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It was the year that Albuquerque shattered its homicide record – reaching a total of 117 within city limits. Here are just a few of the stories of the lives that were taken.
Joe Romero, 23
Jorden Centeno has left her brother’s room the way it was.
Months later, his clean laundry still sits neatly folded on his bed.
“It’s just been shocking, we haven’t been able to process it,” Centeno said of Joe Romero’s death. “He was doing so good in life, and then he was just gone. And we all had these plans with him.”
On June 6 officers responded around 1:30 a.m. to reports of gunfire and found the 23-year-old fatally shot beside his crashed motorcycle east of Downtown Albuquerque.
Romero died at the hospital and the homicide remains unsolved. Detectives have not released further details into the case, except to classify it as a road rage incident.
But Centeno can’t picture it.
“He was very cautious – very courteous – never the type of person to get mad at anybody on the road,” she said.
In the hours before his death, Centeno said the family went out to celebrate her recent marriage. Romero, who lived with her, tried his first mixed drink at Safe House Distilling – a margarita.
Centeno said they ended up home by 11:30 p.m. and when she woke up the next morning, Romero and his Harley Davidson were gone.
She said a doorbell camera showed he left after 1 a.m., rolling his bike into the street to start it so he didn’t wake her. When Romero didn’t come home, relatives checked hospitals and the arrest list.
They found a Journal article about a late-night homicide and recognized Romero’s bike in the photo, surrounded by evidence markers.
She said the Office of the Medical Investigator confirmed it had Romero’s body. The next night a sergeant showed up at their door.
“He apologized and said that somebody dropped the ball – his exact words – for not contacting us,” Centeno said.
A month later, she said, police told them the incident had been caught on video. Then in November, police told them the camera wasn’t working that night but they were building a case.
Centeno said Romero, her only sibling, was one of a kind for his age; he had a flip phone and despised social media. Despite dropping out of school after their father’s sudden death, he was one of the smartest people she knew.
Just before his death he planned to get a job as a driver at UPS or FedEx. He was learning to dance and trying to find a girlfriend.
Centeno said he was “in the absolute happiest time of his life.”
Now, his picture sits on Centeno’s jewelry box. His ashes are in their mother’s living room, joined by Christmas decorations. Sometimes Centeno looks through his room, hoping for a clue, but there’s nothing. Soon after his death, she found out she was pregnant. The boy’s middle name will be Joe.
“He loved kids so much. That’s the one thing I always think about. … He wanted to be a dad and settle down, even at 23 … he was just looking for the right one,” Centeno said.
She thinks he would’ve made a great uncle.
Ryan Saavedra Jr., 18
A couple of years ago, while working at Chick-fil-A, Ryan Saavedra Jr. used to always make sure to bring a meal to homeless people nearby. A smart kid, he was interested in the stock market and Bitcoin and saving money for the future.
“He was just that type of kid,” said Ryan’s mother, Danielle Saavedra. “Very caring, very lovable.”
In April, Saavedra Jr. was at Westgate Heights Park, near Unser and Arenal SW, in the middle of the night when he was shot. His friend brought him to the hospital, where he died.
“A female lured him to the park and I guess approached the vehicle that he was in with another person …” his mother said. “They were Maced in the vehicle and the person, I don’t know who it was – a male – shot him.”
No one has been arrested in the case. Albuquerque police say the investigation is “very active” and that the shooting stemmed from a fentanyl deal that turned into a robbery.
Danielle Saavedra said her son had been working with a shop detailing cars and was two weeks away from graduating high school. He had been attending eCADEMY magnet high school from home for the past three years.
She said the family decided it would be better for him to leave Atrisco Heritage Academy High School after he was charged in a robbery turned homicide. Police say in April 2018 Saavedra Jr., then 15, and four other teenagers planned to rob Clifford Patterson III and one of them – not Saavedra Jr. – shot him in the back of the head.
After her son’s death Danielle Saavedra joined the New Mexico Crusaders for Justice, a group for people who have lost loved ones, and in December, his father – an artist – painted a float for the group to ride in the Twinkle Light Parade. She has also been scanning social media, looking at photos of teenagers armed with guns, trying to get answers.
“I don’t even want to go anywhere because it’s so scary out there,” Danielle Saavedra said. “I don’t even like my son – my little one – to go with anyone because since that happened to Ryan, I’m very overprotective.”
Sh’yla Rae Woods, 21
On Sh’yla Rae Woods’ 18th birthday, her father was found dead – he had been shot multiple times and his body left by the side of a deserted stretch of road west of the city.
The two had been close, her mother said, and the news hit the teen hard.
A little more than three years later, on May 29, violence struck the family again when the 21-year-old was killed in what her mother said was a gunfight following a night out.
Amber Woods said her daughter’s friends told her they had gone out to Effex, a nightclub Downtown, and met a group of men. The whole crew ended up back at her daughter’s apartment on 63rd NW, near Coors and Central.
Amber Woods said she was told a fight broke out and the men left, but then returned.
“When Sh’yla and them opened the front door to just go outside, they look and see these three men running towards her apartment and they started shooting,” Amber Woods said. “They shot her girlfriend first. Sh’yla pushed her down when she got shot and shut the front door and grabbed her gun.”
Amber Woods said her daughter returned fire, striking one of the men, before she was shot. Sh’yla Woods died at the scene. Her girlfriend and the man were taken to the hospital. No arrests have been made. Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said the men may have acted in self-defense. He said detectives will be closing the case soon and sending it to the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office for review.
“There was an argument over money belonging to Sh’yla,” Gallegos wrote in an email. “She was armed with a gun when they arrived and witnesses said she started shooting at the males as they walked up. The males returned fire and killed Sh’yla.”
To make matters worse, Amber Woods said, when she was able to get into her daughter’s apartment a couple of days later they found it had been burglarized. Sh’yla Woods had been packed up in preparation to move and all of her stuff, her car and her two dogs – a pit bull named Marquan and Maltese named Panda – were gone.
As a youngster, Sh’yla Woods had dreamed of being a K9 officer so she could have a dog for a partner, not a human, her mother said. Before the pandemic shut everything down, she worked at the zoo – a job she loved.
“She worked all over, she would go help with the penguins, she would do cleanup, she would do tickets.” Amber said. “She just loved animals ever since she was a little kid.”
The last time mother and daughter talked was just before Sh’yla Woods went out on the town.
Her mother said ever since Sh’yla Wood’s father was killed the two kept in constant contact and her daughter would text her every time she went out and when she got home so she wouldn’t worry.
“It traumatized her, it changed her life completely,” Amber Woods said, referring to the death of her daughter’s father. “She just felt like she had to step up and take care of me and her brothers. It breaks my heart that she had to feel that type of responsibility.”
Martesse Patterson, 26
When Martesse Patterson got an offer to play with the Duke City Gladiators in June, the 26-year-old sought the guidance of his mother.
“He asked me, did I think it was a good idea. Even though he was grown, he just wanted to make sure that I was OK with it.” Tamara Patterson said. “There were other teams that he could have went to. … But Albuquerque seemed a little bit more quiet, slower. And I just thought he’d be OK.”
On Nov. 7, gunfire erupted outside a convenience store on East Central leaving Patterson dead and another man injured. At the time it was the 100th homicide committed in city limits and remains one of 76 unsolved cases.
Tamara Patterson visited her son during the Balloon Fiesta and Martesse Patterson, who moved from Chicago, described the “calmness” of his new home. She said it was “a stab in the chest” for him to leave the Windy City, with almost 800 homicides this year, and be slain in the streets of Albuquerque.
“That’s just, I just can’t believe it,” Tamara Patterson said, at a loss for words.
She said a detective told her that her son was in the “wrong place, wrong time” and caught in the middle of an altercation.
“Something about a high crime area, he spoke like that,” she said.
Tamara Patterson said police told her that video showed her son leave the store and approach a homeless man, giving him money or something to eat. She said his back was to the shooter and he tried to run but was hit several times.
It took nine days for the news to reach her.
Tamara Patterson, who lives in Indiana, said she reported her son missing before officers came to her door with a note to call a detective in Albuquerque.
Raised in Columbus, Ohio, Martesse Patterson became the man of the house at a young age when he and his sister lost their father. His talents as an offensive lineman got him a full-ride scholarship to Purdue, where he pursued African American studies.
He talked about wanting to work with at-risk youth someday.
“He had a lot more life to live, a lot more goals to achieve,” Tamara Patterson said.
She described her son as a jokester who loved to play chess and cherished R&B music. He was a man “before his time” who broke out into song wherever, whenever.
“Most of the time, murders go unsolved, people forget … we are still grieving,” Tamara Patterson said. “I still want his face to be seen and if anybody knows anything that they come forth and say something.”
Mohammad Ahmadi, 62
Almost every day, Sharief A Hadi returns to the scene where his younger brother was killed.
And every time it makes him cry.
The two owned the Ariana Halal Market & Cafe on San Mateo near Mountain NE, where 62-year-old Muhammad Zahir Ahmadi specialized in cooking traditional dishes from Afghanistan.
Then, on the evening of Nov. 7 – about 18 hours after Martesse Patterson was killed – Ahmadi was shot to death behind the store. He was found face down on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head.
An APD spokesman said there are no leads or updates in the case.
“There is no indication the homicide was the result of racial motivation,” spokesman Gilbert Gallegos wrote in an email.
For Hadi the violence is unthinkable. The brothers and their father left Afghanistan in the early 1980s, fleeing threats from the then-communist government. They settled in Pennsylvania before coming to Albuquerque in the mid-1990s.
Hadi, who had been selling gemstones, had traveled to New Mexico for work and decided to move here. Not long after he persuaded his brother to join him.
“I had to travel all over, then I got to New Mexico,” Hadi said. “I like it – the weather and the people were so nice. And I chose to stay here because of my business.”
Hadi and his brother opened the market in 2008. He said his brother was a great cook who often catered for groups at the university.
On the evening Ahmadi was killed he had stayed after hours at the shop to finish cooking. Hadi suspects his brother had gone out to smoke a cigarette and was sitting on a chair behind the shop when he was shot.
“I left at 5 o’clock and he had laid down in the back,” Hadi said. “When I went home someone called me and said ‘Sharief what’s going on at your store?’ When I came back the police were all over.”
He said the officers told him to leave and then called him about 2 a.m. to tell him his brother had been killed.
With almost two months and no answers, Hadi is still struggling to understand what happened.
“I don’t have anything to tell you,” he said. “He is my brother. I loved him, he loved me.”