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Suspect arrested in January shooting death in east Las Vegas

Updated May 22, 2019 - 1:42 pm

From more than 1,900 miles away, Candace Nelson has spent months trying to piece together her son’s last moments.

“It’s horrible. It’s heinous. It’s so sad,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Thursday. “And to be so far away …”

On Jan. 25, Eric Nelson, 28, lay alone and bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds on a sidewalk on the 1100 block of Newport Street for at least a half-hour before someone called 911.

By then it was too late.

Las Vegas police have said the first gunshot was heard as early as 7:40 a.m., but the first and only 911 call reporting the shooting came at 8:11 a.m., when a person driving through the neighborhood saw Nelson on the sidewalk.

Since then, Candace Nelson, who lives in Grand Ledge, Michigan, where her son had grown up, said she has been tirelessly searching for answers. She has spoken to dozens of her son’s friends and regularly calls the detectives working on the case for updates.

Some answers finally surfaced last week after the Metropolitan Police Department arrested Eric Nelson’s friend, 25-year-old Mateo Marcos Diaz-Ibarra, on one count of murder. Denied bail, he remained in custody at the Clark County Detention Center as of Saturday, records show. His preliminary hearing is set for May 29.

But one question continues to eat away at Candace Nelson: Why?

“Under no circumstance is there any justification for my son to be murdered,” she said.

Diaz-Ibarra’s arrest report, obtained by the Review-Journal on Thursday, details Metro’s monthslong effort to link the suspect to the killing, but nowhere does the nine-page report outline why Eric Nelson was shot to death by his own friend.

‘Quick to anger’

When police arrived that January morning in the neighborhood near East Washington Avenue and North Pecos Road, they found four Remington .45-caliber casings, according to his arrest report.

Other than those casings, in the early stages of the investigation, the report shows, police had little to go on. There were no witnesses to the shooting, and Eric Nelson did not live in the neighborhood.

But the next day, police heard from a friend of both Eric Nelson and Diaz-Ibarra.

“(He) said when he learned Eric had been shot in that neighborhood, he needed to come forward and tell police about Diaz-Ibarra,” the report said.

He told police that Diaz-Ibarra, who “is erratic, quick to anger and often carries a firearm,” lived nearby and was known to purchase drugs from a house in the neighborhood where Eric Nelson had been killed.

After that interview, police obtained Diaz-Ibarra’s cellphone records and video surveillance near the scene. They also interviewed more mutual friends and even Diaz-Ibarra’s mother, who persuaded her son to call the detectives.

On March 20, police interviewed Diaz-Ibarra for the first time.

The report shows Diaz-Ibarra offered investigators information that later helped show probable cause for his arrest: He admitted to recently buying a .40-caliber handgun from Discount Firearms and Ammo, confirmed he was friends with Eric Nelson and identified both his phone number and his vehicle as a red pickup, the same one seen in video surveillance from the morning of the killing.

With this information, detectives then presented him with his cellphone records, which placed him near Washington and Pecos between 7:37 a.m. and 7:41 a.m. on Jan. 25.

At that point, Diaz-Ibarra stopped talking.

After the interview, investigators pulled receipts from Discount Firearms showing that on Dec. 30, Diaz-Ibarra had bought a .45-caliber Remington along with 20 rounds. The head stamp on those casings matched those found next to Eric Nelson’s body, according to the report.

Another receipt showed that, on the same day of the shooting, he bought a .40-caliber handgun.

“Your affiant knows through investigative experience and training that subjects who commit violent acts with firearms will often get rid of the weapon and seek a new one in an attempt to separate themselves from the weapon used in a previous crime,” detectives wrote.

‘He wanted opportunity’

Eric Nelson’s body was returned to Michigan after his autopsy. And his mother keeps his ashes close by at all times.

“That way I know he’s safe with me,” she said.

Until his memorial service, she hadn’t seen her son since 2015, when he moved to Las Vegas.

“He wanted the big lights, big city. He wanted opportunity,” Candace Nelson said, noting that her son had dreamed of one day making it big as a rapper. “But I wish people in Vegas knew the real Eric.”

According to Raquel Martinez, who had been friends with Candace Nelson’s son since middle school, the “real Eric” was “a caring, nice, charismatic and loving person.”

“I want people to know that Eric wasn’t the type to be out running the streets or involved with gangs or any stupid stereotype that people might try to attach him to since he is yet another young black male that was murdered,” she said. “Eric had a magnetic personality that just drew people to him and was always a genuine person.”

With dozens of Eric Nelson’s friends and his brothers, Candace Nelson said she will continue to follow the case closely, though she is nearly 2,000 miles away.

“He was 28. But in my eyes, I see my baby, my first born, my little baseball player,” she said. “That’s what people don’t take into consideration when they kill someone.”

He leaves behind his four younger brothers, Aaron, Adrian, Evan and Adam, and “so many friends” who loved him, his mom said.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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