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Deaths of two boys in South Jordan ruled a murder-suicide

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 3:12 p.m. MDT

Taylor Wheeler, 12, was shot by 15-year-old Dayton Gessell (not pictured) in a South Jordan home on Nov. 15. Gessell then shot and killed himself. Police have not explained the circumstances surrounding the murder-suicide. (Family photo) Taylor Wheeler, 12, was shot by 15-year-old Dayton Gessell (not pictured) in a South Jordan home on Nov. 15. Gessell then shot and killed himself. Police have not explained the circumstances surrounding the murder-suicide. (Family photo)

SOUTH JORDAN — Two young boys found dead in the basement of a home in the Daybreak neighborhood a week ago died in a murder-suicide, police said Friday.

An autopsy determined that Taylor Wheeler, 12, died of a single gunshot wound and Dayton Gessell, 15, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

But what South Jordan police still could not answer Friday, was whether the shooting of Taylor was an intentional act.

"At this point we don't know if it was intentional or accidental, that's part of the investigative process," said South Jordan Police Sgt. Sam Winkler.

Taylor and Dayton were found dead inside a home at 4781 W. Pine Canyon Way on the evening of Nov. 15. Neither boy lived in the house. Three teens, including two brothers who live at the home, were also in the basement at the time — a 16-year-old and two 14-year-olds.

Dayton Gessell, 15, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he shot and killed Taylor Wheeler, 12, (not pictured) on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, police confirmed Friday. Police have not said whether the initial shooting was an accident or intentional. (Family photo) Dayton Gessell, 15, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he shot and killed Taylor Wheeler, 12, (not pictured) on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, police confirmed Friday. Police have not said whether the initial shooting was an accident or intentional. (Family photo)

Several times during a Friday press conference, Winkler declined to answer questions, referring to the case as "ongoing" and a "very active investigation." He said the final medical examiner's report, the toxicology report, ballistics report and more interviews were still needed before the case can be closed.

Three guns were recovered from the house. Winkler said the guns had been reported as stolen that day. One of the weapons was used in both shootings. Winkler declined to say where the guns were stolen from.

"That's part of the investigative process," he said.

Questions about why the boys had the guns or what they planned to do with them were also still being investigated Friday.

An adult homeowner and another juvenile were upstairs at the time of the shootings. 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.

Friends family and community members gather Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, for a candlelight vigil at Firmont Park in Daybreak, to remember Dayton Gessell, 15, and Taylor Wheeler, 12. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Friends family and community members gather Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, for a candlelight vigil at Firmont Park in Daybreak, to remember Dayton Gessell, 15, and Taylor Wheeler, 12. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Winkler said no charges had been filed in the case nor has it been officially reviewed with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Immediately following the discovery of the dead boys, the 16-year-old and two 14-year-olds were taken to the South Jordan Police Department and "processed," meaning that police took fingerprints, photographs and swabs for DNA samples as part of the investigation. None of them were arrested or booked into juvenile detention.

The older boy was interviewed, but Winkler declined to say Friday whether the two 14-year-olds had been interviewed yet.

South Jordan Police Sgt. Samuel Winkler speaks during a press conference in South Jordan on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Taylor Wheeler, 12, died of a single gunshot wound and Dayton Gessell, 15, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a murder-suicide in a South Jordan home on Friday, Nov. 15. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) South Jordan Police Sgt. Samuel Winkler speaks during a press conference in South Jordan on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Taylor Wheeler, 12, died of a single gunshot wound and Dayton Gessell, 15, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a murder-suicide in a South Jordan home on Friday, Nov. 15. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

According to Dayton's obituary, a celebration of his life will be held Saturday at Redwood Memorial Mortuary, 6500 S. Redwood Road, at 2 p.m. A fund has been set up at Mountain America Credit Union under Dayton's name.

"There was always a smile on his face and a hug readily available. Dayton truly was a lover and a peace keeper," his family wrote in the obituary. "Dayton could always light up a room. He always had a kind word and wisdom beyond his years."

At a vigil on Sunday, Charlé Meier described her son Taylor as "a smile and a hug."

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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