Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
For seven years, only occasional makeshift memorials have occupied the dusty patch of mesa where Albuquerque police once found the remains of 11 women and an unborn child.
Grieving family members of the victims for years have criticized the city and KB Home, the company that owns the land where they were found, for not making good on a promise to build a memorial on the site.
But a proposal heading to the City Council next week may finally provide the money to build a permanent memorial park on the patch of land – which has been called one of the largest crime scenes in American history.
While police have named a few men as possible suspects, nobody has ever been charged in the crime, and it remains the city’s largest unsolved homicide case.
Eleanor Griego, whose daughter Julie Nieto was one of the women found buried there, visits the burial site every year on Feb. 2. That’s the day in 2009 that the first bone was found.
“I feel the girls are still up there and that’s why I want to go there instead of the cemetery,” Griego said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s so depressing and so sad every time you go up there.”
She said she’s thrilled that city councilors are moving ahead with the proposal.
“I’m so excited, I’m smiling from ear to ear,” she said. “It would mean they haven’t forgotten us.”
Councilors Klarissa Peña and Ken Sanchez are asking their colleagues to approve $350,000 to build a “spectacular” memorial to the victims of the West Mesa murders. It would be on land donated by KB Home, they said.
The city and KB Home have talked off and on about working together on the project, but those negotiations stalled.
Peña said it’s time for the city to move ahead and prepare to build the park on its own, once the land is donated.
“The community and especially the family members have waited too long to have some closure,” Peña said Wednesday in an interview. “It’s something that needs to be done.”
The $350,000 request will be part of a package of budget amendments introduced during a budget hearing today. A final vote on the budget proposal is expected at Monday’s council meeting.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Sanchez said. “I think we can get it done with that amount of money.”
The money for the memorial park would be part of an overall spending plan of about $524 million for the budget year that begins July 1.
“I know that it’s important to a lot of people,” City Councilor Isaac Benton, chairman of the council’s budget committee, said of the park.
If approved by the council, the budget proposal would then go to Mayor Richard Berry for his approval or veto.
Griego said she’s very hopeful that it will be approved.
“I want something to happen up there finally,” she said. “I think I would be there all the time. I’ll go almost every day.”