A western Pennsylvania teenager has been charged with homicide and firearms offenses after he uploaded an image to the Snapchat messaging service of himself posing with the dead body of a classmate he allegedly shot and killed.
According to a report in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Reuters, and others, 16-year-old Maxwell Marion Morton of Jeanette, Pennsylvania, has been arraigned on charges of first-degree murder, criminal homicide, and unlawful possession of a firearm in connection with the shooting death of Ryan Mangan, a 16-year-old classmate.
Mangan's body was discovered by his mother in their home on February 4. He had been shot once in the face.
The death led to the swift arrest of Morton, pictured above, after police obtained a digital photo of the youth posing with the deceased at the crime scene; the body was pictured in the same state in which it was found by investigators. The photo showed Morton's full face and reportedly had the name "Maxwell" across the top.
Morton posted the photo to Snapchat, a mobile chat service launched on the premise that photos shared with it would only be viewable for a predetermined brief stretch of time, after which they would self-destruct.
Snapchat was forced to revise its initial terms and conditions, however, after a legal tussle with the US Federal Trade Commission over its privacy claims. In 2013, the company admitted that there are ways for law enforcement to retrieve images from its service even after their senders assume they have been deleted.
No such behind-the-scenes data retrieval was necessary in Morton's case, however. The recipient of the image in which Morton posed with Mangan's body saved it to his phone before Snapchat could erase it. When his mother discovered it on the device, she contacted police.
When questioned, Morton reportedly confessed to the killing.
In addition to the Snapchat selfie, Morton's phone also logged text messages in which he allegedly said "Ryan was not the last one" and "Told you I cleaned up the shells."
He evidently hadn't, though. Police who investigated the crime scene found a single 9mm shell casing but have yet to compare it ballistically with a handgun retrieved from under Morton's basement steps.
Because of the severity of the offense, Morton, although a minor, has been charged as an adult. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 19. ®