December 5, 2023
Watch: Killers Sent Gay Victim's Family Photos of the Mutilated Corpse
Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 2 MIN.
It wasn't enough that Phoenix resident Bernardo Pantaleon was murdered for being gay; the three suspects who plotted to murder and rob him also tormented his family with photos of his mutilated body, reports say.
Pantaleon's naked corpse was discovered in a city park on Nov. 26. He had apparently been tortured, beaten, and shot to death. The body was mutilated later on, when the shooter and one of the other suspects returned to the scene of the crime.
"Days later, on Nov. 30, family members reportedly received two pictures," local news source AZFamily reported.
"Documents say one of the photos that had been posted on Instagram showed Panaleon [sic], who was already dead, and a man flipping off the camera," the account continued. "The other reportedly showed the victim's mutilated body."
AZFamily said that it was the photos that opened an avenue to cracking the case, allowing investigators to trace the images back to a social media account and, from there, uncover messages in which the three suspects, who are reportedly members of a gang, conspired to commit the crimes.
Pantaleon's family is convinced that his murder was a hate crime. That impression is bolstered by the suspects' own communications which, local news channel KPXN reported, included discussions about committing more murders.
Expressions of jubilation at the murder and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments were also found in the messages uncovered by investigators.
"In the days that followed, some gang members also reportedly made derogatory statements about Pantaleon's sexuality and made remarks that homosexuality wasn't allowed in the 'northside' while 'cheering' the death on social media," AZFamily detailed.
Three suspects in the brutal slaying are currently in custody: 21-year-olds Manual Carrasco-Calderon and Leonardo Santiago and 20-year-old Jose Rodriguez.
"All three men reportedly confessed to their involvement in Pantaleon's death and face one count of first-degree premeditated murder," the account relayed.
Santiago, the alleged shooter, reportedly claimed that the killing was in response to Pantaleon making "an unwanted advance" on Santiago that "made him uncomfortable," KPNX detailed.
Though not permitted in a number of states, the so-called "gay panic" defense is still allowed in Arizona.
Both Santiago and Carrasco-Calderon have been charged with "crimes against the dead," AZFamily noted.
"Pantaleon's family has created a GoFundMe to raise money in the aftermath of his death," The Messenger reported. "The fundraiser described Pantaleon as 'a person who was not just full of love, but the funniest, caring loving person you will come across.'"
The GoFundMe adds, "We are mourning him, as we have lost him in the most tragic way possible. He will be missed and didn't deserve to suffer the way he did."
Watch the KPNX news report here.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.