- ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Read the statement released by the Griego family here.
Nehemiah Griego had long harbored violent fantasies that included mass killings and murder-suicide scenarios.
More recently, those fantasies started to crystallize into a specific plan to kill his family, his girlfriend’s family and even strangers at a local Walmart, Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston and one of his lead investigators said Tuesday.
According to sheriff’s investigators, the 15-year-old followed through with part of the plan early Saturday, when they say he fatally shot his mother and younger brother in bed, his two young sisters in another room and then waited five hours to ambush his father in the family’s South Valley home.
Nehemiah’s father, local pastor Greg Griego, had been working an overnight shift at the Albuquerque Rescue Mission before returning home around 6 a.m. Saturday, officials said.
Houston said during a news conference Tuesday morning that authorities have “no best judgment on a motive” other than he was “frustrated” with his mother.
“This is beyond any human reasoning or understanding at this time,” he said. “It’s horrific. What other word do you use? It’s the first time I’ve been to a crime scene with this much destruction.”
Shortly after he shot his mother while she slept – around 1 a.m. Saturday – Nehemiah texted a picture of his mother’s body to his 12-year-old girlfriend, Houston told reporters. And it appears the girlfriend, who spent much of Saturday after the slayings with Nehemiah, knew he had killed his family even as he told different stories to others.
BCSO Lt. Sid Covington said it appears that Nehemiah had made comments consistent with his plan for at least a week prior to the shootings, but he would not say who the teen had talked to.
“That’s part of the investigation that’s still active,” Covington said.
“… We’re still investigating who he might have told and what exactly he told them.”
When asked whether he told the girlfriend his plans prior to the killings, Covington said that’s one possibility investigators are looking into.
Investigators are searching through the girlfriend’s cellphone as well as Nehemiah’s, the Journal has learned.
Houston said the girl could face charges, although he did not say what she could be charged with and did not call her a suspect. A BCSO spokesman said later Tuesday that there are no pending charges, and authorities aren’t contemplating any at this point.
Officials said at the news conference that it didn’t appear Nehemiah had any history of mental illness or that he had been taking any kind of medication.
Facing 200 years
Nehemiah has been in custody at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center since early Sunday. He was scheduled Tuesday afternoon for an initial appearance in Metropolitan Court on five counts of murder and three counts of child abuse resulting in death.
But Nehemiah waived the court appearance, and state District Judge Yvette Gonzales signed a stipulated order between prosecutors and the Public Defender’s Office under which he will be held without bond.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Tuesday that the case should be presented to a grand jury within 10 days. Nehemiah will be tried as an adult under the state’s Serious Youthful Offender Act, which applies to any teen aged 15, 16 or 17 charged with first-degree murder.
If convicted, he could face more than 200 years in prison – 30 years for each murder charge in addition to 30 years for each child abused – but because he’s a juvenile, the judge has more sentencing discretion, Brandenburg said.
However, she said the gravity of the charges against Nehemiah would give any judge pause before going easy on the teen.
“The fact that five people lost their lives – some very young children – that certainly wouldn’t result in a light or minor sentence,” Brandenburg said.
The victims are: Greg Griego, 51; Sarah Griego, 40; Zephania Griego, 9; Jael Griego, 5; and Angelina Griego, 2.
Jeff Buckels, who supervises the Capitol Crimes division of the state Public Defender’s Office, will represent Nehemiah. Buckels did not return calls for comment Tuesday, but Brandenburg said he is an experienced and thorough public defender.
“I would suspect that (Nehemiah) will be well represented, and that every issue possible will be addressed fully and completely,” Brandenburg said.
More killings considered
During Tuesday’s news conference, Houston and Covington answered some lingering questions and provided some previously undisclosed details.
Preliminary reports indicate that Nehemiah waited for his mother to fall asleep, and then retrieved several guns from the closet of his parents’ bedroom about 1 a.m. He shot his mother once in the head, then shot his 9-year-old brother multiple times, including in the head, with a .22 caliber rifle, Houston and investigators said.
He then shot his two sisters, aged 5 and 2, in another room with the .22 caliber rifle, Houston said. One of the girls was awake, he said, and the other was sleeping. One was shot multiple times; the other once.
Covington said Nehemiah shot his father multiple times with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, including at least once in the head.
Officials said the teen was familiar with firearms because his father had taught him to shoot.
After the killings, Nehemiah reloaded the .22 caliber rifle and the AR-15, put them in the family’s van along with several rounds of ammunition and drove away, officials said.
They said he had contemplated killing his girlfriend’s family and then “going and ending this at a Walmart with mass destruction.”
Instead, Nehemiah spent much of Saturday with his girlfriend and her grandmother, officials said. It’s unclear exactly where they were, and Nehemiah on a few occasions left the two and then reconnected with them.
Around 8 p.m., he went to Calvary Chapel on Osuna NE, where his father worked until recently as a pastor, officials said. Nehemiah told a church security guard that his family was dead. The security guard drove the boy to the Griegos’ home on the 2800 block of Long Lane SW and called 911.
Nehemiah agreed to speak with investigators without an attorney or an adult present. The interview lasted about 90 minutes, the Journal has learned, and investigators began by asking Nehemiah to talk about himself and his interests.
Covington said during the news conference that Nehemiah told detectives he enjoyed playing video games, including Modern Warfare and Grand Theft Auto. Covington said he didn’t know whether Nehemiah’s parents knew he played those games.
Officials said the two guns used in the killings, as well as two pistol-grip 12-gauge shotguns found in the Griegos’ home, had been purchased legally. It is not clear, however, who bought them.
Covington said it appears some of the guns owned by Greg Griego – including possibly those used in the killings – had been purchased by Greg Griego’s friends and then either sold to or given to the pastor. BCSO is working with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to trace the history of those guns, as well as the two shotguns.
Griego had told friends, colleagues and inmates he worked with that he was an ex-con and had done prison time. That raised the question of how he obtained the guns.
Houston said that although he has numerous arrests in his past, it does not appear Greg Griego was a convicted felon. A BCSO spokesman said it appears Greg Griego’s arrests were out of state. He could not say what the charges were.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal