Claes was at a party in March where Tommy Miller allegedly showed off a chrome pistol to former classmates from Tustin High School, several classmates recalled. When an older youth at the party talked of getting out of a gang, Claes said the opposite, according to a former classmate of Tommy Miller's who asked not to be identified.
"He said what he wanted to do was get into gangs," said the youth whose younger brother went to school with Claes. "It sounded really dumb."
Others said Claes was a regular kid who liked baseball cards, roller hockey and paint ball shooting. But the youngster was developing a tougher attitude, friends said.
"Carl was always trying to find new friends. He was always trying to be cool," said one teen-ager.
All three suspects attended the Tustin branch of the county's Horizon Education Center, said school officials, who have declined to release their school records, saying they are confidential.
The 17-year-old suspect liked to skateboard, play the guitar and drums and draw, his cousin said. He worked at a local Marie Callender's restaurant but quit recently, she said.
Griffin said her cousin told other family members that Tommy Miller gave him the gun the day after Claes was killed and told him to sell it. She said he also gave her cousin Claes' pager. But the 17-year-old has insisted he knew nothing of the slaying at that time, Griffin said.
As Griffin removed her cousin's belongings from the Miller home and garage in the 13400 block of Woodland Avenue in Tustin, Thomas Miller and the suspects' grandmother remained inside. They declined to speak to reporters.
Records show that Thomas Miller and Dawn Marie Miller, both from Chicago, were married for four years before divorcing in 1981. On Dec. 28, 1983, they remarried and remained together for nine months before divorcing again, according to divorce records.
Dawn Miller alleged in court documents that her son returned home with a cigarette burn mark on his face after a 1985 visit to his father. Tommy Miller's younger brother had a cut on his face, she claimed.
She contended the children were evasive when she asked them about the injuries and indicated in court documents that she believed they were caused by her former husband, divorce records show.
On another occasion, Dawn Marie Miller said her former husband broke into her home and began fighting with her, striking her in the eye, she contended in court documents.
In court documents, Thomas Miller contended he had never beaten either of his children and said the burn on his older son's face was accidentally caused when the child "ran into a cigarette" the father had in his hand, records show.
Superior Court documents show that Thomas Miller has been arrested twice.
On Dec. 12, 1984, while under a restraining order to stay away from his wife, he was arrested for beating, kicking and stabbing her in their Tustin home, apparently over a dispute about the restraining order, according to court documents.
He later pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to a 130-day jail term and three years probation.
Little more than a year later, on Dec. 14, 1985, Thomas Miller was arrested again by Tustin police for violating a second restraining order and was ordered to spend another 36 days in jail.
Times staff writers Susan Marquez Owen and H.G. Reza also contributed to this article.