As the summer stumbles on and monsoon rains finally shower a water-hungry land, New Mexico’s largest city continues to grapple with chaos, corruption and callousness. So far, July has been a rough month in the Duke City.
On July 2, passerby discovered a hand protruding from the ground on the city’s West Side. According to local media outlet KOB, medical investigators later identified the body that was dug out as belonging to Patricia Platero, a 49-year-old from the Navajo Nation who had been officially reported missing in May.
Platero was the aunt of members of the Plateros, a hot Native American blues-rock band. A posting on the group’s Facebook page recalls Patricia Plateros’ own musical talents and her stint with a family band back in the late 1970s and the 1980s. Patricia Platero “was so proud of her nephews, she loved them so much, we love you Pat,” the posting reads.
The Plateros’ Facebook page asks readers interested in helping with funeral expenses to donate to the memorial account in the name of Patricia Platero at any Wells Fargo branch.
During a good part of the afternoon of July 8 a section of the city’s troubled Southeast Heights, sometimes referred to as the War Zone, was cordoned off by police who were immersed in a standoff with a 21-year-old armed suspect who reportedly had fired shots at cops and attempted to hijack a vehicle after being stopped for driving without plates (not an uncommon practice here).
Subsequently identified as Jason Brouillette, the desperado burst into a home and engaged residents of a home in which he sought refuge in a bizarre conversation, according to media reports.
Brouillette was “severely under the influence of illegal narcotics,” Albuquerque Police Department (APD) spokesman Tanner Tixier told local media outlet KOB. Notably, and to their credit, APD ended the Brouillette siege without killing the young man like it had done in so many confrontations with disturbed individuals during the past few years.
The Brouillette incident was only the beginning of a long night in Burque. By the early evening, lights and sirens lit up the northern stretch of San Mateo Blvd. While driving along the busy road the writer observed two officers bent over a man sprawled on the ground in front of the one of the nifty bus stop shelters built a few years ago with federal stimulus monies, which have since become magnets for drinking, brawling and puking.
A few blocks later more police cars blocked a lane of the boulevard where a van had compressed a motorcycle into a metallic pancake; fire engines raced toward the scene with their sirens roaring. In a city where traffic laws are either routinely flaunted or not enforced, drivers can suddenly find themselves playing demolition derby.
On any given Burque day, the typical driver will have the time of his or her life sparring with illegal u-turners, last minute lane changers, non-signalers, drag racers, and cell phone addicts. And if that isn’t enough, there is always the inevitable near-scrape with one of the hulking semis that haul beer, ice cream, cokes and other basic necessities down narrow, pot-hole paved streets and alleys.
Early on the morning of July 9, shots rang out and a man was wounded at a hotel back in the War Zone. By dawn a woman was found lying dead on 4th Street, the main thoroughfare of the North Valley. An apparent victim of a hit-and-run, 41-year-old Deedra Fredericks was identified as the victim.
July 8 and 9 augured another bloody Albuquerque weekend. Saturday, July 11 began with a truck-motorcycle chase down main drag Central Avenue near the University of New Mexico and culminated in the fatal shooting of the biker. In the wee hours of July 12, a suspected drunk driver fleeing a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy struck a van transporting nine people, killing two.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, seven of the van’s passengers were children, with many of them ejected from the vehicle. Mary Soto, an adult, was named as one of the dead passengers. Steven V. Trujillo, 36, was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide. Trujillo had a lengthy criminal record of DWI and domestic violence, and was awaiting trial on rape, domestic violence and other charges at the time of the July 12 crash, the Journal reported.
In an instant, two lives were snuffed out and many others altered forever.
By the middle of the afternoon, a man was shot and wounded on a street after a drug deal reportedly soured and led to a foot chase and gunfire in a residential neighborhood on the edge of the War Zone.
Like Ciudad Juarez down El Camino Real, multiple shootings in the Albuquerque area this year have been tied to narcomenudeo, or street-level drug dealing.
According to local media reports compiled by FNS, 40 people have been the victims of various types of homicide in the Albuquerque metro area since the beginning of the year.
Troubled young people are once again the buzz of the town. Last summer, Albuquerque was shocked by the brutal beating murders of two Navajo men by a group of teenagers. This summer, six teenagers have been arrested for the murder of 60-year-old Stephen Gerecke.
Described in the news media as a beloved bartender with a love for Michigan State football and the music of the Grateful Dead, (which ironically held its last concert just days after Gereke’s murder), as well a very generous man remembered for giving a leather coat to a homeless man he once encountered, Gerecke was gunned down June 26 when he encountered thieves on a “house-mobbing,” or large-group burglary, at his Northeast Heights home.
A fair dose of media sensationalism swirls around the Gerecke murder, but this outrageous criminal act begs serious questions surround not only about crime and justice per se, but the overall care, treatment and future of New Mexico youth as well.
In the Gerecke slaying, stories are surfacing about parental addictions and abandonment, childhood abuse and the alleged failures of APD, the Albuquerque Public Schools and the state Children Youth and Families Department to respond to past reports of problematic children.
Drugs, gangs, guns, prison, violence and death are the signposts in the lives of so many a young person in 21st century New Mexico and, as the Gerecke killing so tragically underscores, touch everyone else one way or another. Whatever truths finally emerge from the man’s murder, many questions need to be asked and answered.
Why are so many young lives consumed by addiction, despair and violence? Why do these problems persist on a large scale, or even worsen, generation after generation? Why do so many young New Mexicans drop out of school? Where are the summer jobs programs?
Why did state lawmakers twiddle their thumbs for years while money for the Lottery scholarships that give so many New Mexicans a crack at higher education and a better chance in life dwindled away in the coffers?
Why are the state’s universities continually raising tuition while financial aid is reduced? Why are so young people leaving the state? Why haven’t the state’s presumed leaders declared a youth emergency and devoted sufficient attention and resources to the problem? Does anyone really give a hoot? Is anyone out there accountable?
For earlier FNS stories about crime, justice and violence in Albuquerque and New Mexico check out: