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Portales fire reclassified as homicide

Portales police say two people found dead Wednesday after a house fire were shot to death.

Public Information Officer Charlie Smart identified the two victims Friday as John J. Bustamante, 39, and Christina Griffin, 31, both of Portales.

“The preliminary autopsy showed both victims were found to have been shot prior to the fire,” Smart said.

Rescue workers found the bodies after responding to a house fire in the 900 block of North Avenue J in Portales.

The fire was reported at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Smart confirmed Bustamante and Griffin were the home’s residents.

The home’s owner, Jesus Murillo, who lives in the neighborhood, said Wednesday he had a verbal agreement with another neighbor to allow her son to live in the house while doing cosmetic repairs.

Murillo said somebody did move in around November, and was soon joined by a woman. Murillo said he would occasionally take the man building supplies, but they only had two or three conversations due to language differences; Murillo speaks mostly Spanish.

Murillo said his neighbor, who could not be reached for comment, told him Tuesday night that she had not seen her son or taken him to work in two days.

No arrests had been made as of Friday afternoon, said Smart, who did not give further information about the weapon, or when or how many times the victims were shot. He added police do not yet know if Bustamante or Griffin knew their attackers and declined to release further information about the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Portales Police Department at 575-356-4404 or Crime Stoppers at 575-356-8100. Smart said individuals with any information that could lead to an arrest could be eligible for up to a $5,000 reward.

The two slayings are the first deaths ruled as homicides in 2016 for New Mexico’s 9th Judicial District, which covers Roosevelt and Curry counties.

Two area deaths were ruled homicides in 2015 with the most recent in November when David Michael Smith, 40, of Portales was charged in the death of William Vaughn, 45, who died of blunt force trauma. Smith is charged with an open count of murder in the case and has a hearing on Monday.

Joseph Chavez, 39, was killed in March 2015 in Clovis. Jonathan Cruz, 24, was charged in August with first-degree murder in that case. His trial is tentatively scheduled for next month.


©2016 The Portales News-Tribune (Clovis, N.M.)

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