Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Numerous gunshots pierced the silence of a Southwest Albuquerque mobile home park last Thursday night as the police scanner jumped with the voices of responding officers. Within 10 minutes, police discovered three family members dead, another barely breathing and two others wounded outside a residence.
Amid the chaos, an officer told dispatchers that authorities had a 9-year-old who witnessed the chaotic scene.
The victims include Daniel Baca, a 17-year-old father who, in the 10 months before his death, had been shot at twice, both times escaping serious injury. But on this night, his lifeless body lay on the ground. The spray of bullets also took the lives of Baca’s mother, grandmother and teenage cousin.
Investigators worked through the night to piece together the events as friends and neighbors stood by in anger and disbelief.
Police haven’t said much about the case so far, but court records and police reports hint at Baca’s short life being punctuated by drugs and violence – the teenager already had a police record and had dodged gunplay on the street.
In November, Baca, then 16, showed up at a Downtown hospital with a bullet hole in his hand. He told police that someone in a car – he said he didn’t know who – opened fire on him in the South Valley. It happened again in June, just blocks away, but Baca walked away from that shooting unscathed.
The Albuquerque Police Department has not said whether investigators trying to solve the quadruple homicide at the mobile home park suspect that those previous shootings are connected in any way to the Sept. 12 violence, or whether Baca was the target.
But a friend told the Journal he believes Baca was hunted down.
“This is not a drug deal gone wrong,” the teen told the Journal. “It’s more, ‘I’m going to kill you, and I’m going to make sure I kill you’ – people were looking for him, people who didn’t want him to live anymore.”
It was the deadliest shooting in the city in years, claiming the lives of Baca; his mother, Christine Baca, 36; grandmother Manuelita Sotelo, 77; and cousin Victoria Cereceres, 16.
It was also only one of three shootings that spilled out citywide in a 90-minute period, but Albuquerque police have said the three shootings “do not appear to be related.” Two of those shootings resulted in fatalities.
“Detectives are making progress in both (homicide) investigations” Albuquerque police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said this week. “While the investigations are ongoing, detectives have not established credible threats to others as a result of these shootings.”
Detectives have not made any arrests so far and are asking for the public’s help in finding whoever is responsible, as local leaders condemn the violence.
A neighbor, Jesus Ornelas, said he pulled up to the grisly scene at the mobile home park after hearing a volley of gunfire and two vehicles speeding away. He said he saw Baca was face-up in the street, his eyes open with a look of surprise.
“That is the one thing I can’t get out of my head – it looked like he was looking at me – and I was like ‘Get up, fool,’ and I grabbed him by the arm,” he said.
That’s when Ornelas said he realized Baca was dead. He called 911 after finding the rest of the family shot.
“I remember asking the operator what can I do, and they just told me try to cover the wounds,” he said. “Not in a million years did I expect this family to die like that.”
By the end of the weekend, dozens of candles, interspersed with Modelo beer cans and baseball caps, crowded against the front door in a makeshift memorial. Many of the candles depict St. Jude – the patron saint of lost causes. A red bandana was tied around the doorknob alongside rosaries, and a small wooden cross with “RIP Daniel Baca” was stuck into the security door beside a bouquet of plastic red roses. Above the memorial, jagged bullet holes peppered the window and blinds.
Baca’s family did not respond to multiple requests for interviews.
Ornelas, other neighbors and acquaintances remember them as good people who were always friendly. Baca’s friend said he was a goofy kid with a beautiful personality who was always happy. The friend said Baca, who had recently had a baby boy, was also a “money maker” who had made some enemies along the way. He did not elaborate.
“I know our streets are crazy, but that’s the life he chose,” he said. “I can’t sit here and tell you that he’s this good kid, which he was, but we live a life that we chose – you live by the game, you die by the game.”
Court records and police reports provide a glimpse into the life Baca chose.
Baca’s first known brush with the law occurred in October 2017 when he was charged with six counts of auto burglary, one count of possession of burglary tools and conspiracy. Baca pleaded no contest to two of those charges and was sentenced to probation.
He was arrested in May 2018 for violating that probation by possessing cocaine and marijuana.
In November 2018, Baca showed up at Lovelace Medical Center Downtown after being shot in the hand. He told police he was headed to a party when someone in a car fired several shots at him in the 4300 block of Isleta SW. Baca left the hospital and nothing came of the incident.
Less than a month later, on Dec. 12, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office detectives were preparing to search Baca’s mobile home for “firearms and ammunition” in connection with a homicide that police believed Baca was connected to. While search warrant documents in that case remain sealed, a BCSO incident report details the connection.
When Baca pulled into the driveway in a purple Dodge Charger, detectives detained him and found a handgun, nearly an ounce of cocaine, more than three ounces of marijuana and a digital scale in the car. Baca told deputies the drugs were for “personal use,” but a deputy notes in the report that the quantity suggests drug trafficking.
As a result, Baca’s probation was revoked again, and he was charged with possession of cocaine, marijuana, drug paraphernalia and unlawful carrying of a handgun by a person under 19.
In January, he was sentenced to up to a year of probation after admitting to possessing drug paraphernalia in that case.
Investigators connected the handgun found in the car Baca was driving to casings found at the scene of a shooting linked to the Nov. 9 homicide of Brian Romero, 22, and another shooting in Albuquerque on Nov. 10.
On June 28, Baca was again fired upon by someone in a vehicle blocks away from the shooting in which he was shot in the hand. Since it is an open investigation, the Journal could not access records or more details of the shooting.
Baca’s friend said the teen seemed spooked in the days leading up to the quadruple homicide.
“He was just acting different … telling me, ‘I love you’ and ‘I love my kid,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to accept it.”
Journal staff writers Katy Barnitz and Celia Raney contributed to this report.