The Bloody Sundays of Albuquerque

The good news is that Easter Sunday came and went without a murder immediately reported in New Mexico’s four-county metro area.  The bad news is that, if the year’s homicide pace continues, the greater Albuquerque area could be facing its most violent year of the last five, based on a glance at statistics compiled by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator (0MI). For 2010, the OMI pronounced 79 homicides in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Valencia and Torrance counties.

A FNS review of local media stories published in the first quarter of 2015 counted at least 18 homicides in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque) and 2 in neighboring Sandoval (Rio Rancho) County. The vast majority of the 20 killings were done with firearms, although beatings, a stabbing and a car crash blamed on a man attempting to elude police factor into the picture. Of the victims, 16 were males and 4 females.

Murders happened across a wide swath of the metro area, at all hours of the day and night, inside homes and in public spaces.  Echoes of Ciudad Juarez 2010, victims were gunned down in public parks, shot outside restaurants and in front of stores with bystanders present.

Petty drug disputes, gang rivalries, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and male aggression against females ranked high on the list of identified and possible motives of violence. Two intruders were reportedly killed by homeowners resisting break-ins, while a man who was later identified as John O’Keefe was shot and killed by the Albuquerque Police Department (APD), after he allegedly attempted to commit a commercial burglary during daylight hours last January.

If shooters had been more accurate or medical attention less efficient, the homicide toll likely would have been far higher.

In January two APD officers were separately shot and wounded. In the first incident, veteran cop Lou Golston was shot by a motorist stopped for suspicion of DWI.  In the second one, policeman Jacob Grant was critically wounded by fellow officer Lt. Greg Bachle in a botched undercover drug bust outside a McDonald’s restaurant during regular business hours. After many weeks of hospitalization, Grant was finally released in late March.

Notably, Sundays stand out as a violent day in Albuquerque.

Superbowl Sunday and the wee hours of the following morning notched three separate shootings that left three men dead and two others injured in different parts of the Duke City. By the beginning of February, Albuquerque police had already responded to 22 shooting calls. On Sunday, February 15, three persons were wounded at the Navajo Elks Lodge in a shooting APD said was “gang related.” Two Sundays later on March 1, 26-year-old Carla Estrada was gunned down in the South Valley.

On the evening of Sunday, March 22, ambulances roared across town in response to a shootout at the Los Altos Skate Park in the Northeast Heights that took the life of 17-year-old Sandia High School student Jaquise Lewis dead and wounded six other people.  A memorial erected for Lewis at the skate park was quickly destroyed, triggering anger among his loved ones. Reportedly, an argument over a skateboard and possible racial comments (Lewis was African-American) escalated into gun play. Los Altos Skate Park had experienced repeated incidents of violence dating back to at least 2012, prompting the city government- prior to Lewis’ murder- to pledge that its personnel would monitor the site.

Exactly one week after the skate park shootout, FNS stumbled across the aftermath of a March 29 shootout apparently involving members of the Bandidos outlaw motorcycle gang and other bikers.
The gun battle erupted shortly after 7 pm outside a popular Applebee’s Restaurant and Fed-Ex store in the Northeast Heights. Located at the intersection of San Mateo and Academy, the shooting scene was in the middle of a heavily-transited zone where fast food joints, family-oriented restaurants and other commercial establishments abound.

At 8:30 pm, small groups of people milled around the crime scene while a tipped over motorcycle and a hat were visible on the parking lot in front of Fed-Ex. A gruff man in plain clothes flashed an APD badge and ordered FNS away from the immediate premises, saying he was busy attempting to interview a witness.

However, three other men variously described several people spilling out of Applebee’s and then firing several shots at one another, resulting in one man left injured on the ground.  Struck by bullets in one of his legs, the man was transported to a hospital but survived the attack.

A thirty-something man who would only identify himself as the president of the “66 Riders” club, told FNS that he knew the wounded man, who was not a member of the “66 Riders.” The man insisted that his group was not a motorcycle gang.

“This is a bunch of bullshit,” he said. “We’re out here trying to enjoy life and have two wheels and people have to pull this shit. It’s unbelievable, and it’s because of this we can’t have unity.”  The shooting, he added, puts pressure on a larger community. “It screwed up a lot of things. It’s going to make things tough for all of us.”

A variety of other violent crimes and incidents, punctuated by SWAT scenes and road rage encounters, also kept the metro area on edge during the first months of 2015.  Depicting a man shoving a woman, a Valentine’s Day street fight in the downtown nightlife district, a place already notorious for street brawls, was captured on video and went the proverbial viral on the Internet.

“When you have these incidents and see them over and over and over again, that does make an impact,” Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry was quoted by local media outlet KRQE. The two-term mayor urged downtown club owners and clients alike to show personal responsibility.

In another violent attack last month, 38-year-old David Cordova was arrested after he allegedly blinded his 15-year-old “girlfriend” with pliers.  On March 14, passerby discovered the body of a woman, who was later identified as 31-year-old Cheyenne Cantrell of Espanola, in a vacant northeast Albuquerque lot next to Roller Skate City.

Cherish Hogan and Eugene Crane were subsequently arrested in connection with Cantrell’s death.  According to a media account, the woman’s body was dumped in the lot after she died of a heroin overdose.

Another episode that caught public notice happened when a man walked into the Calibers indoor shooting range March 30 and rented a gun. He then proceeded to shoot himself in the head in front of startled customers; police later said a suicide note was found in the man’s wallet.

Albuquerque’s latest spurts of violence have some residents expressing fears in private and debating guns, crime and public safety in electronic media forums. Some now even compare the New Mexico city to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, four hours south on the Interstate.

Juarez, which has nearly double the population of the Albuquerque metro area, registered 81 murders during the first three months of 2015, according to Mexican press reports tracked by New Mexico State University researcher and librarian Molly Molloy.

But like Juarez, where fresh murders have scarred the city since the beginning of the month, sour notes accompany the first days of April in the Duke City and surroundings.

On April 2, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department was investigating the “suspicious” death of a man found face down in an irrigation canal, while APD was looking for 23-year-old Omar Romero as a “person of interest” in the suspected murder of 23-year-old Luis Rocha, who was found dead April 1 in a car parked in the trouble-prone Southeast Heights. The same day a man pushed a woman in front of a moving bus on Central Avenue, seriously injuring the victim and requiring her hospitalization.

On April 3, the University of New Mexico administration sent out an e-mail emergency alert after a student was robbed at gunpoint outside a dormitory complex in the early morning hours.  The next day, APD arrested 18-year-old Christian Wood for allegedly shooting at another person outside a Circle K store. It wasn’t clear if the target of the gunfire was hit. Finally, New Mexico State Police shot and killed a man April 4 after a lengthy stand-off in Edgewood, a town east of Albuquerque.

Additional sources:  Lapolaka.com, April 5, 2015. Arrobajuarez.com, April 5, 2015. Koat.com, March 23 and April 5, 2015. Krqe.com, February 2 and 26, 2015; March 14, 18, 22, 24, 26, 30, 2015;  April 2, 3 and 4, 2015. Articles by Kayla Ayres, Kathryn Sturtevant, Hawa Konte, Chris McKee, Shelby Perea, Avicra Luckey and editorial staff. Kob.com, January 15, 2015; February 18, 2015; March 1, 24 and 31, 2015; April 1, 2 and 4, 2015. Articles by Kai Porter, Blair Miller, Erica Zucco, Stephanie Claytor, Elizabeth Reed, Ryan Luby,  Alexiss Adams, and editorial staff.

Csmonitor.com/Associated Press, January 5, 2015. Reuters.com, January 10, 2015. Article by Joseph J. Kolb. Albuquerque Journal, January 27, 2015. Article by Elise Kaplan.


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