SAN PATRICIO – Alexis Shields and Desiree Linares, both 15, didn’t know each other before they were sent to live in Evelyn Miranda’s foster home, a tranquil haven with apricot trees in the front yard in this quiet Hondo Valley village.
But the girls had some things in common: tumultuous upbringings and conflicts with parents or caretakers. They had both run away from home, again and again.
Miranda’s San Patricio home, on a dirt road about 14 miles east of Ruidoso, was to offer a stable setting for the girls, a place to get their lives on track. Miranda had provided treatment foster care, a stepped-up level of foster parenting for youths with emotional or behavioral problems, for four other girls before this last assignment.
And now, instead of a brighter future, both girls face decades in prison.
Shields had been at Miranda’s home for three weeks, Linares for a little over four days when, investigators say, the girls bound their foster mother’s hands and feet, smothered her with a pillow, stole her Honda minivan and fled east. The girls’ families said neither teen knew how to drive.
The body of the 53-year-old Miranda was discovered before dawn June 8 by a nephew who lives next door with his parents. Noises had awakened him.
Less than 24 hours later, the two teenagers were arrested in Carlsbad and charged with murder, kidnapping, auto theft, larceny, tampering with evidence and conspiracy. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Investigators have not offered a motive for the slaying. The Lincoln County prosecutor has indicated her intention to try the juveniles as adults.
Relatives of Miranda and the two teens are agonizing over what went wrong and how the girls, as police allege, could kill the woman who was trying to help them.
“We want to understand what happened, why they did what they did,” said Miranda’s son, 28-year-old Ismael Miranda, who lives outside Roswell. “They could have run away. There was no need for this.”
In interviews this week, relatives of Shields and Linares said neither girl was prone to violent behavior. That they could have killed is hard to believe.
“When I saw this picture right here, that really devastated me,” said Amanda Gunnels, Linares’ paternal grandmother, as she held up a page of the Roswell Daily Record displaying a photo of Miranda and her obituary.
“I can’t believe my granddaughter could do something like this,” Gunnels said while seated at the dining room table in her Roswell home. “To me, it’s not Desiree.”
For Edith Kaydahzinne, Shield’s aunt at the Mescalero Apache reservation in the Sacramento Mountains, the reaction was the same – disbelief.
“I’ve never known (Alexis) to be a violent person. That’s why it shocked me, because it’s just not in her character to be like that,” Kaydahzinne said. “She’s a real nice, polite girl.”
Lives filled with drama
Linares and Shields turned 15 in April, three days apart.
Shields was raised primarily by her grandmother and two aunts on the Mescalero reservation until she was about 11. Then, a cousin said, chafing under that setting, she decided to live with her mother.
People who knew her described Shields as a generally quiet girl who enjoyed snowboarding and basketball. She sometimes wrote poetry and listened to moody punk rock or harder heavy metal. In the last year, she attended weekly Bible study sessions at the Mescalero Reformed Church.
When she turned 14, she began dating an 18-year-old boy. “Her mom wasn’t having it, so she (Alexis) ran away,” said Kaydahzinne.
Shields spent about a week with other relatives. In November, tribal authorities sent Alexis to a residential facility in Santo Domingo Pueblo, where she stayed until returning to Mescalero on Dec. 24.
Officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Mescalero agency declined to comment on Shields’ case, citing the ongoing investigation. It’s not clear what sort of problems caused Shields to run away, or for social service agencies to intervene.
Upon her return, Shields spent several weeks at the home of an aunt, said cousin Whitney Balderrama. When her aunt learned Shields was planning to stay out one night with her boyfriend, she reported it to tribal social services, Balderrama said.
Authorities decided to move Shields to a foster home in January.
“She didn’t want to leave. She was in my room crying,” Balderrama said. “She said she was sorry for messing up, for trying to take off. I was sad. We did a lot together.”
A restraining order was taken out barring her boyfriend, Stewart Klinekole, from seeing Shields, Klinekole said.
But, Balderrama said, Shields got in trouble again – the reason could not be verified – and was sent to Miranda.
Klinekole said Shields often said she was unhappy living with her mother. Klinekole also said Shields told him she was bipolar.
In an effort to separate him from Shields, Klinekole’s mother made him get rid of any photos of the girl and tore out poems and drawings Shields had made in his journal.
But Klinekole kept one drawing he said Alexis made with some of his help.
It depicts a long-haired girl, her eyes closed, holding a cracked heart in her hands.
Above her head is an orb, one half a blazing sun, the other a cratered moon. An angel’s wing arches from the character’s left side, a batlike wing from her right. The left side of her belt is decorated with crosses, the right side with inverted pentagrams. A tattoo on the figure’s forearm reads: “Trust no one, love few.”
Desiree Linares was also raised by an aunt – her mother’s sister, whom she referred to as her grandmother, Gunnels said. She was born to teen parents. Her father was 15 at the time, and her mother could not provide a home.
About three years ago, however, Linares began living with her father, Louis Salcido, in Roswell while maintaining regular contact with her aunt, which caused friction in the family.
Salcido said in an interview he decided to take custody of his daughter after learning that she was allowed to roam Roswell’s streets until 1 a.m.
In May 2010, Roswell police responded to a report of shots fired. The police incident report does not detail what occurred, but Linares, two aunts, and three other juvenile girls were arrested, and Linares was charged with misdemeanor aggravated battery.
Last June, Children’s Court Judge Freddie Romero, who attended Hondo Valley schools with Miranda, ordered Linares to receive counseling, to stay away from the relatives involved in her battery case, and to live exclusively with her father during a six-month probationary period.
Salcido and his wife said they made rules for Linares: She had to attend school; on school nights, she could not be out after 8; she had to stay close to home; she could not date.
“She wasn’t out of control, but she wanted to do what she wanted to do,” stepmother Delia Salcido said.
According to court documents, by late September, Linares’ father reported his daughter had been “getting into trouble at school” and had not returned home from a visit to the local Boys & Girls Club. Linares was not found for a month.
Following another court hearing in November, Linares was put on probation for a year and the weekly visits with her aunt were ordered to be conducted under third-party supervision.
On March 31, Linares again ran away. A warrant was issued for her arrest for violating probation, and Linares eventually turned herself in on April 25. She had been staying with her aunt.
At a court hearing May 2, Linares again was put on probation for one year. A week later, after Linares’ aunt acknowledged the girl had stayed at her home in violation of probation terms, Judge Romero ordered the teen to cut off contact with any relatives other than her father.
Linares was also ordered to a therapeutic group home for at-risk youth in Roswell called the Assurance Home. Within a day, she had run away and was once again believed to be staying with her aunt. She was arrested three days later and ordered held at the Chaves County Juvenile Detention Center.
Linares’ paternal relatives now put at least some responsibility for Miranda’s death on state officials for not placing Desiree with her father or providing the girl with help they sought.
“It’s the collapse of the whole damned thing,” said Linares’ grandfather, William Gunnels. “Now a lady’s dead … and two kids are ruined because the system didn’t care.”
On June 2, Romero directed Linares to be placed in the custody of Evelyn Miranda to receive treatment foster care in San Patricio, 50 miles west of Roswell.
“I don’t understand what one foster mother could do that we couldn’t do,” stepmother Delia Salcido said.
Linares was turned over to Miranda on the afternoon of Friday, June 3.
Miranda’s body was discovered less than five days later.
On Thursday, extended family and friends held a prayer vigil for Miranda at St. Jude’s, the Catholic Church where she attended weekly Mass. On Friday, her ashes were scattered at the San Ysidro Church cemetery.
In the early 1990s, Miranda’s husband, Enrique, also a lifelong Lincoln County resident and now deceased, built a one-story beauty salon a few yards from their San Patricio home, so Evelyn could resume her former job as a hairstylist. The shop attracted former clients from Ruidoso and the surrounding area.
The night before Evelyn Miranda was killed, her 25-year-old daughter Melanie, who lives next to the beauty salon, dropped by, as she usually did, for her mother’s home cooking.
Everything appeared normal, Melanie Miranda said. Shields and Linares played basketball outside. When her daughter left for home at 10 p.m., Evelyn Miranda was sitting in the living room watching television. The two girls sat outside together on the front porch.
On Tuesday, six days after Miranda was found, her sister-in-law Ima Jean Miranda sat on a bench in front of the beauty salon and cried quietly about the loss – of her friend, of the mother of two adult children, of a community mainstay.
“Evelyn was the sweetest, kindest woman I ever met in my life. She did without, so she could help others,” Ima Jean Miranda said.
“She didn’t see the bad, only the good in others. She’d hear about somebody doing something (wrong), and she’d say, ‘Well, they must have had problems.’ ”
Tomorrow: Brutal Farmington slaying alarms town.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal