Families grieve as ABQ tallies 100th homicide - Albuquerque Journal

Families grieve as ABQ tallies 100th homicide

Albuquerque police conduct a homicide investigation after a shooting early Sunday left one dead and another wounded outside a convenience store at Pennsylvania and Central. It was the 100th suspected homicide in Albuquerque this year.(Robert Browman/Journal)
A few hundred friends and family members gathered Saturday evening at a park next to Valley High School to honor Lorenzo Romero, an 18-year old fatally shot while leaving a Halloween party on Oct. 31. Erica Walker, the victim’s mother, center, says she’s still in shock over her son’s death.(Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

An alert from a gunshot detection device, along with a 911 call brought Albuquerque police to the Adam Food Market on East Central just before 1 a.m. Sunday. Officers found two men shot, one of them already dead, in the parking lot. The other man was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in stable condition.

Police strung crime scene tape around the area, and two mobile crime labs idled in the street.

A detective paced the parking lot, scanning the ground with a flashlight. A white four-door sedan sat nearby with its doors open. The body of a man — lying on his back — could be seen behind the car.

One man drove up alongside the crime scene and rolled down his window to ask what happened. Upon hearing of the shooting, he asked, hesitantly, “They kill ‘em?”

Once he had his answer, the man shook his head solemnly and drove off, down Central.

With that, Albuquerque tallied its 100th suspected homicide of the year. That number grew to 101 about 18 hours later after police found a man, facedown, shot in the head in Northeast Albuquerque.

After a quiet stretch in October, the city was pushed toward the disturbing benchmark — its highest homicide total and rate in recorded history — by a Halloween weekend punctuated by gunfights at multiple parties, followed by three homicides in less than 24 hours.

‘A lot of resources’

“We have devoted a lot of resources to the increase in homicides during the pandemic. We want to solve cases and be responsive to families of victims because we know how personal these crimes are, no matter the circumstance,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said in a statement Sunday. “At the same time, our detectives are committed to solving homicides from past years, whether they occurred last year or decades ago.”

Medina pointed out the recent spike in gun violence at parties and said the department is planning a public awareness campaign to alert parents, homeowners and students “about the dangers of attending parties that may be targeted by bad actors.”

Lorenzo Romero sings “Happy Birthday” to his little brother, Diego, hours before his death on Oct. 31. Authorities say Romero was fatally shot when gunfire erupted at a Halloween (Courtesy of Erika Walker)

Lorenzo Romero, called Lolo by his family, was one of those killed during a Halloween party on Oct. 31.

Two men found the 18-year-old lying on the ground fatally shot near a house party dispersed by gunfire. They took Romero to a hospital, where he died soon after.

A week later, his mother, Erika Walker, is “still in shock.”

“You know that it happens, but you just never think it’s going to happen to you,” Walker told the Journal. “I don’t want any other families to have to go through this. I just wish there was more that we can do. I don’t know — how are these kids getting all these guns? It’s just crazy.”

The majority of this year’s deaths have involved guns, and they include multiple double homicides, one triple homicide and a deadly school shooting. Bar fights, road rage incidents and street squabbles have also erupted in gunfire.

Although homicides have repeatedly hit record-breaking highs in recent years, a growing population had kept Albuquerque below its highest homicide rate — 16.6 per 100,000, in 1996 — when there were 100,000 fewer residents.

With 101 homicides, the city is now just shy of a rate of 18 per 100,000.

Of those cases, 98 are being investigated by the Albuquerque Police Department, and three, including a double homicide, by New Mexico State Police. There has been an arrest or charges filed in 30 of the cases.

The spike in violence once again took center stage in the mayoral race. Incumbent Tim Keller and Chief Medina repeatedly said Albuquerque was experiencing the same trends and spikes experienced in other cities nationally.

Early in the year, APD announced tactical plans targeting hotels and apartment complexes where homicides seemed to cluster. Later, the department became more aggressive about going after violent offenders when four officers were injured in an August gunfight with a robbery suspect.

But the violence hasn’t let up.

January had the highest homicide count, with 13, while February had the lowest, with five. The longest the city went without a slaying was an 11-day stretch in late August and early September.

The biggest groupings of homicides were in the neighborhoods along Central, between Louisiana and Wyoming, and the Downtown area to the river. At least 80 of the homicides were shootings, and the victims covered a wide range in age.

There was 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove, who was allegedly shot by another eighth grader during lunch at Washington Middle School, near Downtown. And 64-year-old Karl Jurisson, a local engineer, fatally shot outside a home in the university area.

The violence ratcheted up over Halloween weekend as shootings in the city and Bernalillo County left three people dead and eight wounded.

A video posted to Facebook showed Lorenzo Romero hours before his death, singing “Happy Birthday” to his 14-year-old brother and dancing alongside family.

“He was just glowing,” his mother said. “Little did I know that would be the last video that we would be taking of him.”

Another video posted to Facebook appears to show several armed men burst into a party at an apartment complex near the Sunport.

Authorities say Romero was shot in the same complex. The details are unclear.

“I kept telling him to stay home that night. He had other plans. … He said, ‘Bye Mom. I love you,’ and I said, ‘Love you, too,'” Walker said. “And that was it.”

His friends told her they had left a party when a group of armed men showed up. She was told her son was standing up for a friend when an altercation broke out on the way to the car, and he was shot.

Walker said two strangers found Romero on the ground and put him into their truck, and one of the men prayed with him on the way to the hospital.

“He had just turned 18 and started getting his feet wet out there and going out with friends,” Walker said. “I’m not going to say he’s perfect. I know, recently, he would have some beers, but he didn’t do drugs. He didn’t gangbang. He wasn’t a part of any of that.”

She’s dismayed that her children have to grow up in a world where bullets have replaced fists as a way of settling disputes.

Walker said Romero was a father figure to four younger siblings and two cousins, reading to them and helping with homework, as he continued to be a prolific athlete — playing football and basketball for Valley High School.

He recently graduated from Siembra Leadership High School and was planning to start an electrician apprenticeship and follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

Walker gathered with hundreds of others at a park beside Valley High on Saturday evening.

The crowd formed a large circle around a table where candles and a photo collage of Romero were placed. The people held blue balloons and candles, some wearing sweaters bearing Romero’s picture, as many shared stories of him.

As the sun set, they let go of their balloons and held the lights high, chanting “Long live Lolo.” The balloons drifted skyward — eventually blending into the deep-blue dusk.

Diego, the brother who just turned 14, wept as others consoled him.

Balloons are released into the sky on Saturday afternoon in memory of Lorenzo Romero, who was shot and killed on Oct. 31. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
Balloons are released into the sky on Saturday afternoon in memory of Lorenzo Romero, who was shot and killed on Oct. 31. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

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