Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Lateef was a refugee from Iraq who came to New Mexico with his mom and brother to escape the dangers of war.
Collin Romero was a 15-year-old Albuquerque native who dreamed of working with animals and who, his mother says, was always looking out for friends and relatives.
Ahmed and Collin – best friends since middle school – spent many days and nights at each other’s houses over the years, the teenagers’ mothers told the Journal.
They were found dead Saturday, their bodies buried in a remote location in Sandoval County.
“I can’t believe, I didn’t believe (he had been killed),” Ahmed’s mother, Yasameen Alabdulaziz, said Monday. “Yesterday, (detectives) came and told me what happened. I’ve been crying in the morning. I can’t eat; I can’t drink.”
The teens had been missing for almost two weeks.
Albuquerque police detectives were told the two had been involved in a “drug deal that may have gone bad” in a foothills neighborhood.
Collin’s mother, Amanda Kimbrel, reported she had heard that there was a Snapchat video going around that showed the boys being beaten in a remote area and they appeared to be bleeding and have broken bones.
Lt. Keith Elder, a spokesman for the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies found clothing on the mesa Friday that “contained evidence of a violent crime.” They continued to investigate into the weekend, along with New Mexico State Police. He said they are not identifying the exact location where the bodies were found.
“The cause and manner of death are currently under investigation and have not been confirmed,” Elder wrote in a news release.
Collin and Ahmed had last been seen on Dec. 16.
APD’s helicopters and open space units searched the mesas west of Albuquerque, and relatives, friends and volunteers met daily to scour the area on foot.
In response to questions about whether there were any suspects in the case, APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office is now leading the investigation.
Alabdulaziz told the Journal she had brought Ahmed and his younger brother to New Mexico in 2013 to escape the war in Iraq and had been trying to keep the family safe. But in the past year or so, she said, Ahmed had started getting into trouble with the law, and she suspected he was using and selling drugs.
Ahmed had been charged with possession of marijuana and “magic mushrooms” in July, and authorities suspected he was selling drugs at the charter school he attended, according to court documents.
On Dec. 11, Alabdulaziz said, her son had left the house, violating probation. He came back without his pants, shoes or belt, saying he had been beaten up by a group of boys.
She said she was worried that next time he would be seriously injured or even killed, and the two had a big argument.
“He took his backpack and left,” Alabdulaziz said. “I tell him, ‘Go, do what you want to do; I don’t care for you, because I’m really sad.’ ”
Alabdulaziz said Ahmed had run away before, but he usually turned up after a couple of weeks. It wasn’t until Ahmed’s friend told her they believed he was in danger that she got worried and reported him missing to the police.
Kimbrel, Collin’s mother, said the past two weeks have been a nightmare. She said that every day, including Christmas, had been spent searching for the teenagers.
“New Year’s won’t be the same without him, so we won’t be celebrating it either,” Kimbrel said in a statement Monday evening. “We were searching every day since we found out about their disappearance.”
She said 60 to 500 people joined the search parties every day. Businesses donated to the cause as well.
Kimbrel said her son loved animals, loved being outside and was always joking and trying to have a good time.
“He wanted to get married to his girlfriend and have six kids with her,” Kimbrel wrote. “He was very protective over his family and friends.”
Kimbrel said she and Alabdulaziz have been in close contact over the past couple of weeks as they try to cope with what happened to their sons. She said they are both crushed by the news.
“I’m sad because my son, somebody killed him,” Alabdulaziz said. “He didn’t die normally; he wasn’t sick. … My heart, it’s on fire. I have fire in my heart.”