ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Heather Lopez was at work at the Placitas Cafe in March when a Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office detective arrived with terrible news: Something sinister had happened to her mom, brother, and mom’s boyfriend, whom she had reported missing the day before.
As soon as the detective showed Lopez a picture of her relatives’ clothing inside a truck covered in blood, she knew they were dead.
“I had to leave work. It was devastating,” Lopez said in a phone interview Thursday. “Ever since then, it’s just been a nightmare.”
More than a month later, deputies found John Santistevan, 32, Geraldine Sena, 48, and Samuel Sena, 25, buried in shallow graves in a rural area of Sandoval County after a lengthy investigation into a shocking, grisly crime.
The investigation began in late February, when deputies were called to what they say was “a suspicious vehicle” left near the Diamond Tail Ranch six miles east of the San Felipe Casino. They found a stolen truck riddled with bullet holes and covered in blood and brain matter, and determined that at least one person had been killed inside it.
Lopez didn’t know about the bloody truck when she filed missing persons reports for her family members on March 17. But deputies soon filled her in.
Investigators learned that the victims were somehow connected to a group of other people involved in a stolen car ring, in which they drove stolen cars to Mexico, according to SCSO Lt. Keith Elder. He said the suspects were also involved in drug trafficking and mail theft. How exactly the victims were connected to the suspects remains unclear.
Lopez said the suspects had offered the victims work of some kind, but she didn’t know any details of what their motive may have been for killing her family.
Sheriff’s deputies say three suspects are in custody but have not been charged in the deaths. They are being held in other cases, and deputies have not released their names.
The three bodies were found on May 31 about six miles east of where the truck was found on Hagen Road. Lopez said they had been shot.
Santistevan and Geraldine Sena have been officially identified by the Office of the Medical Investigator. Samuel Sena’s body has not, but deputies and family members are sure it’s him.
Lopez said her mom was a great cook and other people were drawn to her outgoing personality. She was living with Santistevan.
Santistevan’s sister Janis Santistevan said he had in the past gone to multiple Christian churches in Albuquerque. He worked at a rental car company and later at a fireworks store in Albuquerque.
Samuel Sena attended Bernalillo High School and had worked at Walgreens, Lopez said.
Janis Santistevan said her family is reeling from what’s happened.
“It’s been devastating every step of the way,” she said. “It’s shocking; it’s unbelievable; it’s not something you have any indication of how to react to or handle. It’s a nightmare.”