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Steven Mineo lived for 13 years in an almost entirely online world. Most of his social contact came through message boards, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos as he became devoted to an online cult that warned of alien reptiles invading the world in the guise of human celebrities and politicians.
On July 15, 2017, he was killed in one of the most bizarre cases Pennsylvania law enforcement had ever seen, according to “Deadly Cults” on Oxygen.
Mineo's girlfriend, Barbara Rogers, made the 911 call at 2:38 a.m., Pocono Mountain Regional Police Detective John Bohrman told producers.
First, she told police that her boyfriend had grabbed her hand and made her hold the .45 caliber pistol, and that he had pulled the trigger. Then, she said that she pulled the trigger — at her boyfriend's urging.
“It didn't look like a suicide,” Bohrman said, noting that Mineo was seated on the floor, and the gun appeared to have been pressed directly into his forehead when it was fired.
Detectives told Rogers that her story wasn't making sense. She admitted to holding the gun and pulling the trigger — but that Mineo begged her to do it.
Then, she started explaining what Bohrman called the “weird stuff.” Detectives were about to be introduced to the world of alien reptiles, a new world order conspiracy, and online fanaticism — which Rogers insisted had something to do with her boyfriend's death.
As a teenager, Mineo was withdrawn, but his social isolation took on a new dimension when he became a devotee of Sherry Shriner. A podcaster, YouTuber, and blogger, Shriner posed as a prophet, blessed with secret knowledge of an impending apocalypse. With a devoted online base of thousands, she mostly resembled a cult leader, police said.
Mineo's mother, Donna, didn't see her son for years — she had fled alleged abuse by her husband when Steven was 16, she told producers. She kept tabs on her son, however, through Facebook, commenting on his posts and photos.
When he started talking about the end of the world, aliens, and lizards, she became concerned.
“It was religion, but it was also bizarre,” Donna said.
Shriner claimed to be a granddaughter of the Biblical King David and that a substance called orgone could be used to kill the zombies and reptilian aliens of the “New World Order” attempting to take over the world, the Daily Beast reported.
As law enforcement, including Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Kroeckel, looked into Shriner's world, they found that she had 19 websites, as well as a radio show and her YouTube pages. Shriner told her followers that reptilians wearing skin suits were coming to kill them. It was all part of a plan.
Shriner also despised Jews, referring to them as “Satan's offspring” and claiming they were in league with the reptilians, the New Republic reported.
“It was almost overwhelming, like going down a rabbit hole,” Kroeckel told producers.
Shriner took an interest in Mineo, acting almost like a surrogate mother figure, according to “Deadly Cults.” Even though they never met in person — Shriner kept her personal details secret — he began building blogs for her, and she counseled him.
Sometime in 2011, Mineo and Rogers found each other online through their shared interest in Shriner's ideology. Rogers was Mineo's first girlfriend, she told producers.
They decided to move to the Pocono Mountain area of Pennsylvania after courting online and rented a small studio in Tobyhanna, where they spent all their time online and lived as “hermits,” law enforcement said. Their relationship, odd as it was, worked for them.
“I loved him with all my heart,” Rogers told producers.
Things began to fall apart in April 2017, when Rogers posted a photo of steak tartare with minced garlic on Facebook and shared her love for the dish. Shriner almost immediately attacked Mineo's girlfriend as a “witch,” alleging on one of her social platforms that the picture depicted raw meat beside a pile of “feces” — something common with “Satanist groups,” Shriner alleged.
“What Christian girl goes around ingesting raw hamburger meat?” she posted.
Mineo was troubled by the accusations of Shriner, and he called a trusted friend, who was into Biblical prophecy, and asked her flat-out if she thought Rogers was a reptilian.
“Of course not,” Laurie Alexander replied, also telling producers that Mineo was clearly suffering a “crisis of faith.”
That crisis of faith deepened as Shriner's community took her side and allegedly came after Mineo and Rogers en masse with threatening Facebook posts and messages. Mineo decided to post his own material “exposing” Shriner, calling her followers “mentally sick,” the Daily Beast reported.
The threats that ensued ranged from bizarre to seriously concerning: Followers threatened to drink Rogers' blood or feed her to their “queen,” and eventually sent Mineo and Rogers photos of their home.
Rogers urged Mineo to disengage from the computer, but that's where his whole life was built, she told producers.
On the day of Mineo's death, he had been drawn into an online feud with two of Shriner's followers, according to Rogers. She took her boyfriend to a local pub to unwind, and they stayed until close.
When they returned home, Mineo took out his Glock handgun, put it into Rogers' hands, knelt to the floor, and guided it to his forehead, she told police.
“I tried talking him out of it,” she said. “I begged him to get up.”
Mineo, still deeply religious even as he shed the reptilian ideology, believed strongly that he would go to hell if he died by suicide, so he ordered Rogers to pull the trigger for him. She did.
When police arrested her for murder at the end of her interview, her demeanor didn't change at all, Bohrman told producers.
Kroecker felt there was more to be investigated in the case, so he reached out to Shriner by email. He was surprised that she wrote back, agreeing to speak in person, he told producers.
She died of a heart attack, however, before the meeting could take place. Shriner's daughter has since taken over her online empire, according to “Deadly Cults.”
In March 2019, Rogers, then 44, went to trial. A jury was unconvinced that she intended to kill her boyfriend, but they found her guilty of third-degree murder. She was later sentenced to 15 to 44 years in prison.
Rogers insisted that she still loves Mineo and said she hopes her case serves as a warning for the cult-curious.
“Be careful what you decide to believe in,” she told producers.
For more on Steven Mineo's murder and the beliefs of Sherry Shriner's alien reptile cult, watch “Deadly Cults” at Oxygen.com. New episodes air Sundays at 7/6c.
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