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MON: FEMA assistance application to close tomorrow unless deadline is extended, + More

The deadline for individuals to apply for FEMA assistance following the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire is Tuesday, Sept. 6.
Bright Quashie
Source NM
The deadline for individuals to apply for FEMA assistance following the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire is Tuesday, Sept. 6.

FEMA assistance application to close Tuesday unless deadline is extended – By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico

As things stand, Tuesday, Sept. 6 is the last day for victims with damaged property or homes caused by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire and flooding-related disasters to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. A deadline extension may come through soon, spokesperson Angela Byrd said Thursday.

In addition to damage caused by the fire, property harm from flooding, mudflows and debris flows are applicable. The help is aimed at those who are underinsured or without insurance.

FEMA has so far approved 1,240 applicants and allocated more than $4.7 million in funding as of Aug. 31, Byrd said. She declined to say how many applicants have been denied. FEMA won’t offer aid if insurance already covers the damage. “We don’t duplicate efforts,” she said.

But there are other reasons applications are denied, including missing documentation. People can appeal those and other denials.

Applicants have 60 days to appeal a decision after the date of the determination letter, even after Tuesday. This can be in the case of a denial or if the applicant doesn’t believe they’re getting enough assistance. Financial aid is capped at just under $40,000.

FEMA representatives are reaching out to people daily to help them in the appeal process, Byrd said. The agency has been criticized for automated denial letters sent to applicants or rejections based on incorrect information gathered by FEMA.

“If we are reaching out, if you can, please respond, and that will help,” she said. “That would absolutely help.”

Forest officials lift some Pecos Wilderness closures after historic fire - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

Hundreds of square miles in the Pecos Wilderness is once again accessible to the public following its closure amid a historically disastrous fire season.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Santa Fe National Forest revised the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire closure order just ahead of the Labor Day weekend, reopening over 334 square miles.

The revised order makes additional campgrounds and trails available to recreators, but also several game management units to hunters as bow season kicks off.

Some areas remain closed to the public, including Forest Service land in the Gallinas, Tecolote, and Barillas areas, along with the wilderness east of Skyline Trail 251.

Forest officials say additional land will be reopened once it’s safer for the public to be in those areas.

Santa Fe woman accused of embezzling nearly $600K from firm - Associated Press 

A Santa Fe woman has been accused of embezzling nearly $600,000 from a landscape architecture firm where she once worked.

A Sept. 19 arraignment has been scheduled for 43-year-old Heather Barna.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court, Barna is facing felony charges of embezzlement and unlawful use or theft of an ATM or debit card.

It was unclear Sunday if Barna had a lawyer who could speak on her behalf.

Barna worked as an office manager for the landscape architecture firm from October 2020 to January of this year and oversaw payroll for the business.

The company's owner told police that she learned of the alleged crime after another worker noticed a $9,000 charge in the company's bank records that couldn't be explained.

Barna allegedly made 430 unauthorized transfers from the company's account to her personal account totaling more than $490,000 plus 1,419 personal purchases on the company's Amazon account totaling more than $77,000.

Police obtained a search warrant for Barna's bank records and confirmed the unauthorized transactions, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The newspaper said Barna admitted to taking money to cover surgery costs and repaid only $300,000 of the embezzled funds.

Coronado Park residents need more help to find stable housing, survey shows - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico 

Finding safe and stable housing for the former residents of a now-closed Albuquerque encampment will require more effort from the city’s service organizations, as those who needed help “were not well served by traditional outreach methods,” according to a team who surveyed them.

City staff and Albuquerque StreetConnect, a Heading Home program, surveyed 94 people who were staying at the park on Aug. 1 and 2, a few weeks before the city closed the park. It was the second such survey in about a year.

The team asked residents about their dealings with service organizations and government programs, their time in Albuquerque, their health problems and other demographic information.

Taken together, StreetConnect said the findings suggest the path forward for the residents requires additional help from organizations trying to serve a population with greater needs than they’re used to.

“For many individuals, the expectation that they will proactively keep in touch with service organizations is inconsistent with their illnesses or capacities,” the StreetOutreach survey concludes. “This responsibility must fall on the service organizations.”

The survey found that the 94 people at the park were younger, on average, than the group surveyed at the park last year. This year, 59% of residents were younger than 45, versus 38% last year. A greater number had spent fewer than five years in Albuquerque, as well (35% this year, 23% last year).

Five of those surveyed were military veterans.

The residents were asked where they would go when the park closed. The most common response (38%) was that they would find another place to sleep that’s not a shelter, including bus stops, cemeteries, freeway ramps and underpasses. Twenty-one said they’d go to a shelter.

The surveyors also found multiple behavioral and medical issues in a group they broadly described as “high acuity,” including post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or an intellectual disability. In total, 41 respondents had some sort of disability. Two people have paralysis. One has cancer.

As part of the outreach, city officials said 29 people left the park voluntarily. Of them 21 received motel vouchers, four were taken to the Albuquerque Opportunity Center men’s shelter, two were sent to a hospital to receive medical care, and two got help with transportation to their home city outside of Albuquerque, according to a news release.

The surveyors also concluded that one of the “most significant bottlenecks to reducing homelessness in our community” is helping those who have housing vouchers actually use them. The vouchers allow them to pay rent subsidized by the government, but city landlords have only recently been required by law to accept them as a form of rent payment. The surveyors said the city and organizations should team up to prioritize finding housing for those who have vouchers and the willingness to find a place.

“Some programs have a resistance to working with a high-need population due to inexperience or insufficient training,” the surveyors wrote.

The single biggest need residents identified was housing. More than 75% of those surveyed said it was their primary need. No more than 11% of respondents identified income, health, food and employment as their primary need, though some of those surveyed selected more than one need.

In July, Mayor Tim Keller announced the closure of the park, one that has served as an encampment for at least seven years and was home to between 75 and 125 people at any given time. Some people had lived there for years.

The mayor cited public safety threats to residents and city employees. An Albuquerque police official said the department has been called to the park or near it hundreds of times this year. Police recently arrested a man they said was the “self-appointed mayor” of Coronado Park for alleged murder, saying he and a small group of residents ran drugs and exerted control over the park.

It’s not yet clear what will come of the park. It could become a training facility for the fire station next door or be a site on which new affordable housing is built, Keller has said.

It could also reopen as a city-sanctioned encampment, though legislation allowing for that is in flux at the Albuquerque City Council.

The City Council voted 6-3 to prohibit “safe outdoor spaces” from being created in city limits, though Keller last week vetoed the legislation. The Council could override that veto at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.

If sanctioned encampments are deemed legal, Coronado Park could reopen as one, Keller has previously suggested.

The survey asked park residents what they thought of that possibility. On a scale from 1 to 5, residents were asked if they’d be willing to stay at Coronado Park “if there are rules and security and limits on the number of belongings you have.”

More than half – 49 people – said “5” for “very willing.” Another 17 chose “3” or “4.” Just 15 said “1” or “2.”

Gateway Center due to open its doors this winter - KUNM News, Albuquerque Journal 

This winter, a new homeless shelter will replace the old Lovelace hospital in Southeast Albuquerque.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, the Gateway Center–which has raised some concerns from nearby neighborhoods––will serve as a 24/7 one-stop shop for first responders to drop off unhoused people who do not belong in the emergency room or jail. Albuquerque Family and Community Services Department Director Carol Pierce told the Journal that includes those who are intoxicated, dealing with mental illness or are found somewhere in the city.

With four beds of its own, the dropoff point is meant to funnel people to other services like local shelters and detoxification programs. Eventually, the city plans to have on-site services as well.

The demolition process has started inside the hospital, which, at first, will have 50 emergency beds exclusively for women. The drop-off and beds will come this winter.

Later next summer, construction will add 20 beds meant for people recovering from illness or injury and 20 more for supervised sobering from drugs or alcohol.

In the end, the project will have a total of 250 emergency shelter beds––with 40 each of the supervised sobering and medical respite beds.

Suspect in double homicide case in Albuquerque is arrested - Associated Press

A suspect in a double homicide case in northwest Albuquerque has been arrested, according to authorities.

Albuquerque police said 30-year-old John Ballejos was taken into custody Saturday afternoon on suspicion of two counts of murder and two counts of tampering with evidence.

They said 31-year-old Daniel Humphrey and his 46-year-old aunt Sonia Tenorio were both fatally shot Friday night at an apartment complex

Ballejos lived above the victims in the apartment complex, according to police.

In July, Ballejos allegedly shot a bullet through the floor and into the downstairs apartment.

The shooting was reported to police and the apartment management, which reportedly led to Ballejos' eviction.

It was unclear Sunday if Ballejos has a lawyer who can speak on his behalf.

New Mexico teams rally for hospitalized football player - By Stephen Wagner Las Cruces Sun-News

For 22 seconds, none of the 104 players thought about football.

The high school students' thoughts and prayers were elsewhere — with Abraham Romero in the intensive care unit at El Paso Children's Hospital as a solemn stillness crept over the hundreds of fans at the Field of Dreams watching Organ Mountain's game against Mayfield High.

The only sound came from the flapping of a white flag with "#ABESTRONG" and the number 22, his jersey number, inscribed underneath an Organ Mountain High School logo.

The Organ Mountain and Mayfield players kneeled at midfield after it was announced that the first cross-city rivalry game of the season would be dedicated to Romero, the Organ Mountain senior linebacker who has remained in a medically induced coma since suddenly collapsing between plays during the team's game against Deming. They remained still during the silence – 22 seconds long for No. 22.

Romero wasn't in attendance to watch the Knights 28-0 win over the Trojans (their first win over Mayfield since 2017), but his presence was undeniable, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Fans wore bright green ribbons with the number "22" on their lapels. Players wore helmet decals with the initials "A.R." The home stands were covered in signs offering support for the 17-year-old: "STRONG FOR 22;" "FIGHT FOR ABE;" "LET'S FIGHT ON #22."

Booster club parents patrolled the stands holding collection jars with Romero's photo while high school students collected for the 50/50 raffle, the proceeds of which both booster clubs pledged to donate to Romero and his family.

"I got choked up talking to the officials before the game. We still had Abe be a captain tonight. We just wrote down his number," head coach Steve Castille said. "Not for one second was it off our minds. It's a huge deal. (Football) both has to be on the back burner a little bit, but the game's still on the schedule."

Romero's mother, Elizabeth Alonzo, watched Organ Mountain's most inspired performance of the season on her iPad propped on his hospital bed while she clasped her hand around his. She still wanted him to be able to listen to the broadcaster's call of the Knights tied 0-0 at halftime, then jump out to a 14-0 lead in the third quarter, then drive in the dagger in the fourth quarter even if he wasn't conscious. He had never missed a football game before.

"(I'm) viewing the game right next to my Knight as if I was watching him on the field," Alonzo said. "Always together."

Romero has remained unconscious for the last six days, and Alonzo has asked for as many prayers as possible as her son continues to battle. But the community sent a reminder Thursday night that the family isn't alone.

Mayfield's cheerleading squad donated $260 to the Romero family, bolstering the more than $3,000 the city's four major high schools have raised already. Mayfield raised an additional $1,389 in its 50/50 raffle to donate to the family, which also included the profits from its last home game, and Organ Mountain contributed $624 from its 50/50 raffle. Alonzo said she has personally received more than $300 donated directly to her already.

Cobre and Silver City High Schools have also said they will accept donations during their game Friday night, and Las Cruces High, Centennial, Mayfield and Organ Mountain High Schools will collectively host a car wash at Three Crosses Regional Hospital in Las Cruces Sunday, Sept. 4.

"I feel unbelievably blessed that the community has united for my son and he is so loved," Alonzo said. "I would trade the world to have my son on the field tonight with the rest of his brothers."

Alonzo remembered her family isn't alone in the fight.

And heard it too.

As the clock wound down and the two teams trudged toward midfield for the postgame handshake, Organ Mountain's bleachers broke out chanting, "Twenty-two! Twenty-two!" The band banged its bass drum 22 times.

The scorekeeper stopped the clock at 22 seconds. Players carried a flag with Romero's number as they huddled on the field after the game and proclaimed a new era of Knight football. They held a 22-second prayer after the game. Several players remained kneeled for longer as they held back tears.

This one was for Abe.

"It's a tough thing to lose a brother like that in the fashion that it happened," Castille said. "...It's an amazing thing for the community when you get into that stuff. I don't know if 'romantic' is the word I'm going to use, but it brings this whole community together."

Red flag laws get little use as shootings, gun deaths soar - By Bernard Condon Associated Press

Chicago is one of the nation's gun violence hotspots and a seemingly ideal place to employ Illinois' "red flag" law that allows police to step in and take firearms away from people who threaten to kill. But amid more than 8,500 shootings resulting in 1,800 deaths since 2020, the law was used there just four times.

It's a pattern that's played out in New Mexico, with nearly 600 gun homicides during that period and a mere eight uses of its red flag law. And in Massachusetts, with nearly 300 shooting homicides and just 12 uses of its law.

An Associated Press analysis found many U.S. states barely use the red flag laws touted as the most powerful tool to stop gun violence before it happens, a trend blamed on a lack of awareness of the laws and resistance by some authorities to enforce them even as shootings and gun deaths soar.

AP found such laws in 19 states and the District of Columbia were used to remove firearms from people 15,049 times since 2020, fewer than 10 per 100,000 adult residents. Experts called that woefully low and not nearly enough to make a dent in gun violence, considering the millions of firearms in circulation and countless potential warning signs law enforcement officers encounter from gun owners every day.

"It's too small a pebble to make a ripple," Duke University sociologist Jeffrey Swanson, who has studied red flag gun surrender orders across the nation, said of the AP tally. "It's as if the law doesn't exist."

"The number of people we are catching with red flags is likely infinitesimal," added Indiana University law professor Jody Madeira, who like other experts who reviewed AP's findings wouldn't speculate how many red flag removal orders would be necessary to make a difference.

The search for solutions comes amid a string of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois, and a spike in gun violence not seen in decades: 27,000 deaths so far this year, following 45,000 deaths each of the past two years.

AP's count, compiled from inquiries and Freedom of Information Law requests, showed wide disparities in how the laws were applied from state to state, county to county, most without regard to population or crime rates.

Florida led with 5,800 such orders, or 34 per 100,000 adult residents, but that is due mostly to aggressive enforcement in a few counties that don't include Miami-Dade and others with more gun killings. More than a quarter of Illinois' slim 154 orders came from one suburban county that makes up just 7% of the state's population. California had 3,197 orders but was working through a backlog of three times that number of people barred from owning guns under a variety of measures who had not yet surrendered them.

And a national movement among politicians and sheriffs that has declared nearly 2,000 counties as "Second Amendment Sanctuaries," opposing laws that infringe on gun rights, may have affected red flag enforcement in several states. In Colorado, 37 counties that consider themselves "sanctuaries" issued just 45 surrender orders in the two years through last year, a fifth fewer than non-sanctuary counties did per resident. New Mexico and Nevada reported only about 20 orders combined.

"The law shouldn't even be there in the first place," argued Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who heads the pro-gun Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. "You're taking away someone's property and means of self-defense."

Red flag laws, most of which came into effect over the last four years, allow police officers who believe gun owners are an imminent danger to themselves or others to petition a judge to order firearms surrendered or, barring that, seized for an "emergency" period, typically two weeks. The judge can then convene a court hearing in which petitioners present evidence to withhold weapons longer, typically a year, and the owner can argue against that.

AP's tally counts an emergency order that is followed by a longer one as a single order if they involve the same gun owner. In rare cases where no one asked for an emergency order and only a longer one was requested and granted, that also counts as a single order. Several states reported incomplete data.

Some states also allow family members of gun owners, school officials, work colleagues or doctors to ask for gun removal orders, also known as extreme risk protection orders. But data reviewed by the AP show nearly all petitions in several states were initiated by police, possibly because, as several surveys have shown, few people outside law enforcement are even aware the laws exist.

The recent spike in shootings has brought renewed attention to red flag laws, with states including Alaska, Pennsylvania and Kentucky introducing legislation to add them. The Biden administration is seeking to foster wider use of red flag laws by allocating money in a newly passed federal gun law to help spread the word about such measures.

An AP-NORC poll in late July found 78% of U.S. adults strongly or somewhat favor red flag laws, but the backlash against them has been intense in some states, particularly in rural areas. Opponents argue that allowing judges to rule on gun seizures in initial emergency petitions before full hearings violates due process rights, though court cases claiming this have generally found the laws constitutional.

Many police believe seizing guns can also be dangerous and unnecessary, even as a last resort, especially in sparsely populated areas where they know many of the residents with mental health issues, said Tony Mace, head of the New Mexico Sheriffs' Association, which lobbied against the state's law.

"You're showing up with 10 to 15 law enforcement officers and coming in the middle of the night and kicking in the door, and it's already a dangerous environment," said Mace, sheriff of Cibola County, a sanctuary county with just one order since 2020. "You're dealing with someone in crisis and elevating it even more."

One fierce gun rights defender who still aggressively uses the law is Polk County, Florida, Sheriff Grady Judd, who says he doesn't let his beliefs stand in the way of moving fast when gun owners threaten violence.

"We're not going to wait for an Uvalde, Texas, or a Parkland or a Columbine if we have the information and people say that they're going to shoot or kill," said Judd, who enforced 752 orders since 2020 in a county of 725,000 residents, a tally that's more than the total orders for 15 entire states. "We're going to use the tools that the state gave us."

Florida's traditionally pro-gun Republican-led legislature passed its red flag law in 2018 following revelations police failed to act on repeated threats by an expelled student who would go on to carry out the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland earlier that year that left 17 people dead.

A recent high-profile example of a red flag law not being used was for the 21-year-old gunman accused of fatally shooting seven people and injuring dozens more at a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. Robert E. Crimo III drew police attention three years earlier when he threatened to "kill everyone" in his house and officers acknowledged going to the home several times previously because of a "history of attempts" to take his own life.

But Highland Park police never requested a gun surrender order, saying there was no gun belonging to Crimo to take away at the time, even though the law has a provision to block threatening people from making future purchases, too.

Illinois state Rep. Denyse Stoneback said there has clearly been a problem with awareness of the law among those tasked with carrying it out. "We'd go to police departments and they didn't know anything about it," said the Democrat who helped push through a bill last year providing $1 million in police red flag law training.

Asked why Chicago had so few red flag firearm restraining orders, police spokesman Thomas Ahern said many of the city's gun killings are committed with illegally owned firearms.

But Ahern emphasized it remained a priority of the department to increase its awareness and use of the red flag law. "If we are able to prevent one citizen from getting hurt or killed that's a law worth having and definitely not a low priority," he said.

In New York, a red flag-type situation that wasn't covered under the state's law nonetheless led to a spike in red flag gun surrender orders.

Payton Gendron was a 17-year-old high school senior last year when he was investigated by New York's State Police and ordered hospitalized for a mental health evaluation for typing into an economics class online program that his future plans included "murder-suicide." But since he was a minor, he wasn't covered under the state's red flag law and it didn't prevent him from later buying the high-powered rifle authorities say he used to kill 10 Black people in a racially-motivated shooting at Buffalo supermarket in May.

Since then, New York has seen 779 gun surrender orders under its red flag law, equal to nearly half of all its orders since the measure took effect three years ago.

Several experts said it's impossible to come up with an ideal number of red flag orders and misleading to compare states by orders because of the widely varying rates of gun ownership and gun homicides and suicides, among other stats.

Another complicating factor is that some states have stricter gun ownerships rules and multiple ways to seize firearms. In California, for instance, guns can be taken away through domestic violence restraining orders, civil harassment protection orders and school violence prevention orders in addition to the red flag law.

Still, experts consulted by AP agreed more could be done to enforce red flag laws given the prevalence of guns and the millions of gun owners that national studies suggest could be dangerous to themselves and others. In red flag states alone, figures compiled by the Gun Violence Archive show at least 21,100 homicides and 47,000 injuries during the 2½ years covered by AP's count.

Several studies suggest red flag laws can be particularly effective in preventing gun suicides, which kill about 20,000 people a year. A Duke University study of Connecticut's-first-in-the-nation red flag law in 1999 estimated that for every 10 to 20 surrender orders a life from a potential suicide was saved. A study of Indiana's law came up with a similar ratio.

While the impact of red flag laws on homicides is less well researched, studies suggest many mass shootings could be avoided if the laws were implemented aggressively. A study by the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety showed perpetrators exhibited dangerous warning signs before more than half of the mass shootings in the dozen years through 2020 that accounted for 596 deaths.

Such warning signs have led to many opportunities to stop gun violence, as well as missed chances.

In Colorado in 2020, police seized 59 guns from a man who complained of hit men coming to get him, bragged about shooting someone and repeatedly threatened his ex-wife.

In New Jersey in 2019, police took seven guns from a man threatening on Facebook to attack a Walmart.

And in Washington state in 2018, police removed 12 guns from the home of a man who posted on social media about killing Jews in a synagogue and kids in a school.

None of those threatened shootings happened.

But in Indianapolis in 2020, failure to employ all aspects of a red flag law resulted in disaster. After 18-year-old Brandon Hole's mother alerted police that he was threatening to commit "suicide by cop," police seized his pump-action shotgun. A county prosecutor could have gone further under the law to argue before a judge that Hole should be barred from possessing or buying a gun, but that never happened.

A few months later, Hole bought two AR-style rifles at a gun store, turning to his mother and saying, "They don't have a flag on me." Several months after that, he fatally shot eight employees in a FedEx warehouse where he had worked and injured seven more before killing himself.

"I feel the state of Indiana is an accessory to murder," a wounded Angela Hughley told the Indianapolis Star shortly after the shooting.

Amber Clark, a librarian in Sacramento, California, might still be alive today if police had acted on a tip that Ronald Seay was armed and dangerous.

The gunman's twin brother called police in 2018 warning that Seay, who had a history of mental illness and trouble with police, was making violent threats and had two semiautomatic pistols. But the police never went to a judge to ask for a gun surrender order or tell the sibling that he could do that himself.

A few weeks later, Seay unloaded 11 bullets into Clark's face, head and body at pointblank range outside the Sacramento library.

"It is obvious to me and my family that the application of California's red flag law in this case would have saved two lives – Amber's and the shooter's – and prevented immeasurable grief," said her husband, Kelly Clark. "My wife would still be alive and the killer would have received the help he needed instead of being condemned to life in prison."