James Alex Chavez was loitering at a 24-hour Circle K gas station and causing problems early in the morning of Jan. 14 when the assistant manager’s brother and his friend dropped by.
Jesús Lopez and James Ronquillo had stopped at the store at Menaul and University NE to pick up cigarettes and visit Lopez’s brother, Joseph Romero, the assistant manager.
The two men were helping Romero escort Chavez off the property when, police say, Chavez pulled a gun and opened fire, killing Lopez and Ronquillo.
Chavez, 32, is charged with two counts of murder.
Albuquerque Police Department homicide detectives were still looking for him Tuesday evening. He’s also known as “Johnny Chavez.”
“James Chavez should be considered armed and dangerous,” APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
The deadly incident unfolded shortly before 2 a.m. on Jan. 14, right after 27-year-old Lopez had picked up Ronquillo, 24, from his job as a truck driver in the area.
“James worked the night shift, and he had just gotten out of work,” Sheri Aragon, the mother of Ronquillo’s two children, told the Journal. “Me and my kids had just seen him the day before, and his car was breaking down, so his cousin and Jesús were helping him getting to work. Jesús had picked him up from work.”
Lopez’s relatives say he was a father of three and was dating Ronquillo’s cousin.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Metropolitan Court, Joseph Romero told detectives that a man had been loitering in the store for “nearly 30 minutes.”
He said the man picked a metal bottle off a shelf, opened the packaging and filled it with fountain soda.
Then, when Romero asked him to pay for it, the man replied that he didn’t have any money. Instead, he offered marijuana and a set of hair clippers.
Romero said that’s when he asked the man to leave.
“While leaving the store property, the unknown male mumbled something that Joseph believed was in reference to him telling him to leave the premises,” the detective wrote in the complaint. “Joseph began to follow behind the male subject, making sure he continued off the property as he was advised to. At that point, Jesús and James also followed behind Joseph.”
According to the affidavit, when the man got to the corner of the parking lot, he took out a handgun and began to shoot.
Romero managed to crawl to safety.
Lopez died at the scene. Ronquillo was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where he died.
The shooter fled.
But police say he left behind key evidence – the water bottle was swabbed for DNA and dusted for fingerprints.
Detectives pulled security camera photos from inside the store and circulated a flier within the department, looking for tips.
Other officers quickly came forward to say they recognized Chavez from prior arrests.
The DNA was a match, and Romero was able to confirm Chavez was the man who shot his brother and Ronquillo, according to the affidavit.
Chavez also has a warrant for failing to report to pretrial services after he was charged with receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle and possession of a controlled substance in November.
He has also been previously charged with shoplifting, trafficking a controlled substance and breaking into his girlfriend’s house.
Aragon said her two children are devastated by the death of their father and “Uncle Jesús.” She said she is relieved to hear that police have a suspect.
“I would feel a lot better if they got him,” Aragon said. “He needs to pay for ripping the hearts out of my kids and his family.”