Before the 911 call and the police investigation, before the shocking headlines and his girlfriend’s guilty plea to second-degree manslaughter, Pedro Ruiz III, an aspiring YouTube star in rural Minnesota, spent considerable time persuading Monalisa Perez to fire a bullet at his chest.
There would be a hardcover encyclopedia between the muzzle and his body, authorities say the 22-year-old told Perez. The pages, he reasoned, would stop the bullet and grant them fame.
But it didn’t work.
Perez, who was pregnant at the time, pulled the trigger that day in late June — shooting and killing Ruiz, according to the Star Tribune. He was declared dead in the house, with the couple’s 3-year-old not far away.
Perez, now 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter last week and will serve 180 days in jail. The plea agreement states that Perez will serve her sentence in three 30-day stints staggered over the next three years; assuming she has not had any probation violations, she may be able to serve the remaining 90 days through electronic home monitoring. She will also be put on supervised probation for 10 years.
An attorney for Perez could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
It was a Monday evening in June when the couple set up two cameras outside their home in Minnesota and prepared for social media stardom.
“Me and Pedro are probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever,” Perez teased on Twitter at about 5 p.m. June 26.
“HIS idea, not mine,” she insisted.
It had been three months since the young couple added their vlog, La MonaLisa, to YouTube, where they posted clips of their daily lives and their young daughter. They lived in Halstad, Minn., a tiny town on the North Dakota border between Grand Forks and Fargo. Episodes featured shots from their home, the car or at the doctor’s office, which is where Perez revealed in May that she was pregnant with a boy.
Their shtick, though, was pulling minor pranks: coating doughnuts with baby powder instead of powdered sugar, feigning paralysis from a grocery store wheelchair, hiding hot peppers on an egg salad sandwich.
The bullet and book stunt was supposed to be their big moment.
“I said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it,’ ” Ruiz’s aunt, Claudia Ruiz, told her nephew when he shared his idea, according to Valley News Live. “Why are you going to use a gun? Why?”
His response, she said, was simple: “Because, we want more viewers.”
With one camera attached to a ladder and the other propped on the back of a car, the couple staged their stunt, according to authorities.
Ruiz held the book to his chest. Perez held the gun, a gold Desert Eagle .50-caliber pistol considered “one of the most powerful semiautomatic handguns in the world.”
From a foot away, court documents say, Perez pulled the trigger.
But the bullet didn’t stop in the book as Ruiz had hoped; instead, it pierced him in the chest. Medics tried to revive him, police said, but Ruiz was declared dead at the scene.
“They were in love. They loved each other,” Claudia Ruiz, the aunt, told Valley News Live in June. “It was just a prank gone wrong. It shouldn’t have happened like this. It shouldn’t have happened at all.”
Neighbors told ABC affiliate WDAY that they watched as the tragic scene unfolded. “Everyone was crying,” one neighbor, Wayne Cameron, told the station. “I was standing behind that tree over there. And that was it. I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I had to go back home.”
When Perez called 911 at 6:30 p.m., she told dispatchers the shooting was accidental and explained the YouTube plan.
Later, according to court documents, she said that her boyfriend had been trying to persuade her to shoot the book “for a while” and that she had finally relented. She told them about another book Ruiz had shot — one that had blocked the bullet — and she described the gun she used.
Perez was first arrested on a charge of reckless discharge of a gun, but that charge was later upgraded to second-degree manslaughter. She faced a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars. As part of the recent plea agreement, Perez will be “banned from possessing firearms for the remainder of her life” and making “any financial compensation” from the incident.
She is also required to pay restitution for the costs of her boyfriend’s funeral, which was held four days after his death.
“Pedro Ruiz III, 22, Halstad, Minn., died Monday, June 26, 2017, at his home from an accident,” his obituary read. The obituary noted that Ruiz had met Perez in 2012 and that they had fallen in love, then had their first child, Aaliyah, in 2014 and were expecting their second child in September.
“He loved his family time, being one of the most important things he valued. Just hanging out and sharing meals with family and watching movies,” the obituary said. “Pedro also loved music. It was everything to him, when he was happy, mad, sad, he would turn on his music for relaxation. He always said his peace was driving and listening to music.”
It added: “Everyone that knew him, knew that he never hesitated to try something new, always pushing things to their limits.”