ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Flower petals are scattered on the asphalt, torn off or blown away from a nearby memorial to a homeless woman mowed down by an unknown driver on a city sidewalk.
Nancy Myers, 53, had been sleeping on that sidewalk off Iron SW near the Albuquerque Rescue Mission with about 14 of her homeless compatriots on June 6 when the vehicle, described as a faded black truck, came out of the darkness from the south on Second, veered east on Iron and barreled into the huddle of slumbering street folks.
Myers died quickly. Others were injured. The driver disappeared into the night.
Three nights later, a man was stabbed in the leg and hand near where Myers was killed.
That, Pastor John Hill said, was enough for Albuquerque police to order the dismantling of the street camp on Iron – the tarps and the tents, the blankets and the sleeping bags clotted against a chain-link fence.
“APD really jumped on it after the accident and then the other incident and just shut the whole corner down,” said Hill, the executive director of the Rescue Mission, which ministers to many of the campers and feeds them twice a day.
But as the sun began to set Monday, the campers began to settle in again, among them a leathery man with vacant eyes and tiny turquoise boots, a young man in a tidy polo shirt and sun visor looking more like a bellhop than camper while toting five messenger bags and valises, and a group of men smoking and staring menacingly at my car.
They are everywhere down here in this blighted pocket of Downtown, tucked beneath the Coal overpass, in alleys and empty lots and right out on the sidewalks.
The Rescue Mission has beds for 15 men and 10 women. It provides transportation to and from the city’s overnight shelter, but that shelter is only open from November to March when the temperatures turn chilly.
The rest must either find other shelters or hunker down in their urban campsites for the night.
“It’s its own culture down here,” Hill said. “It’s a mixed bag of people who don’t have the tools to prevent being on the streets or get off them. It’s addictions and pain, mental illness, people down and out who can’t get a break. It’s a true fact that a few don’t want to get off the streets, but the vast majority don’t want to be here.”
Hill doesn’t know what brought Nancy Myers here. But he knew her.
“She was just a sweet little lady,” he said. “She frequented us here regularly. She was very quiet, very amenable.”
They called her the Bible Lady because she always carried a large Bible with her.
“Sister Nancy didn’t talk much, but when she did it was about God,” Hill said.
Though she had little, those who knew Myers knew she was always willing to share, even if it meant going to bed with an empty belly, though rarely did she have a bed.
“I remember one time she came in late and said she hadn’t had anything to eat all day, so we gave her a bowl of soup,” Hill said. “Then another woman walked in and said she also hadn’t eaten. So Sister Nancy gave her the soup and went hungry.”
Myers did not seem to fit among the folks she slept near on Iron, he said. Some of those men were rough and had addiction issues, he said.
“I asked the security staff why she was there with them, because she was such a sweet lady,” he said. “They said she did that for protection. Those men took her under their wing. They respected her, protected her from being robbed or raped. They protected her from the night.”
But on the night of June 6 no one could have protected her from the faded black truck.
They were such easy targets.
Albuquerque police have said evidence at the scene suggests the crash was no accident and was “more malicious.” Police also say two men may have been in the truck and that the license plate may start with GJ or GZ and end in 278. The truck could have front-end damage.
Hill has his own theory.
“The prevailing thought is that it was not a person who lost control of their vehicle but that it was premeditated,” he said. “My belief is this person just plowed into the people because of a drug deal gone bad. We see them dealing from my office window. It makes some sense to make this assumption.”
And maybe it is easier to make that assumption than another one – that someone ran over homeless people for sport.
Myers had a brother, who is a truck driver, Hill said. Because the brother is always on the road it has been hard to speak with him about what his wishes for his sister might be.
“But in the interest of doing a memorial on Sister Nancy’s behalf, we decided to move forward with it because she was part of our community,” he said. “Another citizen has fallen. It is a tragedy. The plight of the homeless people must not be ignored.”
Still, most do. He knows that.
Hill said he invited Mayor Richard Berry or any city representative in Berry’s stead to attend the memorial, scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday in the Rescue Mission courtyard. So far, Hill said he has not heard back from City Hall, less than 10 blocks away.
Here among the fallen flower petals and the fallen, forgotten souls, the camp on Iron SW seems a world away from City Hall, from anywhere.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.