Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
A gentle giant. A teddy bear.
The sweet, but quiet, soul always ready to help.
This is how those who know Jesus Cartagena Jr. describe the 6-foot-6, 250-pound 20-year-old with jet black hair – an aspiring pharmacist who worked at a local hospital, had purchased his own condo and was taking classes at Central New Mexico Community College.
They’re now struggling to reconcile that guy with the man who turned himself in at a police station in El Paso last Saturday wearing what appeared to be bloody clothes and demanding that officers shoot him.
Cartagena told them he had “done something bad in Albuquerque.”
Local police allege that he stabbed 19-year-old Shanta Hanish and her mother in their Southeast Albuquerque home on June 21. Shanta Hanish had just broken off a four- to five-year relationship with him.
Shanta Hanish, a University of New Mexico student who dreamed of becoming a kindergarten teacher, had also been strangled. Both she and Laura Hanish, a 58-year-old social worker with the state Office of the Public Defender, died in the attack.
Cartagena has been charged with two open counts of murder and has been booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center. His father, Jesus Cartagena Sr., is a jail supervisor at MDC, according to online county records.
“We did not see this coming,” said Brooke Richards, a longtime neighbor of the Hanishes. “Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this beautiful young man would have done something this horrible.”
Neighbors and educators describe Cartagena as a lovable teddy bear, quiet but always friendly, who was taken in by Laura Hanish and loved by the entire family. Shanta Hanish’s best friend told police a different story: Cartagena was a verbally abusive and controlling boyfriend – making her delete her Snapchat account and trying to isolate her from her friends.
When Shanta Hanish broke up with him and moved back in with her mother a few weeks ago, things seemed to unravel.
Raymond Delgado, Cartagena’s half brother, told police that he wasn’t handling the breakup well. He told police that at one point they took Cartagena to the hospital because he had been threatening to kill himself. He was released later that day.
Shanta and Laura Hanish, meanwhile, began telling friends and co-workers about Cartagena’s alarming behavior: following Shanta Hanish to work, sitting outside her home, holding her against her will and trying to pull her from her car when she went to get belongings from his condo. At one point, Laura Hanish met him at a restaurant but had to leave because he was making a scene.
The day before the slayings, Cartagena called Shanta Hanish’s phone “nonstop” and texted her “Shanta, please” over a dozen times. Shanta Hanish texted a friend, “I’m turning off my phone because Jesus keeps calling me. I’m not dead. I’m alive.”
When Shanta Hanish didn’t show up for work the next day, the friend went to the house and found the block shut down by police.
Cartagena’s family did not respond to requests from the Journal for an interview. But court records, school and employment history loosely piece together Cartagena’s story – caught in the middle of his parents’ tumultuous divorce, graduating high school, enrolling in college and moving in with Laura Hanish as he saved up for a place of his own by working at University of New Mexico Hospital. As far as a criminal background, Cartagena never even got a parking ticket.
Cartagena was born in El Paso less than a year after his parents, Jesus Cartagena Sr. and Imelda Delgado, were married, according to court records. When he was 6, his parents separated, and a year later, in 2006, they filed for divorce.
The parents had joint custody of Cartagena Jr., though Delgado was his primary caretaker until 2009 when his father filed for full custody.
An “anonymous call” to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department ended with 11-year-old Cartagena Jr. and his two half siblings being taken from the mother’s home.
CYFD “substantiated allegations” of physical and sexual abuse and neglect concerning Cartagena Jr. while in the care of his mother. It is unclear what the exact allegations were or by whom the boy had been abused.
At that point, Cartagena went to live with his father.
A strict custody schedule filed in the case reveals that Delgado saw her son on weekends and split holidays based on even- and odd-numbered years as Cartagena Jr. grew into adulthood.
As a student at Amy Biehl High School, Cartagena was well-liked by staff and participated in activities, even winning second place in a 2016 Science Fair for his project on BLASTing flu viruses. In his senior yearbook, Cartagena said he wanted to be a pharmacist.
Frank McCulloch, executive director and former principal, said that some students he gets to know very well. Cartagena was not one of them.
“I remember Jesus as being a very quiet – very gentle – kind of soul,” he said. “That’s why it’s so surprising that this happened.”
McCulloch said Cartagena was not a loner and, when he wasn’t with Shanta Hanish, had a core group of friends whom McCulloch described as “sweet boys.”
“He wasn’t as outgoing,” he said. “He just seemed like a very sweet and soft personality. … There was never any issues around behaviors.”
One of Cartagena’s best friends, Jose Soto, said they met on the first day of high school.
“None of us had friends … so we decided, ‘Let’s just be friends ourselves, hang out with each other,’ ” he said. “Since that day, we hung out every day.”
The boys called themselves the “OG’s,” would often play video games, hang outside and get wings at Wings Gone Wild – Cartagena’s favorite was lemon pepper.
Soto said Cartagena was the more serious of the group but full of laughter and always the victor when the boys would roughhouse.
“He was so much bigger than us, so he would just overpower us easily,” he said. “It was never malicious; it was always fun.”
The boys broke apart after graduation, going separate ways, but still remained friends. It was harder to keep in touch with Cartagena because he didn’t have Facebook.
Hardworking and very focused
After Richards, the Hanishes’ neighbor, met Cartagena, she realized Shanta Hanish did most of the talking. Cartagena was more introverted, but always had a reassuring smile.
“We saw him as this gentle giant; we liked him very much,” she said. “If you needed something, you could go next door and ask for his help and he’d be right there.”
Richards said that sometime after Cartagena graduated in 2017, Laura Hanish welcomed him into her home, where he stayed in a spare room for eight months.
“Sometimes, I would see Shanta by herself, but whenever I saw him, it was always with her,” Richards said.
Laura Hanish would update Richards on Cartagena regularly, how he was doing in school and working at the hospital to save money toward a condo for the couple.
“He was extremely hardworking, very focused,” she said.
Records show that Cartagena enrolled at Central New Mexico Community College in the summer of 2016 and was pursuing a business degree.
He earned two certificates from CNM, sterile processing technician and health, wellness and public safety, before getting a job at UNM Hospital in spring 2017 cleaning medical equipment on the night shift.
In April 2018, Cartagena bought a place at the Nob Hill East Condominiums, near Washington and Lead SE, where the couple lived together.
Richards said the last time she saw them was in April when they came to Laura Hanish’s home to borrow a bicycle pump. They were going to kick a soccer ball around at Bandelier Elementary School.
“They looked great, seemed very happy. But that’s deceiving, because I didn’t know what was going on under the surface,” Richards said. “We had only positive impressions of him. I didn’t know how things had dissolved between them.”
Soto said Cartagena called them after the breakup. It had been over a year since the young men had spoken or gotten together.
“He felt bad that he hadn’t spent as much time with us as he felt like he needed to,” he said. “So he wanted to set up a time soon so we could hang out.”
They met at the old haunt to get wings before playing video games, where Cartagena gave them all a smackdown as Kirby in Super Smash Bros.
“He was laughing the whole time,” Soto said, chuckling before catching himself. “Ah, that was a good one.”
Throughout the day, there were no signs of what was to come.
“He seemed normal … a little sad because he recently broke up with Shanta,” Soto said. “But he never seemed angry, he never seemed broken or damaged inside. But he was, obviously. He just didn’t relay that to us.”
When the bodies were found three days later, he said the friends wouldn’t believe the rumors.
“We stuck it out, saying to everybody that he couldn’t do it. He just wouldn’t have the heart to do anything like that,” Soto said.
After Cartagena was arrested, the shock sent in.
“To this day, we don’t want to believe it,” he said. “Everybody who knew him would know and say the same thing, that he was the nicest person.”