ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Matthew Baldonado had a rough childhood.
So did many of the six teens who are accused of killing 60-year-old Steven Gerecke.
Matthew’s mother wasn’t around, and he repeatedly ran away from his dad and grandmother, ending up in shelters, according to police reports. He has also had other contacts with the police as a youth, according to the reports, dating back to 2012.
But he’s not a cold-blooded murderer, his father told the Journal on Saturday.
“My son’s a human being. We’re not monsters,” Steven Baldonado said at his northeast Albuquerque apartment Saturday. “I’m so sorry for the family. I would be really upset, too, but my son is not an animal.”
Baldonado, 14, is one of the six teenagers charged with killing Gerecke on June 26 while the group was allegedly out in the Northeast Heights “mobbing” – breaking into cars and houses as a group. Enrique Palomino, 14, Andrew Hubler, 15, Jeremiah King, 16, Christopher Rodriguez, 16, and Ryan Archibeque, 17, are all also facing murder and other charges. King is alleged to be the shooter.
In a press conference at the Albuquerque Police Department headquarters Downtown on Friday, Gerecke’s daughter said the teens’ parents are to blame.
“I want to address the parents of these animals: Where were you?” she said. “I hold you, the parents, responsible.”
Baldonado said he did what he could and always had a room for his son. He said his son was “troubled,” and in and out of school. In January 2014, he was accused of defacing tabletops and bathroom stalls at a McDonald’s with a red marker and was taken to the juvenile detention center. That case was dismissed.
He was also charged with shoplifting aerosol cans at a Wal-Mart in December 2014, and the status of that case is unclear.
Baldonado and his son sometimes had a contentious relationship, according to police reports. Matthew has accused him of abuse, which Baldonado denied, according to reports.
Baldonado said Matthew sometimes stayed with him in his small ground-floor apartment near Comanche and Interstate 25. Matthew slept in the back room. Steelers banners were on the wall, blankets were piled up and Nike socks were on the floor.
Enrique Palomino, 14, spent much of his childhood in the juvenile justice system.
His first contact with police was in 2012, when he was 11 years old. Police found Enrique with a 7-year-old boy who was asking passing strangers for food at a Circle K, according to police reports. A few days later, police were called to deal with Enrique’s mother and grandmother and neighbor, who were arguing.
Enrique was caught shoplifting several bottles of vodka from a Wal-Mart in June 2014, according to a police report. When a Wal-Mart security officer called his mother, Amanda Palomino, to pick him up, she said, “Take him to jail,” according to a police report.
A few days later, the Children, Youth and Families Department launched a child abuse investigation. Officers had been called to Enrique’s grandmother’s house for a fight, and Enrique told officers his mom hit him and his brother, according to the report.
Amanda Palomino told officers she was on methadone and used to use drugs, and she said the family was homeless.
Enrique’s grandmother told police that she was on pain pills at the time of the fight. Enrique, his younger brother and his younger sister – who was taken to the hospital with a head injury from alleged abuse – were taken by CYFD.
He ran away from a South Valley shelter in September 2014. A warrant for his arrest was filed.
He briefly returned to a different shelter but left immediately, and police didn’t find him again until May, when they discovered that he had been in a stolen car that crashed. Police investigating that incident learned that Christopher Rodriguez and Andrew Hubler were also involved, according to a police report.
A Highland High School security guard helped identify suspects in that investigation. That security guard would later remember the stolen vehicle investigation and help officers identify the alleged offenders in the murder case.
Run-ins with the law
Hubler and Rodriguez, and their respective parents, have also had run-ins with the law.
Andrew Hubler’s mother, Lynda Hubler, was accused of child abuse and abandonment when she didn’t show up to pick up her kids from school in January 2006, according to a police report. Andrew was taken by CYFD.
In May 2014, he was accused of stealing a $35 pair of shorts from Kohl’s. A year later, police say, he tried to shoplift vodka, then punched a Wal-Mart security guard and bit his forearm.
Rodriguez’s first contact with police, at least in Albuquerque, was in April, when police found him and his mother trying to start a car with a screwdriver near Central and University, according to a police report.
Police say they found methamphetamine in a pill bottle belonging to his mother, Misty Rodriguez, and that Chris had marijuana on him. Misty Rodriguez was charged with drug possession, receiving or transferring a stolen motor vehicle and child abuse, and she was booked into the county jail. Chris was given citations.
Jeremiah King was charged with receiving stolen property in 2014, but his only recorded contact with APD was in connection with a fight near Bubble Lounge, a hookah joint Downtown. It’s unclear what his connection to it was.
The only teen who has been charged with murder with no criminal history or recorded contacts with police is Ryan Archibeque, 17, also the oldest of the group. He completed 11th grade at Highland High School and has a job, his lawyer told a judge at the Metropolitan Court on Friday. His family has not responded to requests for comment.
Let off too easily
Steven Baldonado said he told his son to stay out of trouble, but couldn’t always control him.
In one incident, Baldonado didn’t report his son missing for months, according to a police report.
He said he thinks the juvenile justice system let his son off too easily. Matthew didn’t spend much time in jail for his offenses, his dad said.
He was constantly running away from shelters and disappearing, according to police reports.
“Steven is concerned that Matthew’s behavior will get him in worse trouble or even killed,” an officer wrote in the report.
Baldonado said he had never heard of “mobbing” before and didn’t know his son may have been involved. He said he thinks his son was roped in by the other teens.
Baldonado said he spoke with his son on the phone Saturday morning.
“He started crying. He said he was hanging in there,” Baldonado said. “I’m trying to be there for my son. He’s just a kid.”