Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Yellow crime scene tape swung listlessly on both sides of the Montaño Bridge.
The often bustling roadway was empty Saturday morning aside from a few police vehicles and two RV-like mobile crime labs. Nearby, a white Ford truck had crashed through a wall east of the river.
Adobe bricks were strewn atop the cracked windshield and bullet holes dotted the driver’s side door. Beside the truck a man lay on his back motionless – facing a gray sky that seemed to hold a chill over the city.
He was the 115th person killed in a homicide in Albuquerque this year, setting the mark for the highest one-year total in recorded history with December just underway.
The record was previously set in 2021 with 117 homicides by year’s end around the city but at least three of those have since been ruled self-defense shootings or otherwise. Before that, the highest total was in 2019 with 81 homicides.
The back-to-back record highs of 2021 and 2022 didn’t come as much of a surprise – and was less a question of if it would be reached than when – as the city notched an exceedingly violent run from spring into fall.
There were 69 people killed from May through September this year, the lowest monthly total in that stretch being the 10 homicides in July.
Outside of city limits, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has recorded 19 homicides in 2022, the agency’s highest total in recent memory.
Before 2022, BCSO had fluctuated between 11 homicides in 2021 and five homicides in 2017, largely sidestepping the sharp spikes seen by the Albuquerque Police Department.
In 2021 and previous years, the violence wasn’t as relentless – even with the usual summer increases – and homicides were more evenly spread across the year.
The Saturday morning incident had all the markings of road rage.
Officer Chase Jewell, an APD spokesman, said police responded around 5 a.m. to a single-vehicle crash on Montaño NW at the river. He said police found the truck’s driver, a man, dead at the scene.
“It was discovered this individual had sustained multiple gunshot wounds,” Jewell said. “Homicide detectives are activated and will be taking over the investigation.”
It was the third time in just over a month that police have responded to a vehicle crash and found someone shot to death. In the most recent, on Nov. 23, officers found a man dead in a vehicle that crashed into a home in Southeast Albuquerque.
This year has seen more double homicides, more youthful victims and suspects and more females losing their lives.
In 2022, there have been seven double homicides compared with three doubles and one triple in 2021. Ten of those killed and seven of those arrested in 2022 cases were under 17 compared with four killed and three arrested in 2021 – numbers similar to previous years.
Four of the seven teens charged in homicides this year were arrested in a single case — one of mistaken identity in which 28-year-old Kayla Montano was fatally shot while in the car with her daughter and fiance.
An obituary described Montano as “a beautiful soul.”
Montano had battled mental illness and was going on three years sober, according to the obituary, a choice she made to be in her daughter’s life. She was set to be married later in the year.
“On her good days she was a loving, caring person who touched many lives,” the obituary read. “… There is nothing that Kayla loved more than her child, while due to her mental illness, she was unable to parent her, she still loved her to pieces.”
Montano was one of more than two dozen females killed so far in 2022 – a year that has been particularly deadly for females.
From the beating death of a 5-month-old girl to the dismemberment of a woman on Thanksgiving, 26 females have been slain this year. By comparison, there were only 16 females killed in 2021, 13 in 2020 and 19 in 2019.
Recently, there has also been a rash of homeless men slain in Albuquerque, with three being killed in the past month and a total of five so far this year.
The first homicide recorded by local authorities in 2022 was on Jan. 5 when deputies found the decomposed body of Sara Llamas on a ditch bank near Montaño and the river.
It was a stone’s throw from Saturday’s scene.
Kate Brennan ducked underneath the crime scene tape on Saturday morning as she and her white Lab, Scout, walked the ditch bank. She peeked at the truck before the pair moved along.
“I hate all the violence, crime, I hate it all,” Brennan said. “I have zero idea on the solution and we’re not the only place but it does taint Albuquerque so badly.”
She lamented the gun violence that has taken root in the place she has called home for nearly four decades. Brennan recalled when cows roamed the area where Montaño now stands.
Nowadays, she said, somebody will pull a trigger “because they didn’t get their french fries hot – or this or that.”
“You can’t stop those kind of things,” Brennan said. “It gives any person the power over someone else immediately just because they have a gun.”
The crime scene made her recall stumbling across a fatal crash years ago in the North Valley. She remembers the eerie sound of the radio still playing from the wreckage.
But Saturday’s scene was mostly quiet.
The silence was punctuated by the prehistoric-like calls of cranes meandering in a field to the north, picking at the ground around pumpkin carcasses and the skeletons of old tractors.