Albuquerque homicides leave families heartbroken, frustrated

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Laura Brown wipes tears from her face as she confronts the reality that her 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter will never see their father again.

Alicia Otero misses her son’s smile, his knack for making her laugh, and his insatiable appetite for hot wings and barbecue sauce.

Mary Candelaria replays her son’s music videos every day, the sound of his voice providing some solace.

They are among the families devastated by Albuquerque’s relentless rash of killings. For many, it’s a rollercoaster of disbelief, anger, sadness and frustration — especially for those wanting answers and justice.

The city is having one of its deadliest years in memory. The homicide tally for the first seven months of 2021 is about to eclipse the record of 80 set in 2019.

While other cities around the U.S. also are seeing significant increases this year, Albuquerque has a history with violent crime. Concern grew in 2017 after three years of skyrocketing homicides and a record-setting year. Experts warned that the city either had a growing problem or was encountering a new norm. In 2019, that record was broken.

With the numbers still rising, officials acknowledge that doing what they’ve always done isn’t enough.

“The criminal justice system is broken,” Police Chief Harold Medina said in a recent statement. “Our officers make arrests every day, but system-wide, we don’t have the answers to break the cycles. If we are truly going to have an impact on violent crime, we have to come together and take responsibility for changes we can all make to more effectively fight crime.”

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Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a Democrat running for reelection, has been criticized for his handling of the city’s crime problems. He ousted the previous police chief last fall and recently announced an initiative to bring together leaders in the criminal justice system to come up with ideas that can be acted on quickly.

“We know that things have to be better,” he said after the group’s first meeting.

But many families feel unsupported. They see few consequences for those repeatedly committing violent crimes. Some have escaped to the suburbs searching for a greater sense of security while others wish they could.

Mark Solano was among the first people killed in Albuquerque in 2021. Just a week after his 37th birthday, he was driving down historic Route 66 when he was fatally shot by another motorist. No arrests have been made.

Brown, the mother of his children, said Solano worked in food delivery, sometimes long hours. Yet, he never missed a chance to come over for dinner and visit with his son, Markus.

When she got the call the morning after Solano was killed, she screamed and cried.

“It woke up our son and I really didn’t even know what to say for days,” she said.

His mother, Yolanda Solano, said she feels like her heart was ripped out and she’s still in a fog.

“It seems like every day I turn on the news and there’s another homicide, and it’s not fair for the families who are suffering through it,” she said.

Her grandkids will grow up without their father, and she misses him, too. There will be no more salsa-making competitions and no more calls to rehash the Denver Broncos game.

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Candelaria’s son, Adrian Anaya, has been dead almost five years, with no arrests. The 28-year-old rap artist had just finished filming his latest video when he and a friend were gunned down that evening in Albuquerque’s South Valley. The suspect — identified by police as Eric Ferrer — was soon added to New Mexico’s most wanted list of violent fugitives.

“The guy had so much on his record. He should have been in jail a long time ago,” Candelaria said, adding that Ferrer was out on bond in an unrelated case at the time of the shooting.

Candelaria knows what the other families are in for. Part of the frustration, she said, is not enough detectives and overwhelming caseloads. She has been calling detectives and talking to prosecutors regularly in hopes of keeping her son’s case from slipping to the bottom of the growing pile.

When Anaya was about 11, Candelaria remembers coming home to hear singing. He had stolen his sister’s karaoke machine. It was the beginning of his musical aspirations.

Even though he was grown and out of the house, Candelaria said she would text him nightly: “Good night. I love you.” He would always message back.

Now, she’s left with his videos, music recordings and the stories his friends tell about him helping others.

“All the time, people will just be like, ‘He was amazing, he would give you the shirt off his back,’” she said. “Lots of things like that. He just wanted to take care of people. Even me.”

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It’s been five months since Alicia Otero’s son, 24-year-old Elias Otero, was fatally shot outside his home.

“We cried there on the street corner, my whole family, all day,” Otero said. “Just watching my son in the street in the sun all day under that sheet. It was just hard.”

The moments replay themselves and there are tears every day.

She said her son was just beginning his life — he had his own house and was planning to get married.

Thinking about what kind of man her son was, Otero began to smile, then laughed before telling a story that ended with more laughter. She said her son always made people laugh — on purpose or otherwise — from the time he missed the chair and fell at his graduation ceremony to when he stumbled into a hole while hunting and scared away the elk.

Her tearful message to other parents: “Tell them you love them every day and take lots of pictures because you just never know. That’s all you’re going to have left in the end. Love them. And protect them.”


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