NAMBÉ – About 100 people gathered here Wednesday night to honor Jeremiah Valencia, the 13-year-old boy who law enforcement authorities say suffered long-term torture and abuse before his mother’s boyfriend beat him to death two months ago.
“We just wanted to do something to support the family during this difficult time,” said Katarina Hernandez, organizer of the candlelight vigil at the Nambé Community Center. “As a community, we feel for him (Jeremiah) and we feel for the family.”
The vigil got underway with a taped recording of “Amazing Grace.” A table had been set up as an altar, with photos of Jeremiah, several prayer candles and a bouquet of helium-filled balloons. After a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, several people addressed the gathering.
A woman who identified herself as Ylustre called Jeremiah’s death a community tragedy. “Not only for the family, but for us,” she told the group.
“We need to take an active role. Take notice what’s around you,” she said.
Savanna Molina, 12, who went to grade school with Jeremiah in Pojoaque, said they were best friends. She called him “a very sweet and caring person.” Savanna and Nova Aguilar, also 12, brought posters honoring Jeremiah.
Nova said the girls had been wondering where he was because he wasn’t at school. “We miss him a lot,” she said.
What are believed to be Jeremiah’s remains were discovered buried near Nambé after a Santa Fe County jail prisoner told authorities last week about overhearing Jeremy’s mother – Tracy Ann Pena, 35, also a prisoner – talking about the death.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors provided new details about how Pena’s boyfriend, Thomas Wayne Ferguson, 42, is said to have killed Jeremiah after abusing and starving the youth for some time.
Ferguson, Pena and Jordan Nunez, Ferguson’s 19-year-old son, have all been charged with child abuse resulting in death, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
Ferguson is accused of enlisting the others to dispose of the body and lie to law enforcement about Jeremiah’s whereabouts. The boy was killed between Nov. 24 and Nov. 26, the Sheriff’s Office says.
The Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office has filed petitions to keep all three defendants in jail until they go to trial. The petition filed against Ferguson says he punched Jeremiah in the face after the boy said something. Ferguson then took Jeremiah to a back room, shut the door and “brutalized” him.
“Ferguson choked the victim, holding him against a wall,” the petition says. “Ferguson then turned the victim upside down and slammed victim’s head into the ground several times.”
Ferguson, who raised pit bull dogs, then “tossed” Jeremiah in a dog cage and left him to die. The three defendants later wrapped the boy in plastic and duct tape.
According to the petition, Nunez told detectives that Ferguson would punish Jeremiah by hitting his fingers with a hammer. Investigators found a hammer consistent with Nunez’s description in a shed along with a wheelchair Jeremiah apparently had to use to get around because of Ferguson’s physical abuse.
Jeremiah also was forced to spend prolonged periods in a dog cage that was secured with a bungee cord, and he would not be fed while he was in the cage, the court petitions state. Pena told investigators that she would sometimes sneak Jeremiah food and water.
Both Nunez and Pena’s 13-year-old daughter, who is now in foster care, gave statements that point to Ferguson as primarily responsible for Jeremiah’s death. The girl says she witnessed the fatal beating.
Pena provided details on how Jeremiah’s body was wrapped in plastic, duct-taped and “shoved” into a plastic bin to be buried. Blood was recovered from a carpet where Jeremiah is believed to have been beaten to death. A dog cage was found in a vehicle used by Ferguson.
The petition to keep Pena in jail says she had been released from jail on Nov. 26 after a stay for a parole violation and found Jeremiah’s lifeless body at her home.
The three defendants wrapped the body in a carpet and kept it in the garage until Nov. 30. On that day, Pena told police that Ferguson told her to empty out a plastic storage container that was big enough for the body. She then “stood idly by” while Ferguson and Nunez wrapped Jeremiah’s body in layers of plastic and “crammed” it into the container.
Although Pena wasn’t there when Jeremiah was killed, “the defendant knew that Jeremiah had been subjected to months of abuse and torture, and failed to act or to protect Jeremiah,” the documents say. “… the defendant was more concerned about her outstanding arrest warrants and law enforcement contact than she was with the well-being and protection of her 13-year-old son.”
The three defendants were arraigned in Magistrate Court Wednesday, but Judge Donita Sena did not accept pleas because their felony cases will be transferred to District Court. The judge appeared to tear up as she read Ferguson his charges. But after defense attorney Tom Clark asked her if she would like to waive a formal reading, she said she had something in her eye.
One of the court documents says: “There is also evidence in the form of a statement made by Thomas Ferguson that Jordan Nunez messaged Thomas on Facebook Messenger and stated in the message something to the effect of, if Tracy ratted him out he (Nunez) would murder her too.”
Both Ferguson and Pena have long criminal records. Ferguson’s cases are more serious.
The state Corrections Department provided information showing that his first interaction with the department came on a 1996 drug charge for which he was sentenced to probation. He violated probation and served six months in the Quay County jail, according to Corrections.
Ferguson again was sentenced to probation for a 2001 shoplifting charge. The probation was revoked after he was charged in May 2003 on new counts, including battery on a household member and child abuse for allegedly punching and choking a Santa Fe woman who was eight months pregnant. He was released a few months later on electronic monitoring pending trial on the beating charges.
In the 2003 case, online court records indicate, he was convicted of aggravated battery on a household member but was acquitted of child abuse. The Journal couldn’t determine Wednesday what Ferguson’s sentence was in that case.
The Corrections Department handled parole supervision of Ferguson for Texas starting in August 2009, after he served prison time in that state on charges from Deaf Smith County. He violated parole in February 2014, when he was arrested in Santa Fe on still more new charges, including rape and kidnapping. A girlfriend told police he’d kept her in a house for five days, and beat and sexually assaulted her.
In that case, Ferguson spent about a year and six months in jail before he pleaded guilty to battery and kidnapping in September 2015. District Judge T. Glenn Ellington sentenced him to nine years but suspended the term down to the jail time he had already served. Ferguson also was placed on five years probation.
Ferguson violated probation yet again in February 2016 when he allegedly beat up a woman in Rio Rancho. But probation was reinstated in April of that year. He violated probation again in July 2017 by “absconding” from supervision and was arrested on a bench warrant Jan. 17. He was still in jail when information about Jeremiah’s death surfaced last week.
Close to home
The tragedy has hit close to home for Andrew Valdez, whose 3-year-old son Leland died in 2014 from child abuse at the hands of his son’s mother’s boyfriend. Leland is buried a short distance from where Wednesday’s vigil was held.
Valdez told a reporter at the vigil that the news of Jeremiah’s death broke his heart. “It’s happening way too often in this state. Something needs to be done, and it needs to be done now,” he said.
Valdez said the laws are no good. Abusers “end up getting a slap on the wrist and they are out on the streets.”