‘No one deserves to die like that’

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

When Sean Lannon boarded a flight to the East Coast, he left behind a monthslong trail of brutal violence in New Mexico that robbed families of a sister, a father, a brother and a grandson, police say.

The Journal gathered the stories of those people – their personalities, quirks and passions – from relatives all around the state and across the country to paint a picture of the loss.

Jennifer Lannon, 39

Chris Whitman, Jennifer Lannon’s brother, said he was the last of the family to speak with his sister on Jan. 12.

Jennifer Lannon (Courtesy of Chris Whitman)

“I was actually in the hospital with COVID and she was giving me a call, just worried about me. Letting me know that she was praying for me and was thinking about us. She couldn’t wait to get back home,” he said. “After that we lost contact. Which wasn’t like her.”

In the months that followed Whitman said Sean Lannon, 47, would regularly touch base with their parents, always maintaining that Jennifer had “ran off.” Soon Lannon hopped a plane to bring the kids to New Jersey and said he planned a return to New Mexico to look for her.

“My mom was talking to him that Saturday, without even knowing the bodies were found,” Whitman said.

Once Lannon became a suspect, Whitman said authorities moved the family to an “undisclosed location” for their safety until his arrest. The brother can’t wrap his head around the case.

“It’s mind boggling … I mean you try to piece together – ‘Why did he do this to her?’ – to me he might have had some type of pain in his life that he was trying to let out somehow or deal with,” Whitman said.

He said, throughout the years, Sean Lannon was often silent at Thanksgiving dinners, birthday parties and other family get-togethers.

“We were cordial, would be friendly, tried to get to know him. But there was always something where he was standoffish and I couldn’t understand why,” Whitman said. “He wouldn’t really talk much to us.”

He said Jennifer Lannon, a nurse, moved to New Mexico with her husband after he got a job as the foreman of an environmental clean-up crew at an oil field. Court records show the couple filed for bankruptcy in 2015 in New Jersey and, by 2018, had filed for divorce in New Mexico.

Sean Lannon asked for sole custody, citing his wife’s “longstanding difficulty with prescribed and non-prescribed drug use.”

Despite the divorce, Whitman said the couple stayed in the same house and raised the kids together. He said neither Jennifer nor Sean “indicated anything was wrong.”

Nicole Brown said she met Jennifer Lannon in 2019 when the two shared a dorm for six months at Hoving Home in New York, a program for women with drug and alcohol abuse.

“She was struggling a little bit,” she said of Lannon, but was funny, smart and had “a really good heart.”

Brown said Jennifer Lannon was “so good” with the ladies coming into the home and “letting them know there were better things ahead of them.”

During their stay at Hoving Home, Brown said Sean Lannon would call often and even drove from New Mexico to visit Jennifer at the home. But Brown said Sean Lannon was “extremely controlling” and “just seemed real off.”

When she heard what happened, she said her heart was broken.

“I’m still in absolute shock, just the way it happened, I mean, that’s insane,” Brown said.

Like most people, Whitman said his sister had her issues in life.

“I know she had a few but she had addressed it, gotten her life better and was looking to continue to live a good life for herself and her family,” he said.

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In this photo taken in October 2020, Jennifer Lannon, second from right, poses for a photo with her brother Chris Whitman and sisters, Sarah Whitman, far left, and Kim Bermudez in Blackwood, N.J. (Sharon Whitman via AP)

Whitman said the whole family is mourning a daughter, sister and mother of five, who had a beautiful friendly smile and personality that “people gravitated towards.” Jennifer Lannon had three kids with Sean and two other children.

He said Jennifer Lannon always loved musical theater, taught herself to play the harp and was a social butterfly. Whitman said she loved taking family trips to the Jersey Shore or Disneyland and told him she was planning to move back to New Jersey.

“Even when she moved to New Mexico she always kept in contact with us and would miss us,” he said.

Whitman called what happened “unbelievable,” “senseless” and “unthinkable” but said he also feels for Sean Lannon.

“At first, I had hatred for Sean but now I feel sorry for him that he experienced this, because obviously he had some stuff going on in his mind,” Whitman said. “I do feel bad for him, as a father, knowing he has kids he’s never seeing again. I’ll be praying for him and hopefully one day I can forgive him… We want to get to a place where we can forgive him.”

Jesten Mata, 40

Hilary Sweeney can’t help but cry when she thinks of the first time she met Jesten Mata.

Sweeney was at a picnic table studying outside Northern Arizona Academy in Show Low, Arizona, when Mata walked up and sat at the table across from her.

“I was a little shy… He just wanted to talk, wanted to know who I was,” she said, adding that the pair were “inseparable” from then on.

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This 2007 photo provided by Hilary J. Sweeney shows Jesten Mata, left, and his son Ryan at a restaurant in Phoenix. Mata was one of four people whose remains were found in a vehicle in a parking garage at the Albuquerque International Sunport on March 5. (Hilary J. Sweeney via AP)

Sweeney said the two went on to have a child, Ryan, in 2004 but split in the years that followed after Mata began hanging with the wrong crowd and using drugs.

“Because we had a young boy, we grew apart, I couldn’t live that life. I couldn’t be around those types of people. It’s not the type of life I wanted for my son,” she said.

But – even as Mata was in and out of jail – the couple kept in touch. Letters between Mata and his son turned into phone calls and then Facebook messages.

More recently, Sweeney said she’d grown more concerned for Mata.

“I just knew that something bad was going to happen, I never would’ve thought that this was what was going to happen,” she said. The weekend after the bodies were found at the Sunport a friend sent her the article.

“I just saw the headline and just started bawling … I don’t even remember reading the article, I kind of blacked out,” she said.

Sweeney said although Mata fell into a life of crime and addiction, she knew the best of him.

“To be honest with you, not in any mean way, the person he ultimately turned out to be is not someone I could go and have a baby with,” she said. “That wasn’t the person I fell in love with.”

The Mata she knew was “very charismatic” and fun. He loved to take long, spontaneous drives and listen to Tupac Shakur. Sweeney said their son Ryan, now a teenager, reminds her of him.

“I tell my son often, throughout the years, you laugh just like your dad or you smile just like your dad,” she said. “He was a real kind, loving person. We didn’t always have the best of times together … but, none of that matters at all to me right now. No one deserves to die like that.”

Matthew Miller, 21

Juanita Schult said her grandson, Matthew Miller, had a rough go of it.

Matthew Miller (Source: Grants Police Department)

“The poor kid was going through hell, he really was,” she said, adding that he didn’t have “a snowball’s chance in hell.”

She said Miller lost both parents and the grandparents he lived with in the past year. Miller fell into using drugs after his mother, who he was closest with, died of a blood clot in April.

“He was just a nice, sweet, naive kid, that everybody took advantage of him,” Schult said.

She said she would give him cash but stopped when he began using drugs but would still buy him food or fill his tank with gas. Miller lived in the home he shared with his grandparents after they died.

Schult said Miller was “extremely smart” but was very sheltered and quiet. He dropped out of Grants High School and later got his GED, something he worked hard for.

An animal lover, he had three cats and three dogs at the home, which had electricity but no running water. She said he would come to her house to fill buckets of water or use the shower. The last time he came over, before he went missing, Schult said he brought one of the kittens.

“He brought his kitty to show grandma, he always brought one of them to my house,” she said, fondly. When she found out Miller hadn’t come home for a week, Schult said she called the police to report him missing.

“I knew something was wrong because he would have never left those animals, ever,” she said.

Schult later added, “I’m not going to make no excuses for him – because he was doing drugs – but there’s no way in hell he ever deserved something like this. None of them did.”

Randall ‘Randy’ Apostalon, 60

Tammie Perez wants answers.

Randall Apostalon (Courtesy of Mark Apostalon)

“How did they do it, or why did they do it?” she asked, referring to Randall “Randy” Apostalon’s death, her voice broken up by sobs.

Perez said she lived with Randall “Randy” Apostalon “on and off” for the past nine years.

“We spent a lot of time together, he was my best friend,” she said.

Perez said Apostalon met Lannon, the man suspected of killing him, at the Pearl apartments in Albuquerque and he asked Apostalon if he could store some bins in Apostalon’s storage unit. She said the two loaded Lannon’s stuff into Apostalon’s truck and came by their apartment, where she met Lannon briefly and he told her his wife “left him a month ago.”

Perez said Apostalon told her he was making $20 off the job and, after the two had an argument, Apostalon left with Lannon to his storage unit off Menaul.

“All he was doing was trying to help him out,” Perez said. “… If I had known that was the last time I (was going to see) him I wouldn’t have argued with him.”

She said Apostalon was outgoing, had a great smile and would “do anything he could” to help somebody.

Perez said Apostalon took her in when she had no place to go and nobody to turn to.

“We looked out for each other,” she said. “It’s just lonely without him.”

Relatives said Apostalon, one of five siblings, was a “dear brother” who did not deserve such a “stupid and cruel demise.”

Most recently, Apostalon worked as a handyman and tree trimmer around town and took his boxer “Lucy” with him everywhere. Family members said he was a “good hearted” man and a storyteller who loved to crack jokes and was especially fond of puns.

Mark Apostalon, his brother, called Apostalon “a kind soul taken too early in this life.” Apostalon said his brother had struggled on and off with drugs but was not homeless, as previously reported, and had recently started the journey of eliminating substances from his life “for good.”

“He was loved by his family and extended family as well,” he said. “We are all going to miss him.”

Alexis Young, Apostalon’s niece, said she’s not sure how the family gets closure for Lannon’s alleged “senseless and evil” actions.

“His anger toward his ex-wife condemned innocent people and I don’t know how he’ll atone for that,” she said, adding that she regrets not being able to hug her uncle again or “laugh at another ridiculous pun.”

Grisly details emerge in Sunport bodies case

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