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MON: Killings of 4 NM Muslim men send fear rippling through US Islamic communities as police seek vehicle, + More

APD Poster
Alburquerque Police Department
This Wanted poster released Sunday, Aug 7, 2022, by the Albuquerque Police Department shows a vehicle suspected of being used as a conveyance in the recent homicides of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, N.M. Police investigating whether the killings are connected say they need help finding the vehicle believed to be connected to the deaths. Police say the vehicle sought is a dark gray or silver, four-door Volkswagen Jetta with dark tinted windows. (Albuquerque Police Department via AP)

Killings send fear rippling through US Islamic communities - By Stefanie Dazio And Mariam Fam Associated Press

Authorities on Monday identified the fourth victim in a series of killings of Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as the deaths sent ripples of fear through the Islamic community nationwide.

Three of the slayings happened in the past week. Now law enforcement officials are seeking help finding a vehicle believed to be connected to the killings in New Mexico's largest city. The common elements were the victims' race and religion, officials said.

Naeem Hussain was killed Friday night, and ambush shootings killed three other Muslim men over the past nine months. Police are trying to determine if the homicides are linked.

The killings have spread fear beyond New Mexico, where Muslims comprise less than 1% of adults in the statewide population of 2.1 million, according to the Pew Research Center.

"The fact the suspect remains at large is terrifying," Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim community leader in New York, wrote on Twitter. "Who is next?!"

In a phone interview, Almontaser said that a female friend who lives in Michigan and wears the hijab head covering shared with her over the weekend just how rattled she was. "She's like, 'This is so terrifying. I'm so scared. I travel alone,'" Almontaser said.

Hussain, 25, was from Pakistan. His death came just days after those of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41, who were also from Pakistan and members of the same mosque.

The earliest case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, from Afghanistan.

Aneela Abad, general secretary at the Islamic Center of New Mexico, described a community reeling from the killings, its grief compounded by confusion and fear of what may follow.

"We are just completely shocked and still trying to comprehend and understand what happened, how and why," she said.

Three of those killed attended the center, and the fourth was well-known in the community, Abad said.

Some people have avoided going out unless "absolutely necessary," and some Muslim university students have been wondering whether it is safe for them to stay in the city. The center has also beefed up its security, she said.

Police said the same vehicle is suspected of being used in all four homicides — a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen that appears to be a Jetta or Passat with dark tinted windows. Authorities released photos hoping people could help identify the car and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Investigators did not say where the images were taken or what led them to suspect the car was involved in the slayings. Police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said in an email Monday that the agency has received tips regarding the car but did not elaborate.

"We have a very, very strong link," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. "We have a vehicle of interest … We have got to find this vehicle."

Gallegos said he could not comment on what kind of gun was used in the shootings, or whether police know how many suspects were involved in the violence.

President Joe Biden said he was "angered and saddened" by the killings and that his administration "stands strongly with the Muslim community."

"These hateful attacks have no place in America," Biden said Sunday in a tweet.

The conversation about safety has also dominated WhatsApp groups and email groups that Almontaser is on.

"What we've seen happen in New Mexico is very chilling for us as a Muslim minority community in the United States that has endured so much backlash and discrimination" since the 9/11 attacks, she said. "It's frightening."

Last year, a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 found that 53% of Americans at the time had unfavorable views toward Islam, compared with 42% who had favorable ones. That stood in contrast to Americans' opinions about Christianity and Judaism, for which most respondents expressed favorable views.

Albuquerque authorities say they cannot determine if the slayings were hate crimes until they have identified a suspect and a motive.

Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said bias killings are often perpetrated by a small group of people, typically young white men. A lone perpetrator is rare.

"These are basically total losers by every dimension, whether it's social, economic, psychological, what have you," he said. "They're filled with hatred for one reason or another and target a particular group that they see, in their mind, to blame for all their problems in life."

Even though two of the Albuquerque victims attended the same mosque, they were killed in separate shootings days apart.

It was not clear whether the victims knew their attacker. Schlesinger said the assailant may have deliberately targeted them one by one.

"It's easier to kill one person. It's less risk for yourself getting apprehended," he said.

The most recent victim was found dead after police received a call of a shooting. Authorities declined to say whether the killing was carried out in a way similar to the other deaths.

Muhammad Afzaal Hussain had worked as a field organizer for a local congresswoman's campaign.

Democratic Rep. Melanie Stansbury issued a statement praising him as "one of the kindest and hardest working people" she has ever known. She said the urban planner was "committed to making our public spaces work for every person and cleaning up legacy pollution."

As land-use director for the city of Española — more than 85 miles north of Albuquerque — Hussain worked to improve conditions and inclusivity for disadvantaged minorities, according to the mayor's office.

The city staff "has lost a member of our family, and we all have lost a brilliant public servant who wanted to service and improve his community," Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil said in a news release.

Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Fam from Winter Park, Florida. Associated Press news researchers Rhonda Shafner and Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.

Albuquerque police seek car in killings of 4 Muslim men — Associated Press

Authorities investigating whether the killings of four Muslim men are connected said Sunday that they need help finding a vehicle believed to be connected to the deaths in New Mexico's largest city.

Albuquerque police said they released photos of the vehicle suspected of being used in the four homicides, hoping people could help identify the car. Police said the vehicle sought is a dark gray or silver four-door Volkswagen with dark tinted windows, and appears to be a Jetta.

Police did not say where the images were taken or what led them to suspect the car was involved in any of the crimes.

"We have a very, very strong link," Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said Sunday. "We have a vehicle of interest … We have got to find this vehicle."

Police still are trying to determine if there are any connections among the killings. A Muslim man was killed Friday night in Albuquerque and ambush shootings killed three Muslim men over the past nine months. The common elements in all the victims are their race and religion, deputy police commander Kyle Hartsock said.

Police said Saturday that the victim in the latest killing was a Muslim from South Asia who is believed to be in his mid-20s.

The man, whose identity hasn't yet been confirmed by investigators, was found dead after police received a call of a shooting.

Earlier this week, police confirmed that local detectives and federal law enforcement officers were looking for possible ties among the separate crimes.

Two of the men — Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, and Aftab Hussein, 41 — were killed in the past week, and both were from Pakistan and members of the same mosque. The third case involves the November killing of Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, a Muslim man of South Asian descent.

Police declined to say whether Friday night's homicide was carried out in a way similar to the other deaths.

Authorities said they can't say yet if the shootings were hate crimes until they have identified a suspect and can determine a motive.

"We will bring this person or these persons to justice," Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Sunday.

Navajo president selects political newcomer as VP candidate - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Navajo President Jonathan Nez announced Monday that he's selected a political newcomer who is a lawyer and Air Force veteran to be his running mate in the general election.

Nez introduced Chad Abeyta, 33, during an address in the tribal capital of Window Rock. Nez outlined qualities that included family values and a bootstrap mentality in explaining why he chose Abeyta to join his ticket.

Abeyta is from the New Mexico portion of the reservation, and Nez is from Arizona. Selecting a running mate from a different region of the reservation is a strategic move to try to draw in more voters.

Nez will face Buu Nygren in the tribe's general election in November. They were the top two vote-getters among 15 presidential hopefuls in last week's primary election.

Nygren, who has a background in construction management, is expected to announce his vice presidential pick later Monday.

Tear gas grenade thrown by Bernalillo County deputy caused deadly house fire, investigators say By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

The only possible cause of the fire that killed Brett Rosenau, 15, last month was a grenade thrown by a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy who was a member of the SWAT team that July night, local fire officials said Friday.

The Fire/Arson Investigation Division of Albuquerque Fire Rescue ruled the fire an accident, and discussed preliminary findings during a news conference on Friday.

It is extremely likely that the fire was caused by a Tri-Chamber Flameless Grenade thrown through a front window of the house, said Jason Ramirez, captain of the fire/arson investigation division.

The grenade emits CS gas, commonly known as tear gas.

“So at this time, the classification of that fire is ruled accidental, and we were unable to eliminate that device being an ignition source,” Ramirez told reporters on Friday. “All other ignition sources in the room were eliminated at this point. So that’s where we’re at in the investigation. At this point in our investigation, there is no other possibility in that room of origin, in that area.”

The grenade landed on a mattress behind the window, said Albuquerque Police Commander Kyle Hartsock. Hartsock displayed a video showing the grenade smoking, and the mattress catching fire. The video shows police using a robot to pull the flaming mattress out of the house, but at that point the fire had spread.

Firefighters delayed entering the building because, Albuquerque Police Chief Medina has said, there were concerns Kelley was armed, and he was still inside. It remains unclear if police actually found any weapons on Kelley or in the home.

After Kelley surrendered, firefighters searched the house and found Rosenau’s body inside, Hartsock said.

Man arrested in death of Navajo woman; remains found in 2021 - Associated Press

A Pinon man has been arrested in connection with the death of a Navajo woman who was reported missing in 2019, according to authorities.

Federal prosecutors said 30-year-old Tre C. James was taken into custody last week on suspicion of first-degree murder and multiple counts of domestic violence.

Roberta McVickers, an attorney for James, declined to comment Monday when reached by The Associated Press.

Prosecutors said James is accused of fatally shooting Jamie Yazzie of Pinon. She was last seen on the Navajo Nation and reported missing in the summer of 2019.

Yazzie's remains were found in November 2021 on the neighboring Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona.

James' next scheduled court appearance is Tuesday in U.S. Magistrate Court in Flagstaff.

Trial set for Española man accused of killing stepdaughter — Associated Press

A March 13 trial date has been set for a Española man accused of killing his 5-year-old stepdaughter in 2019.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that 28-year-old Malcolm Torres recently rejected a plea agreement offered by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Albuquerque.

Federal prosecutors said Torres is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the death of Renezmae Calzada.

The Santa Clara Pueblo girl's body was found in the Rio Grande several days after her mother reporter her missing in September 2019.

Authorities have released few details about the child's death, where exactly her body was found or how she may have ended up in a river that is at least a mile from the east-central Española yard where she was last seen.

Prosecutors said it's unclear why Torres rejected the proposed plea agreement.

A federal public defender appointed to represent Torres has declined comment on the case.

Police: Farmington woman has recanted her kidnapping story — Associated Press

A Farmington woman who filed a false kidnapping report will not be facing charges, according to authorities.

The woman told police on Aug. 1 that two husky men pulled her off a sidewalk into a van that had blackened windows and no license plate.

She said it occurred in front of a busy car wash and was able to fight off the alleged attackers.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe announced Saturday that the woman has recanted her story and asked the public to exercise compassion for her.

"We have decided not to press charges," Hebbe said. "That was ultimately my decision after we talked to the District Attorney's Office.

"What we have here is a family and a young lady who is in crisis and right now she is actively seeking help for that which certainly is our goal," Hebbe added. "We put bad guys in jail. We don't put people who are in crisis in jail."

Hebbe said about 200 hours went into the police department's investigation and he praised detectives for finding the truth.

Report details wreckage of fatal New Mexico helicopter crash — Associated Press

Federal transportation authorities said Friday that a helicopter returning home from a firefighting mission made a rapid descent without making any turns before plowing into the ground last month, killing the four first responders onboard.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board released their preliminary report, noting that two witnesses on a ridge about half a mile away were observing the sunset when they saw the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office helicopter go down in the hills near the northern New Mexico community of Las Vegas.

It could take a year or more to make a final determination on the cause of the July 16 crash. It marked the single deadliest incident for law enforcement in state history and one of the deadliest for first responders.

The preliminary report detailed the crash scene, noting that the main wreckage was found upside down about 160 feet (48 meters) beyond the area where the helicopter first crashed. One main rotor blade had minimal damage and the other blade was fractured, with the broken part found nearby.

One of the four people onboard managed to call 911 before succumbing to his injuries, according to emergency dispatch recordings. That call to San Miguel County dispatchers sparked a frantic search.

A rancher who also called 911 said she saw dust when the helicopter hit the ground but no smoke or flames.

In emergency dispatch recordings, it was reported that gas was leaking from the aircraft, which the crew fully refueled for the trip home to Albuquerque.

They had spent a few hours that afternoon dropping buckets of water on a wildfire burning on private land near Las Vegas.

The crew included Bernalillo County Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and Bernalillo County Fire Rescue Specialist Matthew King. During memorial services over the last two weeks, the men were remembered as heroes for always being ready to serve beyond their jurisdiction.

Koren, 55, was a veteran pilot who had been with the the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. He was part of a New Year's Day mission to rescue employees and a tram operator who got stuck while descending in the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway.

Beers, 51, also helped with that winter rescue and had been with the sheriff's office for 13 years. Levison, 30, had been with the sheriff's office since 2017 and had served in the New Mexico Air National Guard.

The recordings show King, 44, a husband and father of two children, was the one who dialed 911. Mortally wounded, he stayed on the line for more than a half hour trying to direct first responders to the crash site. Efforts by the state police officers who were first on the scene to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.