ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five teenagers – all members of a group Albuquerque police called increasingly dangerous as their crimes around the city escalated – have been charged with murder in the death of a carpenter and church deacon who was run down in September as he tried to stop them from stealing his work van.
Hector Aguirre was hanging onto the windshield wipers of his van as five of the teens tried to make off with it one morning in September, according to court records.
Aguirre didn’t let go until one of them pointed a gun at him. But then, instead of fleeing the scene in the van, the teens made one more move.
They put the van in reverse and mowed him down, according to a close family friend of Aguirre’s.
Aguirre, a father of three boys, was in a coma and held on for nearly two months but he died Nov. 9 at a local hospital.
On Monday, Albuquerque police announced the arrests in Aguirre’s death. The teens – ranging in age from 15 to 19 – all face open counts of murder, said police spokesman Fred Duran.
Daniel Sandoval, 19, Dominic Jiminez, 19, and Xavier Montoya, 19, were charged as adults, while Cornelius McCullum, 15, and Lanise Padilla, 16, were charged as juveniles.
Police in November held a news conference warning about a group of more than a dozen young men and women who they said were committing crimes throughout the city.
They said members of the group had been involved in at least one other murder – the drive-by shooting of 18-year-old Aliyah Garcia last May – as well as numerous other crimes, including the fatal shooting of a dog in the East Mountains during a burglary.
Duran said Monday that all five teens arrested in Aguirre’s death were self-proclaimed members of that group.
Sandoval and Montoya were two of the teens Duran named a month ago as part of the group, but at the time of that news conference, detectives hadn’t yet pieced together their involvement in Aguirre’s death.
A week after Aguirre was run over, Sandoval allegedly broke into a Sandia Park home with a group of teens, one of whom shot a family’s Great Dane named Moose.
Montoya was one of the teens involved in an armed robbery and chase that ended with an off-duty police officer being T-boned in October.
Court records filed against the suspects in Aguirre’s death and statements from his friend show the carpenter was giving a potential customer an estimate for remodeling kitchen cabinets at the customer’s home on Compound North Court NW near Griegos and 12th the morning of Sept. 15. Aguirre heard the engine of his van start and ran outside to try to stop five suspects who were stealing the vehicle.
Detectives found the stolen van around 5:30 p.m. and their investigation led them to Sandoval and Jiminez.
Jiminez was arrested Dec. 9 and told officers that on the day of the incident, Padilla, McCullum, Montoya and Sandoval picked him up in a stolen truck, and the group then went to the area of Compound North Court where they saw Aguirre’s keys left in his work van. They jumped in, and Sandoval ran Aguirre over and pointed a gun at him as they were fleeing, according to Jiminez’s account.
“Daniel pointed a gun at the man and he let go of the wipers and then Daniel hit the brakes and the man’s head hit the windshield before he flew off the car,” an officer wrote in the complaint, summarizing part of Jiminez’s statement.
Sandoval was also arrested Dec. 9 when officers found him asleep in a vehicle with a rifle and methamphetamine, according to a criminal complaint. Detectives then questioned him about the murder, and his account generally matched Jiminez’s except he appears to have claimed Jiminez was driving and ran over Aguirre, according to the court records. He said the group had been smoking meth that day.
Duran said he didn’t know the details of when all the other suspects were arrested, but they were in custody by Monday. He said detectives cracked the case with the help of witnesses and concerned citizens who called in tips to police.
“Right now we feel the city is a whole lot safer with these individuals behind bars,” he said.
Duran said officers hope they’ll stay locked up until trial.
“This is the path that they have chosen, these are the decisions that they have made, and now they’re facing adult consequences for it,” he said.
Duran never notified the public that Aguirre died in November and the death had become a homicide investigation. He said Monday that was an oversight and it fell through the cracks.
Aguirre was a deacon at the San Jose Parish near Broadway and Gibson, where his wife taught catechism. Together they were raising three boys, ages 13, 15 and 20, according to fellow deacon Raul Talavera.
“He was an outgoing person, very friendly, very humble,” Talavera said. “He would give the shirt off his back to anybody, always smiling, always had a smile.”
He said the family was relieved to hear that arrests had been made but are working to forgive the suspects.
“They don’t have hatred against these persons,” Talavera said. “But they will pray for them as a community.”
Journal Staff Writer Elise Kaplan contributed to this report.