ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ten years ago Tuesday, Albuquerque police homicide detectives had no idea what they were in for. Neither did John Hyde’s family.
Nor did the families of Benny Lopez, 54, Garrett Iversen, 22, and David Fisher, 17, and Albuquerque police officers Michael King, 50, and Richard Smith, 46.
By the end of the day, Lopez, Iverson, Fisher, King and Smith were dead, all shot by Hyde, a mentally ill man who had stopped taking his medication.
It was one of the most tragic days in Albuquerque’s history.
In today’s Journal, the victims’ families describe how they have moved on, but also how – 10 years later – they still miss their slain loved ones.
Tomorrow, the Journal chronicles what changes have occurred to address the treatment of the state’s mentally ill residents.
Sally Lopez: ‘I don’t want people to forget’
It had been the photo Sally Lopez had wanted for years – a family portrait including not just those related by blood, but by heart.
Not an easy thing to do, considering how many folks that meant and how far flung some of them were. Her three sons and their families, for example, don’t live in New Mexico anymore.
But, on a recent warm summer day, it happened. Twenty-five sons, daughters-in-law, cousins, nieces, nephews and others just as close as family clustered together in front of an old barn and smiled for the camera. In the center of the frame was a beaming Sally.
But she knew. There should have been 26 in that photo. There should have been Benny.
Ten years ago, on another warm summer day – this one on Aug. 18, 2005 – Benny Lopez, 54, became the first to die in what was one of the bloodiest rampages in Albuquerque history. Early that morning, he was found facedown, shot three times in the back in the yard of the Department of Transportation complex where he worked near West Central. By nightfall, four more would die, killed by a man with a mental illness and a gun.
Benny was the love of Sally’s life – for 35 years, he had been her life.
“He was my heart from the time I was 14 when I met him,” she said. “You don’t get over that. I don’t think I want to.”
She still talks to him every day, still writes to him in journals that have accumulated over the years into quite a library. Something for the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren to read someday, she thinks.
Now and then, she sprays a bit of the Stetson cologne he used to wear onto a stuffed bear he gave her for her last birthday before he died just to feel like he is still there. Because he is.
She has moved away from the East Mountains home they shared and raised their three boys in. She lives now in Albuquerque, taking care of her ailing mother until her death in June, taking care of a family that has grown now to include 10 grandchildren – more when you count her honorary family members and their kids.
It helps to keep busy.
Another way she has done that is to help each year with a golf tournament held by the Transportation Employees Association to fund the Ben Lopez Memorial Scholarship. So far, the fund has issued 68 scholarships valued at more than $55,000.
She knows some people still worry about bringing up Ben to her, afraid the pain is still too much. Her youngest grandchild, Isaiah, isn’t afraid. Although he has no real memory of his grandfather, he asks the most questions about him. Sally likes that.
“If you don’t bring Ben up, it’s almost like forgetting,” she said. “And I don’t want people to forget.”
Audra Iversen: ‘It doesn’t get easier; it just gets different’
Elijah Iversen’s hair rises like a choppy sea of gold, an erratic crown of blond-brown spikes arranged not so much with gels and sprays, but by the arbitrary ebb and flow of a half-dozen cowlicks.
Just like his dad had.
Elijah – Eli for short – has only seen his father’s hair in photographs his mother keeps. He was two weeks old, his infant head lightly traced with downy wisps, when his dad last saw him, last held him, last reveled in the role of new father and family man. Garrett Iversen was 22, but serious about the roots he was putting down and the life he had created with his wife, Audra, and their new baby boy.
Then came Aug. 18, 2005.
Iversen was the second to die that day, shot three times at arm’s length by Hyde, who had asked Iversen, a mechanic at Rider Valley Motorcycles on East Central, for a headlight.
Audra became a widow and a single mom that day. She also became the historian, the link between Eli and Garrett.
“We’re super open about what happened, but I tell him only what he asks to know,” she said. “I still have pictures of Garrett up everywhere. He is never far from our minds.”
For the first three years after Garrett’s death, it felt like her mind was in a fog.
“Whenever you lose someone, you lose a significant part of your life,” she said. “You had hopes and dreams and plans. You had an identity. And then you don’t.”
Eventually, she returned to the church she and Garrett had planned on joining. She found women who, like her, had kids to raise on their own.
She had Eli, a cautious, brilliant boy who, at least for now, does not seem to share the adrenaline junkie traits that brought his parents together three years before the bullets tore them apart.
Perhaps someday he will want to ride motorcycles.
She stays in touch with Sue and Dave Fisher, the parents of Garrett’s friend and co-worker who died that day, too. The Fishers, she said, are family.
The Fishers, she said, are among the few she knows who understand that grief has no timeline.
“People around you don’t know how to deal with it, either. They say, why aren’t you over this? Why aren’t you dating yet? Why aren’t you remarried yet? They don’t understand that it doesn’t get easier; it just gets different.”
Audra is 33 now, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her boy with the cowlicky hair, and works on new hopes and dreams and plans. For now, that has to be enough.
Sue and Dave Fisher: The time came to try and move on
The Fisher home in Edgewood had always been a noisy one, growling with the sounds of motocross bikes grinding up the family’s massive homemade dirt track of bumps and jumps and turns.
Motocross had been Dave Fisher’s passion. He taught all three of his sons to ride. But it was David, his youngest son, who became the most passionate about riding. David Fisher, 17, had been destined for the professional circuit. He was good. He was dedicated. And he loved it.
David was the third person shot and killed that day, the second to die at the Rider Valley Motorcycles on East Central where he worked. But even in those first few raw anniversaries after his death, the sound of motocross bikes still roared outside the Fisher home.
“We used to call the boys to come over and ride, and they’d all come,” Dave said.
Four years ago, the Fishers moved from the East Mountains to the West Side. The motocross track that David and his friends loved was flattened, gone.
It was time, Sue Fisher said, to move on. Or at least try to.
The past decade has been something like that motocross track – full of bumps and jumps and turns. Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, but is still standing. Their marriage almost crumbled, but endures. They shake their heads when they read in the newspaper about the latest tragedy in the world involving murder and mental illness. They revel in the lives of their other sons and their families. They find comfort in their God.
“Special occasions, holidays and birthdays are still difficult because we can’t help wonder what the day would be like with both David and our daughter, who passed away two years before David was killed, there to celebrate with us,” Sue said. “David’s sense of humor and energy would always make everything special.”
David had been the one to call 911 on his cellphone after his friend and coworker, Garrett Iversen, was shot.
“Ma’am, we just got shot,” the ever-polite David told the dispatcher. “He just took all the money out of the register, and shot me and my friend.”
Iversen’s wife, Audra, became a friend that day – family that day.
“Audra and I were pretty much inseparable for the first five years,” Sue said. “I believe God gave us each other for comfort and strength through the most difficult time in our lives.”
As the 10th anniversary of that terrible day rolls up, they expect they will text some of the motocross boys – men, now – and get together like always, even though the track behind the house is long gone.
In September, they will watch these riders race and sail through the air in an annual competition that honors David held at the Sandia MX track in Moriarty, and they will pray for good rides and safe landings, for the riders, for them.
Debbie King: Forced into new roles, new ways
In the motorcade after the funeral, Debbie King’s youngest son noticed what appeared to be a homeless man standing among the crowds lining the route to the cemetery.
“Mom,” her son, then 13, said. “That man was saluting.”
In that moment, she realized that the loss of Michael King, her husband of 23 years and an Albuquerque police officer for about as long, was felt not just among those in the motorcade with her, but also by a community stricken with grief and in shock.
That shared pain has, over the past decade, been both a comfort and a responsibility. Mike, 50, had been the outspoken one, the larger-than-life guy – and, at 6 foot 5, he literally was that – national kickboxing champ, skydiver, the dad who never missed his sons’ sporting activities, the motorcycle cop who flashed peace signs, who off duty had jumped into the bed of a fleeing truck, punched a hole in the cab window with his bare fist, yanked the key from the ignition as one of the thieves choked him, then told his wife later it wasn’t a big deal.
Everything Mike King did was a big deal.
Debbie (who is 5 foot 3) is different.
“We had our roles, our ways,” she said. “He was the guy who knew what he wanted and got it. I was the one who always had to contemplate, analyze, research.”
After Mike’s death, she was forced into new roles and new ways through a more public world of attending memorials, lobbying for changes in the laws governing the mentally ill and giving voice to the families of fallen officers. Just this week, she spoke before the Bernalillo County Commission about her recommendation on where to locate a park to honor officers killed in the line of duty.
“It’s sometimes cathartic,” she said. “Other times, it’s difficult and stressful.”
She has also had to serve as both mom and dad to two sons, as head of household and as handyman.
“Mike could fix everything,” she said. “Now, I know how to fix things I never knew about before then.”
Then. That was the night of Aug. 18, 2005, when Mike decided to take one more call with his friend, Officer Richard Smith. Police had not yet connected three previous homicides that day to the resident at 1521½ Gold SE by the time the officers were dispatched there on a mental health call. Mike was shot inches from his skull, unable to deflect the gun fast enough with his hand.
“I’m surprised at how much I still miss him,” Debbie said, the tears falling again. “He is still so much a part of our lives. We talk about him every day. We wonder what he would say about this or that. We think about how he would have thought something was funny, how he would be so proud of his sons.”
Their younger son, now 23, is a personal trainer finishing his degree at the University of New Mexico. The oldest, a teacher, is 27, married and about to welcome his first child.
Ten years later, Debbie has receded a bit from the public eye, which is just fine with her. She remains close to Susie Smith-Johnston, Smith’s widow. They, their families and friends will gather Tuesday at the cemetery to remember, though they never forget.
“It’s gotten easier,” she said. “The pain is still there, the longing, the missing. It’s become the new normal.”
Susie Smith-Johnston: Living with tarnished memories
The best reminder to Susie Smith-Johnston that life goes on even after the darkest, bloodiest day in Albuquerque history is how well her daughter turned out.
Breanne Smith was 13 when her father, Albuquerque police Officer Richard Smith, became the last of five people to die that day.
Breanne, the couple’s only child, became Susie’s main reason to keep breathing.
“She was my priority, my world,” Susie said. “I tried to keep her out of the public eye and in school. I tried to keep her safe and happy, even though sometimes I didn’t feel that way.”
Like Rick, Breanne has grown up strong, quiet, polite. She keeps most everything but her smile to herself, unlike her mother who is more outspoken and open about her feelings.
Breanne is 23 now, a college graduate with a degree in biology. She is engaged to be married next year and working at the Albuquerque Police Department crime lab fingerprint unit – the same job Susie had when she worked for APD, when Rick was an officer.
But Susie knows that, once her daughter gets married, it might not be long before she and her new husband move out of state, away from the memories.
Susie has learned to live with them.
“People say, don’t you remember the good times? And I say, yeah, I remember those. I remember all of those good times,” she said. “But all those good times, all those golden moments, wonderful times with Rick have all been tarnished. The end result of those memories are tarnished.”
Ten years later, she said her daughter has yet to ask many questions about what happened the night she lost her father. Maybe that keeps her daughter’s memories less tarnished, she thinks.
But Susie remembers.
Rick, days shy of his 25th year with APD, and Officer Mike King had been sent on a mental health call to 1521½ Gold SE. King was shot first in the head. Rick, 46, entered the line of fire to aid his fallen comrade, taking three bullets, two lodging in his protective vest, one that proved deadly.
That gunshot began what Susie calls her life sentence.
“You have to live with this every day,” she said. “It’s the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing at night.”
But she is grateful for the help to get through each day. Besides Breanne, she has Fowler Johnston, a retired APD deputy chief, Susie’s friend since middle school and her husband now for eight years.
And she has Debbie King, Mike King’s widow.
“Debbie and I have supported each other since Day One,” she said. “We still get teary-eyed together. We still cry. And you know what else? We still get through this.”