UPDATE: Police arrested Izetta Cooley on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at her Moorhead home. Four of Cooley’s children were also found in the home, and they were placed in the care of Clay County Social Services, police said.
One 16-year-old child police were looking for was not located, police said.
FARGO — Gabriel Perez’s relationship with Miguel Cooley Sr., the man charged in his murder, was complicated.
But it wasn’t what police detectives portrayed in court records, Cooley’s wife Izetta told The Forum in an exclusive interview.
Prosecutors allege Cooley shot Perez early on Sept. 23 outside the McDonald’s on Fargo’s Main Avenue because he was jealous of a relationship the 20-year-old Perez had with his wife.
But there was no affair, said Izetta Cooley, who now has a warrant for her arrest on allegations she illegally took her kids from a foster home after she lost custody of them.
Cooley Sr. had allowed Perez, a friend of their oldest son, to stay with the family off and on in their Moorhead home when Perez was homeless, she told The Forum last week before allegedly absconding with her kids.
Her husband became angry with Perez after recently learning of Perez’s interactions with some of the couple’s family members, she said.
The Forum couldn’t corroborate the alleged interactions and is not describing them in detail.
Perez’s grandfather, Luis Perez Sr., said that neither the alleged affair with Izetta Cooley nor the alleged interactions with family members rang true. He said he believes Cooley Sr. was jealous because Izetta Cooley manipulated him to think that.
Cooley Sr. is jailed in Mower County in Austin, Minn., near where he was arrested Sept. 24. Izetta Cooley is still on the run with five of her children, two of whom, according to police, she removed from the home of her brother-in-law in Mower County on Saturday, Sept. 29, after Clay County social workers put them there.
Gabriel Perez and his brother Carlos ran in the same circles as some of the Cooley children but were primarily friends with Miguel Cooley Jr., said Izetta Cooley. She didn’t quite approve and neither did her husband, who sometimes would bear hug his oldest son to stop him from going to hang out with his friends.
But when the family learned last fall that Perez was “living in the trees” as temperatures fell, her husband at the urging of some of the children decided Perez could stay in their home. “I was really not comfortable with it,” Izetta said. “But it wasn’t my choice at the end. It was Miguel that felt bad for him.”
Her husband was a kind-hearted person who took care of not just his children but other people’s, she said. He was always giving Perez and his brother rides when they asked, she said.
Perez, she said, stayed with the family off and on but she hadn’t seen him for months.
Luis Perez Sr. said his grandson stayed with him in the past, but not for long. “We always helped him a lot. The only thing is he wanted to be on his own all the time.”
He said his grandson was, as friends have described him, a happy-go-lucky character. The boy was always loving and respectful to him, he said, though he added that he didn’t know everything. “Your kids are your kids in front of you. You can say they’re the best kids, but out of your house they are who they are. They’re really who they want to be.”
The woman on the other line
After Gabriel Perez was killed, his uncle, Luis Perez Jr., found a phone number in his room. It was Izetta Cooley’s number.
Police said the uncle called and spoke with a despairing woman who blamed herself for the shooting. Detectives eventually connected the phone number to Izetta Cooley, who is named in court documents as Isabella.
The messages between Izetta and Gabriel Perez, she said, were mostly him bothering her with disrespectful words.
Izetta Cooley said she still doesn’t believe her husband could have killed Perez. He’s always been too even-keeled, she said.
A day after she spoke with The Forum, a Clay County judge gave county social workers the authority to place two of the youngest children with their aunt and uncle in Mower County. On Saturday, the uncle told police Izetta entered his home with some of her older children and took the two youngest with them.
The Forum attempted to learn why Izetta Cooley lost custody of the children, but didn’t immediately hear back from Clay County Social Services or the county attorney’s office.
Police describe the vehicle she was traveling in as a black Suzuki XL-7 with Minnesota license plates 103WJC. She’s been charged with kidnapping and violating a custody order from the court.