.

Posted by St. George (Utah) Police Department on Thursday, August 15, 2019

ST. GEORGE, Utah, Aug. 15, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — A man has been charged with murder in the shooting death of an acquaintance in St. George after he reportedly fired a gun in an impromptu game of Russian Roulette.

Police responded to an apartment at 252 N. 2700 East about 6:50 p.m. Wednesday on a report of shots fired, and transported the victim, 18-year-old Skyler Armstrong, to a hospital, where he later died.

Nicanor Vasquez-Mendoza, 31, was arrested early Thursday morning on suspicion of:

  • Murder, a first-degree felony
  • Distribution/offer/arrange distribution of a controlled substance, a second-degree felony
  • Purchase, transfer, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony
  • Purchase, transfer, possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person, a third-degree felony
  • Five counts of tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony
  • Aggravated assault, a third-degree felony
  • Use or possession of drug paraphernalia, a class B misdemeanor
  • Carrying a dangerous weapon while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, a class B misdemeanor

Vasquez-Mendoza’s bail has been set at $500,000.

Arrested with Vasquez-Mendoza was his girlfriend, 26-year-old Silvia G. Lopez, who was booked into jail on five counts of alleged witness tampering.

Police confirmed later that Vasquez-Mendoza and Lopez were residents at the house where the shooting happened.

A probable cause statement filed in the case says that the person who reported shots fired believed Armstrong was wounded, but did not want to check on him. Another person at the scene checked on Armstrong and reported he was still breathing.

“When officers arrived on scene, one of the officers observed a gray Nissan Titan pickup rapidly pull away from the residence,” the statement says.

“The officer stopped the pickup and made contact with the driver Nicanor Mendoza.

“Nicanor was told to go back to the residence, and followed by the officer back to the scene.

“Nicanor advised the officer he witnessed Skyler shoot himself. He also said he was prohibited from being near firearms, so he fled the scene,” the statement said.

Responding officers made their way into the residence and “observed what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the left temple of Skylers head,” the statement says.

“Medical staff arrived shortly after officers and transported Skyler to the hospital. Medical staff at the hospital advised Skyler was not going to survive the wound and was being kept alive with a ventilator until family could come say their goodbyes.”

Armstrong’s mother spoke with investigators and told them her son was right handed. The information figured prominently in spurring Mendoza’s arrest.

“The bullet entrance was on the left side of the head inconsistent with what hand would likely be used to fire the gun,” the statement says. “The injuries on Skyler are not consistent with a contact shot. It lacked evidence that is usually observed when a gunshot is self-inflicted.”

In addition, no gun was found on scene, also inconsistent with a suicide.

Detectives identified three juveniles and one adult, Vasquez-Mendoza, as the people in the room when the shot was fired. Additional people were at the residence, but not in the room, the statement says.

One witness said Vasquez-Mendoza was smoking meth while in the bedroom.

The group was talking about guns, the witness said, and indicated that Vasquez-Mendoza removed a pistol from his pocket.

“Nicanor removed all the bullets from the revolver and put one back in,” the statement says. “Nicanor spun the cylinder to put the bullet in an unknown firing location and closed the cylinder. Nicanor pointed the gun at the ground and pressed the trigger.

The gun did not fire.

Nicanor pointed the firearm at one of Skyler’s friends (a juvenile). The friend stated he was afraid he was going to be shot.

“Nicanor pointed the gun at Skyler and pressed the trigger again. The gun went off shooting Skyler in the head.”

A witness said Lopez told others in the house that “when they get asked what happened, they need to tell the police they were looking at their phones and didn’t see anything. They were told to tell officers Skyler shot himself in the head. Sylvia Lopez advised Nicanor told her to tell Skyler’s friends what to tell the police.”

The pipe Vasquez-Mendoza had was placed on the bedroom dresser, and witnesses were told to tell police they were at the residence to record music.

“A makeshift recording studio is inside the bedroom and may contain recordings around when the incident occurred. A while after making the initial statements, two of the friends changed their statements. They provided statements that Nicanor shot Skyler. Sylvia Lopez was questioned and stated Nicanor was in the bedroom with Skyler and his friends when the shot was fired.”

Detectives found a .38 caliber revolver covered in blood and wrapped in a shirt in a bathroom next to the bedroom, the statement said. “It contained one spent bullet casing and no other bullets. The investigator entered the room Skyler was shot.”

The blood spatter pattern suggested Armstrong was probably flat on the floor when shot, and was moved to a seated position against the speaker before officers arrived.

A search warrant was issued for Velasquez-Mendoza’s truck, and officers found gunshot residue and meth paraphernalia containing a white powdery residue consistent with methamphetamine, the probable cause statement says. A purchase receipt for the bloody gun was found in the suspect’s wallet.

Also found in the truck was about an ounce of what is believed to be meth, and an AR-15 rifle with the serial number missing and apparently “machined off,” the statement said.

“Nicanor admitted to investigators that when Skyler was shot, he grabbed his meth and rifle. Nicanor put them in the truck and left the scene.”



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