FARGO — A phone number found in 20-year-old Gabriel Perez’s bedroom by his uncle was what led police to his alleged killer, according to court records.
Perez was shot early Sunday morning, Sept. 23, by a man who drove up to him while he sat on the curb outside of the McDonald’s restaurant on Main Avenue.
By Monday night, police had arrested Miguel Jay Cooley Sr., 44, in southeast Minnesota and prosecutors here charged him with murder.
Investigators said the motive was jealousy. The phone number belonged to Cooley’s wife, Isabella.
Cooley, who lives in Moorhead, was found at a home near Rochester, Minn., and a SWAT team arrested him, according to Fargo police. He appears to not have had any other criminal run-ins with the law in Minnesota or North Dakota, according to court records.
A bus driver for First Transit, which has the contract with Fargo-Moorhead’s Metro Area Transit, Cooley has been put on administrative leave, according to a company spokesperson.
Court records did not list an attorney for Cooley, who was being held Wednesday in Mower County Jail in Austin, Minn.
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The earliest lead police had was the dark Chevrolet Trailblazer with distinctive stickers seen in surveillance video from McDonald’s. Moorhead police found the vehicle and called Fargo police, who noted a .45 caliber bullet casing in front of the windshield and stickers someone had tried to remove.
At about the same time, Fargo police received a tip from Louis Perez. Gabriel Perez’s uncle told them he had found the number and spoken with a woman on the other end.
According to court records, the uncle said the woman blamed herself for Perez’s death, but hinted that a man close to her had pulled the trigger
“Through the investigation, detectives learned that Miguel Cooley Sr. may have become jealous over a relationship Gabriel Perez had with Isabella Cooley,” detectives reported without elaborating on the relationship. Court documents did not indicate whether they spoke with her.
Detectives reported speaking with juveniles from Moorhead and West Fargo, who were present when Cooley Sr. told another person “I shot him” and “He was sitting on the curb when I shot him.” The juveniles also heard Cooley Sr. talking with his sons about removing the stickers from a vehicle.
Police learned from Morgan Cooley, one of Cooley Sr.’s sons, that his dad had woken him about 7 a.m. Sunday - this would be about 1.5 hours after Perez’s shooting - and told him that he, Cooley Sr., had shot and killed Perez.
News of Cooley Sr.’s arrest has shocked his friends.
“I have known Miguel for about 20 years now. Not once have I ever seen him angry at another person or a single thing,” Ethan Boyle wrote on Cooley Sr.’s Facebook wall. “Makes you wonder what the other guy did.”
“I grew up with Miguel, nicest guy EVER!” Delmer Youngbird wrote. “He would give the shirt off his back, something caused him to snap, thinks the world of his family.”
According to his Facebook profile, Cooley Sr. is a husband and father of seven: “2 beautiful daughters and 5 handsome boys.” In between posts about mixed martial arts - he had once been a fighter - and cooking, he would post memes boasting of his wife’s beauty.
Their marriage appears to have been on the rocks earlier in March, when he announced he was moving out because they were planning to divorce. But by July, he had moved back in.
Sunday - the day Perez was shot - seemed like any other day for Cooley Sr., judging by his Facebook page. He posted many memes starting early in the morning. One post, from just an hour before the shooting, stated “Beaded crown,” alluding to someone stealing a crown one of his daughters appears to use in an American Indian pageant.
Late in the morning, he began posting again, sharing a friend’s post about the evils of drugs and a video of helicopter gunships firing their guns en masse.
Ross Torgerson with Forum News Service contributed to this story.