The Akron teen was handcuffed with his hands behind his back in the back of a police SUV. But he was able to contort his body so that he could shoot himself in the side of the head Friday night.

That was the conclusion Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler reached Monday, based on an autopsy and an examination of the weapon used in the shooting.

Kohler ruled 17-year-old Xavier McMullen’s death a suicide from a single gunshot wound to the head, Chief Investigator Gary Guenther said.

While the cause and manner of death have been determined, questions remain about how and why McMullen had a weapon on him when he was left in the police SUV after being arrested with two other teens suspected of a robbery that occurred an hour earlier.

Capt. Daniel Zampelli, a police spokesman, said Monday that it is normal protocol for an officer to pat down and handcuff a suspect. He said suspects must be patted down before they are taken to the Summit County Jail and are checked for weapons or other contraband again at the jail.

Zampelli said which officers handled the suspects, what they did with them and what they were doing while the three suspects were in police vehicles will be part of the investigation into the shooting. He said the department will follow its procedure for investigating in-custody deaths.

Zampelli said officers called EMS as soon as they realized McMullen had shot himself.

Multiple witnesses said the teen was alone in the vehicle, Capt. Jesse Leeser, who is in charge of the police department’s detective bureau, said at a news conference Monday.

None of the six officers who were on scene were involved in the shooting and the gun used was not a police-issued weapon, Leeser said. The officers haven’t been placed on leave, Leeser said.

Leeser said it was unknown if the weapon was the same one brandished in the robbery, but it was a similar color and description to the .45-caliber weapon used in the holdup.

Leeser declined to comment when asked about whether McMullen had been patted down and to explain the department’s procedure for searching suspects before placing them in cruisers.

“This is still a continuing investigation,” he said. “These circumstances are rapidly developing. Sometimes it’s hard to place specifics on exactly what order everything should be done. What we do is we take the totality of the circumstances, we look at the whole scene, we analyze it, interview all witnesses and come to determination if it was handled correctly.”

Officers responded to the 2200 block of 10th Street Southwest about 10 p.m. for a robbery. A man and woman from Barberton said they were sitting in a van when three young men robbed them at gunpoint.

Officers got a tip that the suspects were at a nearby house on Seventh Street. They arrested McCullen and two 18-year-olds, putting each of them into the back of a different police vehicle.

As officers continued their investigation, they heard a gunshot from one of the police vehicles about 11 p.m. They found McMullen, who had been handcuffed, dead with a gun beside him.

The incident is being investigated by the Akron police, the department’s internal affairs unit, the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the medical examiner’s office.

Investigators initially couldn’t say if the shooting was a suicide or accident.

The medical examiner’s office did an autopsy Saturday and Kohler examined the weapon used in the shooting Monday. She determined that McMullen had a contact wound, meaning that he put the barrel of the .45 to his head before he fired it, and the wound margins were consistent with the weapon found in the vehicle, Guenther said.

People who are handcuffed are still able to move around, Guenther said.

Zampelli noted that McMullen was young, skinny and flexible.

Staff writer Betty Lin-Fisher contributed to this report. Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmithabj