A 60-year-old man is gunned down by a teenager outside his home.
A bullet flies through a kitchen window, fatally striking a 17-year-old boy.
A 14-year-old boy is killed in a drive-by shooting at a park on Albuquerque’s West Side.
The apparent randomness of several of Albuquerque’s homicides this year, and the young ages of the people involved in some of the cases, have been shocking. But that doesn’t mean the overall rate of murders in Albuquerque has been much different than in prior years, said Albuquerque police homicide Sgt. Liz Thomson.
The number of murder investigations this year is about on par with the city’s 25-year annual average, though it is on pace to exceed last year’s total, according to Albuquerque police crime statistics.
And Thomson pointed out that the Albuquerque community has been rocked in previous years by murders committed by teenagers, saying that just last year three teenagers were arrested on suspicion of brutally beating two homeless men to death while they slept.
But, she said, several trends may be emerging in this year’s cases.
Youth and guns
The number of young suspects and victims in murders this year is alarming, and a firearm has been used in about three-fourths of this year’s homicides, Thomson said.
“The hardest thing about this year has been the ages of the people involved, not only from the offender side, but also the victim,” Thomson told the Journal in an interview. “When a young person with their whole life ahead of them kills someone, it’s really hard for anybody to wrap their head around it.”
In the first eight months of the year, Albuquerque police investigated 26 slayings. At that rate, there may be around 40 murder cases by the end of the year.
Since 1990, the city has averaged 44.7 slayings per year, according to 25 years of Albuquerque crime stats provided by APD. The 25-year high for Albuquerque was 70 murder cases in 1996. The low was 28 last year.
These cases don’t include investigations into homicides that have been ruled justified, or homicides in which the person negligently killed another, such as a man who was operating a crane that fell over and killed the man and two children, Thomson said. Neither do they include about five other deaths that detectives and prosecutors are still working to determine if the homicide was justified or not, she said.
Motives for murder
Thomson said that while the number of murder investigations in Albuquerque so far this year is not unusual, what has made several of this year’s cases alarming is that the victims weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary when they were killed.
The most common motive for a murder is a dispute over drugs, she said, and that can give people a sense of security that they are safe if they don’t partake in that lifestyle.
But some of this year’s cases appear to have been random. For example, 17-year-old Jaydon Chavez-Silver was killed while he was watching his friends play cards, and police have said he wasn’t involved in the dispute that led to the shooting.
Steven Gerecke, 60, was shot and killed in his driveway by a teen after a group of teenagers broke into his home in the middle of the night, according to court documents.
“The phrase ‘wrong place, wrong time’ doesn’t apply to him at all,” Thomson said. “He was in his own home. And that’s so disturbing.”
Guns used in 19 deaths
Of this year’s known murder suspects, 15 were 25 years old or younger. That includes the six teenagers charged with murder in Gerecke’s shooting and the three suspects charged in Chavez-Silver’s death. Multiple suspects are facing murder charges in those two cases, because the suspects are accused of committing a violent felony together when the victims were killed, according to court documents.
Of the victims in the 26 murder cases, eight were 23 years old or younger.
At the end of August, five of the murder investigations this year were due to stabbings and two from beatings. A firearm was used in 19 of the 26 deaths, or 73 percent. Thomson said that appears to exceed how often a firearm was used in previous year’s homicides.
“The percentage of homicides this year that are from guns is significantly higher,” Thomson said. “It’s interesting, and I can’t explain it.”
The murder cases have happened in all six of Albuquerque police’s area commands. Nine were in the Southeast, five in Southwest, four in Northwest, four in Foothills, three in Northeast and one in the Valley, Thomson said.
Eighteen of the 26 murder cases have been cleared, leaving eight cases still open. That represents a 69 percent clearance rate, but Thomson said detectives are close to resolving some of the open investigations.
The national clearance rate for homicides – which means either an arrest has been made, the death has been ruled justified or the offender died – is about 65 percent, according to the FBI. From 2010 through 2014, Albuquerque had a 75 percent clearance rate, according to Albuquerque police crime stats.
“For us, (69 percent ) is a little low, but we know we’re getting close,” Thomson said. “I anticipate we’ll end the year with a really high clearance rate again.”
No arrests have been made yet in the deaths of Dayton Campbell, 19; Angelo Martinez, 21; Raymond Gutierrez, 32; Jaquise Lewis, 17; Luis Rocha, 23; Isaiah Albright, 14; Sergio Chaparro-Loya, 21; and Daniel Nieto, 49.
Omar Romero, a person of interest in Rocha’s shooting, is currently in custody in Florida for allegedly stabbing his girlfriend there. But Romero hasn’t been charged in connection with the death.
And investigators have indicated that the person who shot Lewis, who was killed at the Los Altos Skate Park, did so in self-defense. But Thomson said investigators are waiting to interview more people involved in the case before closing the investigation.
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has worked four murder investigations in 2015, said BCSO Capt. Ray Chavez. That’s fewer than usual, he said. The department worked 12 murders in 2014.
Chavez said he couldn’t say for certain what has led to the decrease, but one factor might be that the department is nearly fully staffed.