Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said Wednesday that his officers wouldn’t rest until the gunman was captured in the fatal shooting of a 4-year-old girl on Interstate 40 on Tuesday afternoon.
The community didn’t have to wait long for a break in the case.
A little more than an hour after Eden’s afternoon news conference, officers arrested a man in connection with the road rage incident that killed Lilly Garcia, who turned 4 in mid-September.
Celina Espinoza, a department spokeswoman, said Tony Torrez, 31, was arrested without incident near Central and Sunset on Wednesday afternoon.
Torrez later confessed to the shooting, Espinoza said.
He has been charged with an open count of murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, assault with the intent to commit a violent felony, shooting at or from a motor vehicle, child abuse, child abuse resulting in death and tampering with evidence. He is being held on a $650,000 cash-only bond.
“Everyone that was involved is breathing just a little bit better with a sigh of relief, because this is appearing to wrap up the way we were hoping it would,” said Tanner Tixier, a department spokesman, after Torrez’s arrest.
Espinoza said an anonymous caller told police on Wednesday they knew who had shot Lilly. The caller provided detectives with Torrez’s name.
Tixier said officers watched Torrez get into a grayish-green Lexus sedan and drive to a parking lot near Central and Atrisco. They pulled him over and he was taken into custody shortly before 4 p.m.
Eden had said officers believed the shooter was driving a maroon or dark red Toyota four-door sedan – possibly a newer model Corolla or Camry – with a spoiler on the trunk, dark tinted windows and a gray University of New Mexico plate.
Although Torrez was driving a Lexus when he was arrested, Tixier said at the time that investigators believe the red Toyota was at the Westgate house. It’s unclear if officers found it there.
During the news conference, Eden said Lilly’s father picked her and her 7-year-old brother up from school Tuesday and got on Interstate 40 at Rio Grande.
Espinoza said Lilly’s father told police he tried to exit the freeway at Coors when a maroon or red Toyota Camry or Corolla cut across traffic forcing him out of his lane.
“The two drivers exchanged words when Torrez pulled out a gun and shot at the red truck driven by Lilly’s father,” Espinoza said.
Lilly was hit at least once in the head.
“It was a road rage that resulted in murder,” Eden said.
A Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office deputy saw the Garcias’ car on the side of the road and pulled over to help.
A driver who was on the road just after the shooting called 911, saying an adult was holding a child in his arms on the side of the interstate. Police released a recording of the 911 call after the news conference.
“It looks like some sort of medical emergency, it’s not an accident,” the caller told a dispatcher. “There’s an adult holding an unresponsive child.”
Lilly died at the hospital.
Tixier said both officers and paramedics who tried to help her were shocked by the shooting.
“It was traumatic for them, they saw a 4-year-old little girl with a severe gunshot wound that she died from,” Tixier said. “It was one of the worst codes they ever had to undertake.”
Shortly after Lilly died, Chief Eden implored the public to call police with leads. They did.
Eden said the department was flooded with tips, and Wednesday morning police released the suspect’s description and a description of his car. The city, FBI and Crime Stoppers offered $26,000 in reward money.
Tixier said he didn’t know yet if someone would be collecting the reward money.
Eden said the New Mexico State Police, U.S. Marshals Service, New Mexico Department of Corrections, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigations helped search for the suspect and his vehicle. Carol Lee, the special agent in charge of the Albuquerque division of the FBI, said her agents opened their own investigation and are assisting APD.
Eden said officers and the community are grieving for Lilly along with her family.
“This is a horrific time for this family, the tragic loss of little 4-year-old Lilly well before her time,” he said.