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Four Hills victim was mother of six

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A woman whose mutilated body was found in a sandy arroyo in the shadow of the upper middle class Four Hills neighborhood last Saturday grew up in To’hajiilee and more recently split her time between the Native American reservation land and Albuquerque, her mother told the Journal on Friday.

Evangelyn Ray said her daughter, Audra Willis, 39, did not have a permanent residence, but lived off and on with family in Albuquerque and on the reservation. She was the mother of six children, all under the age of 17, who lived in To’hajiilee.

“She was loved by the whole family, no one ever tried pushing her away,” Ray said. “She chose her way of life and we did everything we could to keep her safe. As a mother, it’s hard to know that your child is out there.”

Albuquerque Police say Willis was found dead, decapitated, and with severe injuries near Winterwood and Autumn Wood SE. They have not named any suspects in the case or said how Willis died.

Police released her identity Friday, after reaching her next of kin. A department spokesman could not be reached to provide more details Friday.

Ray said that, when Willis was in the city, she would often take off with friends, hanging out with people the family had never met and occasionally getting into trouble. But she would also work off and on and did not ask for handouts.

“She kept it separate, so we don’t know where she hung out or with who she hung out,” Ray said. “We tried not to get into her space and let her have own little life, didn’t judge for where she lived, what she did or who she saw.”

Ray said she is left struggling with how to cope with the horrible death her daughter faced and why someone would do such a thing. She referenced the fact that Willis had been in and out of jail, and court records show a string of petty arrests, such as drinking in public and disorderly conduct. Most recently she had been booked for failing to appear in a petty misdemeanor battery case – and had been released on her own recognizance just two days before her body was found.

“I have so many questions,” Ray said. “They told us she got out of jail on the 21st and they found her body on the 23rd. What happened between that?”

Willis’ death comes almost exactly a year after a homeless man was found decapitated behind a northeast Albuquerque Wal-Mart. On Dec. 17, 2016, police say a security guard found 42-year-old Clifford Miller of Oklahoma stabbed to death and mutilated behind a Dumpster. APD spokesman Simon Drobik has previously said investigators don’t believe the two killings are connected.

Ray said she had last seen Willis for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner and did not find out about her death until Dec. 26.

“I hope they catch whoever did this to her,” Ray said. “We’re not going to rest until we find out. It’s awful for that to happen, and as a Native, for something like that to happen.”

Ray said Willis was the second oldest of five siblings. She said her daughter would stay for a month or two with her and her husband in their Southeast Albuquerque home, doing puzzles and playing dominos, before returning to To’hajiilee.

Now they are planning to lay her to rest in her family burial plot once her body is released from the investigation. Ray said she hasn’t wanted to go through photos of her daughter until they have seen her body and had more time to process what happened. She asked the Journal not to run a photo of Willis yet.