Authorities say an argument at an Isotopes baseball game led two men to fire 14 bullets at the wrong white truck, killing an 11-year-old boy and paralyzing his cousin earlier this month outside the ballpark in Southeast Albuquerque.
Police Chief Harold Medina said Jose Romero, 22, and Nathen Garley, 21, were in custody and each is charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the Sept. 6 shooting that killed Froylan Villegas and left his cousin Tatiana Villegas, 23, of Algodones, paralyzed from the waist down. A GoFundMe has been started to help the families with bills related to the shooting.
Charging documents were not available Thursday evening.
A third suspect, Daniel Gomez, 26, was arrested Friday. He is charged with an open count of murder, shooting from a vehicle, conspiracy and child abuse.
The incident marked the second time a child was killed in a shooting in less than a month in Albuquerque and spurred the governor to enact a short-lived ban on carrying firearms in Bernalillo County.
On Thursday evening, police also said charges were being filed against a mother who allegedly shot at her boyfriend Wednesday evening, but the bullet went through his leg and into her 7-year-old son, critically injuring the boy.
Medina called the recent spate of shootings injuring and killing children “horrific.”
“You know, some of the people we have to thank are our crime scene investigators, who now have gone through three of these incidents in the last month and a half,” Medina said. “… And the toll it takes on your officers is extensive. These are the images that we don’t forget.”
Police initially thought the shooting that struck the Villegas family was related to road rage.
In a briefing Thursday night, Medina said it was “a case of mistaken identity” stemming from a dispute between Romero and another man during the Isotopes game.
“The gentlemen they were in a dispute with drove a white four-door Dodge pickup truck,” he said. “It is our belief that these cowards mixed up the two vehicles and shot into the wrong vehicle.”
The family, including Froylan’s mother and baby brother, were leaving the Isotopes game just before 9 p.m. on Sept. 6, when their truck was fired upon 14 times. Froylan was shot in the head and died at the scene, Tatiana Villegas was shot five times — with one bullet piercing her spine — and is paralyzed from the waist down.
Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said two bullets barely missed Froylan’s baby brother, who was in the seat behind Froylan.
Gallegos said it started when Romero saw a man at the Isotopes game who he had an ongoing feud with. He said the two got into an argument before the man went to his white 2019 Dodge Crew Cab, “but did not immediately leave the parking lot.”
But the Villegas family did leave the parking lot shortly after that, in a different model white 2019 Dodge Crew Cab.
He said Romero and Garley “were looking for this truck and the other truck pulled out first and that’s the one they went and fired their rounds at.”
Gallegos said Romero and Garley pulled alongside the Villegas family and one of them “stood outside of the sunroof and fired several rounds at the truck, thinking they were shooting at the truck being driven by the man they were targeting as part of their feud.”
He said Crime Stoppers tips poured in after an image of the truck was released.
“Investigators used cellphone data and social media to track the movements of several individuals,” Gallegos said. “The day after the shooting, the man who was feuding with Romero sent him a message on Instagram indicating they shot at the wrong truck.”
Medina said Romero was on their radar as a suspect within 36 hours.
Medina said Romero was arrested at an unspecified Allsup’s convenience store on Thursday evening and had a gun on him. Garley was arrested on Sept. 13 after New Mexico State Police pulled him over near Grants and found 22 pounds of fentanyl pills in the car.
State Police Chief Troy Weisler said Garley was behind bars in that case when federal investigators determined that, through a search of his phone, he was involved in the shooting. That information, he said, was then passed to Albuquerque police.
“Not only did Mr. Garley murder an 11-year-old and paralyze another individual and flee the state,” Weisler said, “when he decides to come back, he brings 100,000 fentanyl tablets, of poison, intended to come back to this community. He, very likely could have killed someone else had he been allowed to do so.”
Weisler added, “There is no shame, no deterrent, despite what had happened before he continued his criminal ways… The entire situation and the ongoing disregard for the safety of other individuals is disgusting, it makes me sick to my stomach.”
Medina said both men had been taken into custody by Albuquerque police and were being questioned. One of them, Medina said, had “some kind of back pain or something.”
“Probably doesn’t want to go to jail,” he said.
Medina said they are still looking for the black Dodge Durango involved in the shooting and asked anyone who knows where it is to call Crime Stoppers and “earn yourself a little bit of income.”
“It’s a possibility the vehicle may be white at this point,” he said.
Medina then addressed the Villegas family.
“We had one young man who lost his life, we had a woman in her early 20s whose life was changed forever, our hearts still go out to both of you,” Medina said. “We hope that we can get this case to the point where we get a strong conviction and these individuals spend the rest of their life in prison.”
Within 48 hours of Froylan Villegas’ death, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared gun violence a public health emergency in the state and enacted a public health order that banned people from carrying guns in public in Bernalillo County, in addition to other measures.
Lujan Grisham scaled back the order in less than a week as most local authorities refused to enforce the order and lawsuits alleging it was unconstitutional mounted from Republican lawmakers, local gun rights groups and the National Rifle Association.