ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Backed by a sobbing grandmother and tearful relatives Monday morning, a family friend of 10-year-old Victoria Martens read a statement from the family speaking out against child abuse and calling for change after the girl’s slaying last week.
At a news conference at A Park Above in Rio Rancho – the last place Victoria’s grandfather took her before she was killed – Laura Bobbs pointed to other cases of child abuse in the city and said she plans to work with legislators to bring about change. Several members of the Guardians of the Children motorcycle and advocacy group stood behind the Martens family.
“Today, we speak for the children and for the voice of little Victoria,” Bobbs said. “Parents, communities, governor, let’s put our children first, because they are our future.”
Police said Victoria was raped and killed by her mother’s boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, 31, with the help of his cousin, Jessica Kelley, 31. The young girl’s dismembered body was found in their Northwest Albuquerque apartment early Wednesday.
The pair and Victoria’s mother, Michelle Martens, 35, were arrested and face charges of child abuse resulting in death, kidnapping, tampering with evidence and more. Gonzales and Kelley are also charged with criminal sexual penetration of a minor. All three are being held at the county jail on $1 million bail apiece, cash only.
Victoria’s death comes a couple of months after the sentencing of another mother for the death of her child in 2013. Synthia Varela-Casaus was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the beating and stomping death of her 9-year-old son, Omaree Varela.
“We have lost so many children in this city at the hands of parents, the boyfriend or another significant other, and this is so unfair to the children,” Bobbs said.
On Sunday, police say, another child was killed. They say a man shot and killed his 11-year-old stepdaughter and her mother before killing himself in a Northwest Albuquerque apartment.
Bobbs is not alone in calling for better prevention of child abuse and early intervention.
On Friday, County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley and City Councilor Klarissa Peña said they would hold a special session of the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Government Commission today to address ways to best distribute resources for child safety programs.
They also spoke to the role drug addiction plays in many of the most horrific crimes in the community.
Although Martens told investigators Gonzales and Kelley injected Victoria with methamphetamine “to calm her down,” police spokesman Tanner Tixier couldn’t say if the suspects were on drugs when the crimes took place.
“We were unable to determine, definitively, if they were high,” he said.
Tixier said police haven’t found a history of mental health problems for any of the suspects and they were not able to tell whether they were drunk during the attack.
Since Victoria’s death last week, the community has pulled together with public displays of grief and shock. Two candlelight vigils were held Thursday and a symbolic “heavenly birthday party” was held Sunday for Victoria, who had turned 10 the day before she was found dead.
Bobbs said the Martens family has been touched by the outpouring of love from friends, family and strangers. She said relatives have been flying into Albuquerque from the family’s home state of New York to be with Victoria’s grandparents, Pat and John Martens.
Bobbs thanked numerous people who responded after Victoria’s death, including the city, first responders, Police Chief Gorden Eden and the Office of the Medical Investigator, as well as various political figures.
“The love the city and state has poured out to us has been so overwhelming,” Bobbs said. “We cannot conceive of the kindness shown to us in such a despicable time.”
Journal staff writers Nicole Perez and Robert Browman contributed to this report.