DUNEDIN — Four teens spent a night drinking beer, smoking synthetic marijuana and playing with a gun. By the end of the night, one of them was dead.
Wednesday evening, 17-year-old Michael Wayne Parker III shot and killed 18-year-old Justin Blake Cleveland at his home in Dunedin, according to investigators.
Parker put a gun to Cleveland's head and pulled the trigger, not realizing it was loaded, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Parker was arrested Friday morning at 2971 Estancia Blvd., Unit 328, a complex off U.S. 19 in Clearwater's Countryside area. He was charged with manslaughter and was taken to the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.
"These kids were all on the wrong track," said Gualtieri, who shared these details about the shooting at a press conference on Friday:
Early Wednesday, two of the teens bought the gun, a 9mm Ruger handgun, and ammunition from a 16-year-old Dunedin boy in exchange for $125 worth of marijuana. One of the teens, Devan Reed, told investigators he wanted the gun for security, Gualtieri said.
Later on Wednesday, all four teens met up at Cleveland's house at 654 Union St, on the southern edge of Dunedin, Gualtieri said. They were smoking marijuana and K-2, a synthetic marijuana, and drinking beer. And they started to play with the gun, taking turns loading it, unloading it and "dry firing" it at themselves and each other, he said.
Parker took the Ruger and put the magazine back in it. He then racked the gun and removed the magazine. Unfamiliar with guns, he didn't know that a round was in the chamber.
Cleveland was sitting at a table and Parker put the gun to his forehead. The two were bantering back and forth and Parker pulled the trigger, killing Cleveland, Gualtieri said.
After the shooting, all three teens took off. One rode off on his bicycle. Parker and Reed got in a car and drove north on Alt. U.S. 19 to Pasco County. They ended up near Darlington Road and Baden Drive in Holiday, where they threw the gun into a pond, he said.
After that, they headed back to Pinellas and Reed dropped Parker off at the WingHouse, where Parker's girlfriend works. They talked about the shooting and Parker convinced Reed not to tell anyone.
But after Reed went home, he started to have second thoughts. He told his father about the shooting. And about 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, Reed, 18, called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to tell deputies what happened.
Patrol deputies met Reed at Cleveland's house, a small peach-colored duplex.
"They found the victim, Justin Cleveland sitting in the chair, with a marijuana pipe in one hand, a beer in the other, and shot in the forehead," Gualtieri said.
On Friday, detectives found Parker at the home of his girlfriend's grandmother. He initially hid in a bedroom, but authorities were able to convince him to surrender. And a sheriff's dive team found a gun in the pond where the Ruger was dumped, just west of U.S. 19 in Holiday.
Gualtieri said Parker had been arrested in December for shooting into an occupied dwelling, his own home. He also faced a grand theft charge in the past and apparently had an unstable home life.
"Nobody has any idea where his mom is. And his dad apparently left a while ago and went to Colorado. And he's a transient at 17 and he just kind of goes around and stays with people," Gualtieri said.
Gualtieri said some people say that marijuana is innocuous. But from a law enforcement standpoint it's not.
Neither is synthetic marijuana, he said. Those that manufacture and market it are irresponsible, because they tinker with the formulas to sidestep prosecution and they market them as potpourri and incense.
"There's not one 16- or 17-year-old kid that's buying these substances to make their room smell better. They're buying it to get high," Gualtieri said. "And when that happens, we end up with tragic consequences, where we've got a 17-year-old that's been charged with the killing of an 18-year-old."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155. Go to tampabay.com/letters to write a letter to the editor.