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Residents who live along the quiet neighborhood streets near Tower and 98th SW remember Jose Hernandez as the type of letter carrier who would go above and beyond.
They said he would rifle through stacks of mail to find their letters if he knew they were in a hurry. And he was quick to say hi or stop to chat about the weather.
It appears that was what 47-year-old Hernandez was doing – going above and beyond – when he was shot and killed as he delivered the mail along his route Monday afternoon.
Family members say Hernandez, a native of Phoenix, had four children and had served in the Army. He had worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Albuquerque for 12 years and out of the Five Points post office for the past five, according to a Postal Service spokesman.
Police were looking for 17-year-old Xavier Zamora, who they say opened fire on Hernandez after the letter carrier intervened in a fight the boy was having with his mother.
Zamora is charged with an open count of murder. He was still being sought Tuesday night.
Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, said Zamora will be tried in federal court because he is charged with killing a federal employee.
The Albuquerque Police Department SWAT team had surrounded Zamora’s house in the 700 block of Terracotta SW immediately after the shooting in an attempt to arrest him, but Zamora was not found after the hourslong standoff.
Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, did not respond to several questions from the Journal including what the SWAT team found in the house, why APD’s bomb squad was called in or whether the gun used in the shooting has been found.
He did say that a search warrant was executed at the home and that APD detectives, assisted by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, were continuing to search for Zamora.
By Tuesday afternoon, law enforcement had left the area, leaving behind broken windows and shattered glass at Zamora’s house.
Well-wishers and mourners gathered on the street throughout the day to leave flowers, balloons and notes at the cluster mailbox next to where Hernandez was killed. Vases with flowers were also left at other mailboxes on the street.
Another memorial sprung up at the station where he worked.
Angel Martinez, the president of the Albuquerque Association of Letter Carriers, stopped by the shooting scene with Hernandez’s supervisor and another co-worker to pay their respects. He said other employees have been crying in their vehicles, grieving for their colleague.
“Rough day for everybody,” Martinez said. “We lost one of our good buddies who was well-respected throughout the city. … It’s a loss for us. He was one of our super letter carriers. Very friendly, got along with everybody. His co-workers loved him; they still love him.”
He said the union has been giving Hernandez’s family privacy.
The shooting occurred around 3:45 p.m. as Hernandez completed his route through the neighborhood.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Metropolitan Court on Tuesday morning, when officers arrived at the scene they found Hernandez on the ground with neighbors clustered around giving him CPR.
He died at the scene.
Officers interviewed Roxanne Zamora, who told them she had been fighting with her teenage son, Xavier Zamora, and the letter carrier stepped in to help.
She said her son “became aggressive,” so Hernandez sprayed him with Mace.
“Xavier then went back into the house and after a short term returned,” the officer wrote in the court document. “Roxanne stated that was when the U.S. postal worker was shot. Roxanne stayed with the postal worker and Xavier ran back into the house.”
No one saw Zamora leave the house before police arrived, according to the complaint.
Karl Garcia, who lives down the street from the shooting, said he used to talk with Hernandez whenever they crossed paths, chatting about fishing or their families.
Garcia said his wife had been home when the shooting happened and went out and saw the letter carrier lying on the ground. He said he wasn’t surprised to learn that police believe Hernandez was trying to help somebody when he was shot.
“He was the kind of guy if he saw you by the side of the road he’d stop and help you out,” Garcia said. “He was nonchalant, no worries, doing his job.”
Both Mayor Tim Keller and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., expressed their condolences after the shooting, saying it reaffirms the need to work to end gun violence in the city.
“This is devastating news for our community,” Haaland wrote in a statement. “Our letter carriers and postal workers shouldn’t have to worry about their safety when they go to work.”
Calling letter carriers “public servants in every sense of the word,” Keller said the shooting has shaken the city.
“We are grieving with the family of the victim, and with the entire postal service family,” he said. “Albuquerque, please take some time in the next few days to personally make sure your local letter carrier knows how much you appreciate them, and give them your love and support.”
Martinez said a newer letter carrier was assigned to Hernandez’s route on Tuesday so the duty wouldn’t fall on someone who had worked with him for a long time.
“The station is hurting,” Martinez said. “We have a bunch of people hurting throughout the whole city. I’m proud of them because they’re hurting and they’re still out there delivering the mail today.”
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