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After 21-year-old Melina Jones was shot and killed following a fight at a Downtown parking lot in August, her girlfriend, who was there with her, told police she knew who was responsible.
Over the past three months, Nayeli Rodriguez has been collecting videos the young man posted on social media of himself holding guns and sending them to the detective in charge of the case. The 20-year-old said she also found a bullet embedded in her car tire – which had gone flat at the scene – and gave it to the detective.
A spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department said the case is still under investigation and he couldn’t discuss specific evidence related to it. He would not confirm if the man was a suspect, so the Journal is not identifying him.
In the meantime, Jones’ family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners of the parking lot on Second and Central, alleging that they knew the area had been a hot spot for violent crime on weekend nights but made little to no effort to increase or maintain security.
The lawsuit names the man Rodriguez has identified, and it alleges that he shot Jones multiple times following a confrontation. It also contends the lot used to have a security provider but its contract was canceled several weeks before the Aug. 22 shooting.
“We’ve heard, at least in the incident involving Melina Jones, that young people were hanging out there for at least an hour and a half, blasting music, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana,” said attorney Shayne Huffman, who is representing Jones’ family in the suit. “So when you have a known area where people are congregating, I think the onus is on the property owner to pay for security to – even at the very minimum – just shoo people away. I think that’s all it would take.”
The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and was filed in mid-October by Melina Jones’ aunt Marshana Jones, who Huffman said basically raised her niece.
“Melina’s mother was out of the picture from an early age and Marshana stepped up, brought Melina into her home, and acted as her mother figure,” he said.
Records kept by the New Mexico Secretary of State list Thomas Keleher, who retired from the Jennings Haug Keleher McLeod Law Firm, as the registered agent for Two Hundred Central LLC – the company that owns the lot. Its attorney did not respond to requests for comment from the Journal.
But in a response filed in court the LLC denied all allegations.
Crime data for the parking lot was not immediately available, but the lawsuit cites officials identifying the location and another one several blocks away on Sixth and Central as high crime areas. For instance, in September, Mayor Tim Keller told KOB-TV that “the two parking lots on the end of downtown are the primary locations of crimes” and that the one on Second and Central is a “facilitator of crime.”
Gilbert Gallegos, the APD spokesman, said the city is working on ideas for the parking lots and expects to make a decision on how to address it soon.
While the man Melina Jones’ friends and family suspect is the shooter has not been charged in her case, he is wanted on a similar case from a week earlier. A warrant was issued for him in late August and last week Crime Stoppers publicized that it is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to his arrest for allegedly shooting a young woman in the arm and leg after she intervened in a fight.
Rodriguez said she met Melina Jones at a party and then the two started talking over social media. She said the two dated for about eight months and lived together starting from the first day they got together.
The two didn’t regularly go out Downtown but had been to the parking lot before and knew it as a place to meet up with friends, she said.
“Just all kinds of nice cars there, a lot of people, a lot of friends end up going there, we’ll get there and drink there and have fun there,” Rodriguez said. “If there’s not a house party or something you’ll just go there and there’s people there, you know?”
She said on the night in question Melina Jones had intervened when the man insulted her friend and he “got all fired up and started going off.” Then, when he pulled out a gun, Rodriguez said she began getting scared.
“We saw him run so we were all going to run to the car and when we ran to the car shots rang out,” Rodriguez said, starting to cry. “I was already on the side of the driver’s side. She was still standing but she was in shock, kind of. I tried to put her in my car … the police officers took her from me, she was on the floor and I was holding on to her. I was asking if she had a pulse and they weren’t letting me know.”
An APD officer arrived on the scene as the shooting happened and fired at the suspect, but missed.
Since that night Rodriguez moved out of the house she shared with Melina Jones and her roommates and back in with her parents. She’s trying to get therapy.
And she watches the man she thinks killed her girlfriend post live videos or carry on conversations on social media.
“It’s hard because I’m seeing him waving guns around, not caring …,” Rodriguez said. “It hurts me that he’s still out there and I don’t have my girlfriend anymore.”