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'This is the result of bullying, plain and simple:' 22-year-old shot at Boise home dies

The family of James "Matt" Cuellar say he was shot after standing up to a man who was picking on him about his appearance.

BOISE, Idaho — A young man who was shot and critically hurt last week after an argument at a Boise home died from his injuries early Friday morning.

James "Matt" Cuellar was 22.

Cuellar's older sister, Maribel Garcia, described him as a witty, free-spirited person who never hesitated to help out those around him - "no matter what, no matter where," she said.

Police say the shooting happened in the early hours of Jan. 15, at a home on Owyhee Street in Boise’s Vista neighborhood. Garcia said her brother had been invited there by a friend for a get-together.

After he arrived, she said, an older man began picking on him and making fun of his appearance.

"My brother was born with some birth defects that caused him to look physically different," Garcia said. "My brother was sticking up for himself, and basically told that guy like 'hey you don't know me, why would you ask me those kinds of things, or even think that was OK to say to somebody?'"

Credit: Courtesy of Maribel Garcia
Jame "Matt" Cuellar at his high school graduation.

Cuellar's friends stood up for him too, she said, telling the man later identified as 31-year-old Jed Earls to leave him alone. But the argument escalated, Garcia said.

"He just pulled out a gun, and he shot my brother point-blank in the chest," she said.

Cuellar was rushed to the hospital, where doctors learned the bullet had severed his spine, leaving him in critical condition. Awakened by a "hysterical" phone call from her grandmother, Garcia sped to her brother's side.

"I didn't even think, I just jumped in my car. I remember I was going through every red light, just praying and hoping that he would be OK," she said. "I was just asking God for mercy for him, but unfortunately that's not the circumstances. He's not OK."

Although he was originally responsive, Cuellar's condition worsened over the next several days. Ultimately, doctors gave the family the news Garcia had feared.

"What makes him, him, is no longer there, and basically we have to say goodbye to him," she said.

Cuellar died at 5:34 a.m. Friday, with his sister at his bedside.

Credit: Ada County Jail
Jed Daniel Earls

Earls was arrested at the scene the morning of the shooting, and booked into the Ada County Jail on a felony charge of aggravated battery. It is unclear whether prosecutors will upgrade that charge in response to Cuellar's death. He is currently held on a $100,000 bond, and set for a preliminary hearing Jan. 26.

Garcia said she and her family are left grappling with questions about why her brother met such a violent end.

"I just want to know what was going through your head to think that harming anybody is OK?" she asked. "Why did you have to do this to my brother, my baby brother?"

Through her heartbreak, Garcia said, she hopes comes a message about holding the ones you love close - and treating one another with kindness.

"Life can change in the blink of an eye," she said. "This is the result of bullying, plain and simple. Do better. Be better."

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