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Albuquerque police released the name of the Black teen found dead in a home that caught fire after authorities threw tear gas inside during a standoff overnight Wednesday in Southeast Albuquerque.
Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, identified the boy as 15-year-old Brett Rosenau. Police initially said the teen was believed to be 14 years old.
“The preliminary results of an autopsy cited the cause of death as smoke inhalation and also confirmed that Rosenau was not shot by anyone, as some bystanders alleged at the scene,” Gallegos said Sunday.
Rosenau’s death comes after a national outcry over the deaths of George Floyd and other black men at the hands of police.
Hours after the teen’s body was pulled from the charred home, dozens gathered on East Central to protest the death, waving signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and “(expletive) the police.”
Rosenau died as police tried to get 27-year-old Qiaunt Kelley out of a home near Southern and Pennsylvania SE. APD said Kelley had violated probation for armed carjacking and stolen vehicle charges and was also wanted for questioning related to a May 5 officer-involved shooting, a June 26 homicide and a recent armed robbery.
On Wednesday evening detectives tracked Kelley down at a home in the 8100 block of San Joaquin SE. Rosenau went to the home with Kelley before the standoff began, according to police.
The SWAT team threw tear gas canisters and shot chemical munitions inside the home, and more than an hour later the house was on fire. Kelley surrendered and Rosenau’s body was subsequently found inside.
Arson investigators are now working to determine how the house caught fire.
APD Chief Harold Medina has acknowledged the possibility that the devices used to introduce irritants into the home may have sparked the blaze.
“In our effort to track down and arrest a violent criminal, a young person tragically lost his life,” Medina said in a statement. “I know many people in our community are hurting right now, and appreciate everyone’s patience while the incident is thoroughly investigated.”
Medina said that if any of his department’s actions inadvertently contributed to the death, “we will take steps to ensure this never happens again.”
A fundraising site for the teen’s funeral expenses had raised more than $15,000 by Sunday evening.
“Though all the facts and circumstances have not come out, I do know that Brett was not involved in the SWAT situation where he succumbed to his injuries of severe burns and smoke inhalation,” the page states. “I was not mentally, emotionally, financially prepared for the phone call I received this morning. As a mother you would never imagine you would be attending your child’s funeral.”
The incident has drawn anger from those who lived at the home and the local community as they blamed the department for starting the blaze that killed the boy and called the SWAT team’s actions “overkill.”
By Friday afternoon flowers had been set outside the charred and boarded up home, with a note attached to the bouquet: “Dear child, your life mattered. Black Lives Matter, all blessings to your family.”
Mayor Tim Keller expressed his condolences to Rosenau’s family and friends in a statement Sunday.
“No matter what the circumstances were, a boy’s life was tragically cut short, something no person or parent should experience,” Keller said. “Every single life is valuable and the loss of anyone is devastating to the family and the community.”
A multi-agency task force is investigating the incident and will forward its findings to the District Attorney’s Office for a decision on whether any criminal charges are warranted. APD is also conducting an investigation to determine if policies were followed throughout the incident. And Gallegos noted that APD is required to report details of the investigations to the Department of Justice and the independent monitor as part of the Court Approved Settlement Agreement. APD is also pledging to release video from the incident.
Detectives were following Kelley Wednesday evening to arrest him on a state and federal warrant, according to police. Police said Kelley and the teen ran inside the home and wouldn’t come out.
The SWAT team responded around 9 p.m.
“SWAT officers from APD and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office tried for several hours to convince them to peacefully exit the home,” Gallegos said. “The teams also used strategies such as public address announcements and placing a phone into the residence to make contact with the two males.” He added that crisis negotiators never heard from Kelley or Rosenau.
Over the next several hours, the SWAT team used tear gas and other chemicals in an attempt to get Kelley to surrender.
Police said that around 1 a.m. Thursday the last Flameless Tri-Chamber tear gas canister was thrown into the home. More than an hour went by before smoke began billowing from inside.
Albuquerque Fire Rescue said firefighters responded around 2:45 a.m. and were forced to fight the fire from the outside due to the ongoing standoff.
Kelley came out as the fire still burned and, after the flames were extinguished, Rosenau’s body was found inside. Police say Kelley suffered burn injuries and was taken to a hospital for treatment before being booked into jail.
APD said that beyond the warrants, he was wanted for questioning in the June 26 shooting death of Leonard Fresquez, for a recent armed robbery and for a May 5 incident on the 7600 block of Central in which someone fired an automatic weapon toward officers.
Gallegos noted that detectives discovered a gun in the car Kelley arrived in.
While APD acknowledges the possibility that the devices it used could have sparked the house fire, the agency noted that they are designed for indoor use to minimize the likelihood of igniting a fire and that “no fires have been reported over the many years they have been used in Albuquerque.”