WED: NM gunman who killed 3 wore a bulletproof vest and left a note, + More
New Mexico gunman who killed 3 wore bulletproof vest, left note - By Morgan Lee, Rio Yamat And Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
A high school student who killed three women in northwestern New Mexico with an indiscriminate spray of gunfire left a cryptic note presaging "the end of the chapter" and wore a bulletproof vest that he discarded before being shot to death by police, authorities said Wednesday.
Police added new details to the profile of the lone gunman and the weaponry he used as he walked through his residential neighborhood before being confronted by officers and fatally shot outside a church. The shooter discharged more than 190 rounds during the rampage, according to authorities, most of them from the home he shared with his father.
Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said in a news conference that 18-year-old Beau Wilson was wearing what appeared to be a modified vest with steel plates and that the note was found in his pocket. Handwritten in green lettering, the message said in part, "if your reading this im the end of the chapter."
Wilson began shooting with an AR-15 rifle just outside his home, from the front porch area, but quickly dropped that into some bushes even though it still held more live ammunition, police said.
The gunman continued firing with two pistols, discarding a .22-caliber gun and then depleting rounds from a 9-mm handgun in the final shootout with police, during which he let off at least 18 rounds.
Slain by the shooter were longtime Farmington residents Gwendolyn Schofield, 97, her 73-year-old daughter, Melody Ivie, and 79-year-old Shirley Voita, police said.
The women were well known in the community, in part through participation in faith-based groups. Ivie ran a preschool for four decades that was attended by several generations of residents.
Those wounded in the attack include Farmington police Sgt. Rachel Discenza and New Mexico State Police Officer Andreas Stamatiadas. The officers were treated at a local hospital and released.
Police are probing Wilson's access to weapons and concerns about his prior mental health, and efforts are underway to subpoena medical and school records that might shed light on any issues.
"We have been talking with family members and trying to do more investigation into his mental health that appears to — early on — to be a factor," Hebbe said.
At the same time, Hebbe said, "there did not appear to be significant indications that ... something was going to happen that day."
In November, after he turned 18, Wilson legally purchased the assault-style weapon used Monday, according to police. They believe two of the three weapons he carried were owned by relatives.
Two days before the attack, Wilson purchased additional ammunition magazines, police said.
Authorities said it appears he shot indiscriminately at vehicles, and bullets struck 11 of them along with seven homes.
Additional weapons and ammunition were found at the home Wilson shared with his father, but Hebbe said he did not appear to have organized those before he left the house. The suspect had access to over 1,400 rounds of ammunition and 10 other weapons at the time of the attack.
"He planned to use the three weapons he had," Hebbe said, "and he went outside and he did just that."
Police say evidence shows that at least 176 rounds were fired by Wilson from an assault rifle near his house at the outset of the rampage.
Wilson was a senior at Farmington High School and had been scheduled to graduate the next day.
At the school's commencement ceremony Tuesday, speakers talked of resilience and hope.
A chair was left empty with a bouquet of white roses "in memory of those we lost throughout the years," school district spokesperson Roberto Taboada said.
NM governor and lawmakers say they’ll keep pushing for stricter guns laws after Farmington shooting — Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News
In the wake of Monday’s shooting in Farmington that killed 3 and wounded 6, including two law enforcement officers, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Democratic state lawmakers say they’ll follow up on enacting stricter gun laws in the state.
Police say Monday’s attack on a Farmington neighborhood was executed by an 18-year-old wielding a long gun he purchased, along with two other guns owned by a family member. Now, Lujan Grisham tells the Albuquerque Journal that she wants to see the Legislature pass both a ban on assault-style weapons and age restrictions on firearm purchases.
Bills to enact both regulations had failed to reach her desk in this year’s legislative session.
Additionally, the governor told the Journal that the state will roll out an initiative next week to tackle the trafficking of firearms in the state.
Lujan Grisham acknowledged that there is no singular solution for the country and state’s gun violence crisis, noting “I don’t know of a tool that prevents all tragedies.”
She says she plans to attend tonight’s vigil at the Farmington Museum and may meet with the families of the victims and shooter to “help the state’s grieving process.”
Meanwhile, the Journal reports Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero says she’s working to revise the ban on assault-style weapons that failed to pass this year and would like to again pursue a measure to institute a waiting period for gun purchases.
Rural electric co-ops to get $10.7B in USDA funds for clean energy grants, loans - Jacob Fischler, States Newsroom via Source New Mexico
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin to administer two loan and grant programs worth nearly $11 billion to boost clean energy systems in rural areas, administration officials said Tuesday.
Congress approved the federal spending — $9.7 billion for a grant and loan program the department is calling the New Empowering Rural America program, or New ERA, and $1 billion for a Powering Affordable Clean Energy program that will provide partly forgivable loans — in the energy, health and taxes law Democrats passed last summer.
The funding “continues an ongoing effort to ensure that rural America is a full participant in this clean energy economy,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on a teleconference in advance of the announcement.
Rural areas can have more difficulty than more urban ones in attracting private sector investment, White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi said. The programs are intended to allow those rural areas to take advantage of an industry-wide trend to invest in clean energy production.
“There’s a favorable wind blowing here,” he said. “This allows rural communities to put up a sail.”
The programs are meant to put rural electric cooperatives on equal footing with larger privately owned companies that have already put major funding into clean energy deployment, Vilsack said.
The programs represent the largest single funding effort for rural electrification since President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, a USDA press release said.
The money is meant not only to address the climate impacts of fossil fuel energy and reduce home energy costs, but to act as an economic engine for rural areas, Zaidi said.
Zaidi cited a Stateline analysis that showed seven of the top 10 largest gross domestic product growth increases between 2019 and 2021 had significant wind farm production.
“This is a proven driver of economic growth on the ground,” Zaidi said. “We want more folks to be able to tap into that opportunity. We’re seeing this not only translates into lower energy costs, but, to places that had been shut down, turning back on as sources of economic opportunity.”
Rural electric cooperatives are eligible for the New ERA program. Up to 25% of the funding in that program can be in the form of direct grants. Utilities can use the money to build renewable energy systems, zero-emission systems and carbon capture facilities, according to the department release.
The climate law allows “the stacking of benefits,” Vilsack said. That means utilities that receive loans and grants through the program can also use the clean energy tax credits that were approved in the law, he said.
The USDA will begin to accept initial applications for funding on July 31. Applicants are expected to write more detailed proposals for funding after the USDA accepts their initial applications.
The PACE program provides loans to renewable energy developers and electric service providers “to help finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower projects and energy storage in support of renewable energy systems,” the release said.
The program is targeted to “vulnerable, disadvantaged, Tribal and energy communities,” the release said. It’s in line with a Biden administration goal to give at least 40% of the overall benefits of certain federal spending to disadvantaged communities.
The USDA can forgive up to 40% of most of the loans in the program. Up to 60% of loans to applicants in some U.S. territories and tribal communities can be forgiven.
Initial applications for that program will open June 30.
National commission on the MMIP crisis meets in Arizona to hear testimony, recommendations - Shondiin Silversmith, AZ Mirror via Source New Mexico
Five empty chairs sat at the front of the Not Invisible Act Commission hearing, each wrapped in a shawl, blanket or quilt representing a different group of individuals impacted by human trafficking or with a loved one who is missing or murdered.
“We want to allow space for representing our relatives,” commission member Grace Bulltail said, noting the traditions in many Indigenous families to always preserve a space for absent loved ones.
“We’re doing that to honor our loved ones,” Bulltail said, explaining that, by putting the chairs there, the commission hearing was holding space for them.
The chair wrapped in a red shawl with white and yellow handprints honored the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The chair wrapped in a red, orange, bridge, and white Native design shawl with a black blazer draped over it was to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous men and boys.
Another chair was wrapped in a light blue, white and purple quilt. Pinned to the quilt was a picture of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, a Navajo girl who was abducted and killed on the Navajo Nation in 2016. This chair honored Indigenous children.
The chair wrapped in a maroon shawl with floral designs honored the LGBTQI and two-spirit Indigenous community. The chair wrapped in a brown Pendleton honored Indigenous veterans.
The Not Invisible Act Commission, organized by the U.S. Department of the Interior, held a public hearing at the Twin Arrows Casino near Flagstaff on May 9 to hear testimony and recommendations from victims and families impacted by human trafficking and the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis. The commission also heard from local tribal leaders and advocates.
The Not Invisible Act was passed into law in October 2020, establishing the commission as a cross-jurisdictional advisory committee of federal and non-federal members, including law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, service providers, family members of missing and murdered individuals, and survivors.
The commission is developing recommendations through the work of six subcommittees focused on improving intergovernmental coordination and establishing best practices for state, tribal and federal law enforcement to bolster resources for survivors and victim’s families and combating the epidemic of missing, murdered and trafficked Indigenous people.
The meeting at Twin Arrows was the commission’s third public hearing. This summer, it has four more planned in Minnesota, northern California, New Mexico and Montana. The hearings are being held in communities impacted most by the MMIP crisis.
HEARING VICTIM TESTIMONIES
Commissioners heard emotional testimony from Seraphine Warren and Pamela Foster as they shared their experiences of losing a loved one and advocated for change.
Warren is the niece of Ella Mae Begay, a Navajo woman who went missing from her home in Sweetwater, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation on June 15, 2021. Warren continued to advocate for not only her aunt but Indigenous people.
“Advocating for my aunt has been an emotional experience,” Warren said. She’s held prayer walks, visited with state, tribal, and federal officials, and advocated for other families impacted by MMIP.
Foster is the mother of Mike, the 11-year-old Navajo girl abducted and killed on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico in 2016. Foster has been at the forefront of advocacy efforts for Indigenous children and people since she lost her daughter.
“I miss my daughter every single day,” Foster said. “I became a voice for my daughter the moment I received word that her life was taken from her.”
Warren shared her testimony first. Speaking through tears, but supported by Foster and the victim service advocates in attendance, she told her aunt’s story.
“I know it wasn’t her legacy to be stolen or to be murdered,” Warren said. “Just because she isn’t here doesn’t mean she can’t be part of change.”
Warren shared with the commission how her aunt was a soft-spoken woman, but she was very aware of her surroundings and never put herself in dangerous situations.
Begay is still missing, but there have been developments in her case. In March, Preston Henry Tolth, 23, of New Mexico, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Phoenix for assault and carjacking.
The indictment alleges that, on June 15, 2021, Tolth assaulted Begay, resulting in serious bodily injury, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Tolth then took her Ford F-150 pickup truck and drove it from Arizona to New Mexico with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury to Begay.
Warren said during Tolth’s arraignment hearing on April 7 in Flagstaff that she heard details about the night her aunt went missing that she was not ready for.
Warren, in tears, told the commission that Tolth told federal agents that he “snapped” and struck her in the face multiple times, causing her to bleed from the nose and mouth.
Tolth told authorities that he wasn’t sure if she was dead, Warren said, and when he drove away, he said he regretted hitting her, since all he wanted was the truck.
Tolth is being held in custody and is expected to go to trial later in May.
When it was Foster’s turn to share her experience, she talked about how the system failed when her children were missing in 2016. She said that May 1 to May 6 is a nightmare for her every year because she relives what happened to her children yearly.
“The whole event turned my life upside down,” Foster said.
On the afternoon of May 2, 2016, Ashlynne Mike and her 9-year-old brother, Ian Mike, didn’t make it home from school. When they got off the school bus in Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation, a predator tricked them into getting into his van by promising them a ride home.
Hours later, passersby found Ian Mike wandering alone in the area. Police located Ashlynne Mike’s body on May 3, 2016, and discovered she had been sexually assaulted, strangled, and bludgeoned repeatedly with a tire iron.
Foster talked about the hours from when her children disappeared to when they found her daughter; she ran into countless obstacles that left them without support.
“It was very hard to sit there and know that there was no resources available for my children,” Foster said. “I absolutely had nothing.”
She said local law enforcement was not adequately trained to handle child abductions. There was no clear communication between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
Instead of searching for her children, Foster said they were trying to figure out exactly what protocols were needed to start looking.
“Time was lost,” Foster said, and they did not send out an AMBER Alert until the following day. Foster recalled the alert went out at 2 a.m., and she said that helped no one because not many people were awake then.
She remembers hearing officers from the neighboring jurisdictions tell her they couldn’t go out to look for her daughter until they were given the clearance to do so by the Navajo Nation Police Department. Foster said it frustrated her how long it took for that to happen.
Foster said when they found her daughter, lying alone in the desert in Shiprock, that was a phone call she didn’t want to hear.
“I had to hear that phone call,” Foster said through tears. “There’s no words to describe that.”
Foster said the anger and hurt about what happened to Ashlynne led her to be a voice for her daughter.
“I promised her I would do something for all of our other Indigenous children,” Foster said. “To give them the protection that they need so they don’t go through what I did.”
Foster has led many grassroots efforts to support Indigenous children, including advocating and petitioning for the AMBER Alert system to include Indian Country.
Foster said she wanted to change, and she knew the justice system in Indian Country needed to be updated, so she focused her efforts on the AMBER Alert system. Her advocacy resulted in the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act of 2018, which makes tribes eligible for AMBER Alert grants to integrate into state and regional AMBER Alert communication plans.
Foster said she knows the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert is a considerable part of the work being put into the missing and murdered Indigenous people crisis.
“Every day, it’s not just our adult relatives that go missing, but we have many indigenous children that go missing,” Foster said. “I continued my work, and I continued to be a voice for our children and for the families.”
“I always say that I’ve never received justice for what happened to my daughter because nothing can bring her back,” Foster said. “There will never be justice, but we can learn how to move forward in changing laws to make things better for our people.”
RECOMMENDATIONS FROM VICTIMS, ADVOCATES
The goal of the hearing was for the commissioners to listen and hear recommendations on the best course of action for the MMIP crisis. Commissioners will use the suggestions to develop their final report for the Department of Interior.
Foster’s big recommendation was not only geared at the commissioners, but other attendees of the hearing. She encouraged them to tell their tribal leaders to receive the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act training.
“It is free,” she said, adding that it is a vital program for Indigenous communities because it will train police officers and social workers from the tribe.
Since tribes are sovereign nations, Foster said the Department of Justice could not go on to tribal land and make agencies take the training. Instead, it has to be requested.
“Have your tribal leaders request this training for your community because the children are our next generation,” Foster said. “There’s still a lot of tribes that need to be trained.”
When Warren was finished sharing her aunt’s story, she laid out her recommendations, including how a national assessment should be conducted on how missing people investigations are performed on a state, tribal and federal level.
“Transparency and swift action is key,” Warren said, which means that when a person is missing, law enforcement should immediately inform all jurisdictions and issue press releases to media channels to inform the public.
“Family members need to be regularly and constantly updated with the progress of the investigation,” Warren said, and how families should be prioritized if any remains are found in any jurisdiction.
Some of the other recommendations Warren pointed out included allowing families to hire private investigators, providing them access to case files, supporting families in organizing their task force, providing families with constant and reliable access to grief counseling services, medical attention, financial and legal assistance, and safe housing if needed.
New Mexico high school student killed 3 women in 'random' shooting rampage, police say - By Susan Montoya Bryan, Morgan Lee And Rio Yamat Associated Press
The gunman who killed three people and wounded six others as he fired randomly while roaming his northwestern New Mexico neighborhood was a local high school student and his victims include a 97-year-old woman and her daughter, police said Tuesday.
Investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the attack by Beau Wilson, 18, in the Farmington neighborhood where he lived. They say he opened fire Monday, killing Gwendolyn Schofield, her 73-year-old daughter, Melody Ivie, and 79-year-old Shirley Voita.
Voita had worked as a nurse and was a devoted parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said former state Rep. James Strickler, who was her friend.
"She was just a dynamite lady. She was well-loved and I'm still shocked over it," said Strickler, who heard gunfire ring out on Monday before learning the circumstances of Voita's death.
Witnesses and police say Wilson walked through the neighborhood a short drive from downtown Farmington spraying bullets until police arrived within minutes and fatally shot him. Two police officers were among the wounded.
Farmington Deputy Police Chief Baric Crum said at least 150 bullets were fired but that number was expected to go up as the investigation continued.
"The amount of violence and brutality that these people faced is unconscionable to me," Deputy Police Chief Kyle Dowdy said.
Deputy Police Chief Baric Crum said Wilson was indiscriminately shooting at vehicles, but that some rounds also hit homes.
Dowdy said investigators do not believe Wilson knew anyone he shot.
"We've discovered nothing that leads us to believe that the suspect knew" the victims, he said. "We're pretty confident in that this was completely random."
Bryan Brown and Brandi Dominguez were home Monday morning with their five children when the shooting began. Their doorbell camera captured yelling and the repeated pops of gunfire. Brown said it was loud and sounded as if it were coming from two different directions.
Brown was among those who ran into the street to help the victims. He said one woman had gunshot wounds to the leg and head. She asked for help and he said he tried to stop the bleeding.
"I feel bad for her family," he said Tuesday. "I don't even know, this kind of stuff is just uncalled for."
Before Brown came outside, he told Dominguez and the kids to stay inside and stay down. Bullets hit the family's home and vehicle.
Brown said his teenage son knew Wilson from school and had texted him, knowing that he lived down the street. It was only later they found out that authorities identified Wilson as the shooter.
"It just goes to show you never really know somebody until something happens," Brown said. "He seemed like an OK kid."
The tragedy was noted Tuesday night during otherwise exuberant graduation ceremony for 374 students on the Farmington High School football field. Speakers spoke of resilience and hope.
Principal Rocky Torres noted that there was an empty chair with a bouquet of white roses on it at the back of the student rows in recognition of "our fellow graduates, family members and friends that cannot be here with us tonight." He led a moment of silence.
The main speaker, retired principal Ttimothy Kienitz, told students that there was no better message for them and the community than "find a way to win."
"This is a strong, tough and tenacious community and we will overcome," he said.
Wilson was a senior at the school but it wasn't immediately known whether he was due to graduate with his class.
In November, after he turned 18, Wilson legally purchased at least one gun used Monday, police said. He carried three firearms in the attack, including an assault-style weapon.
Four officers fired a total of 16 rounds at Wilson, including one of the wounded officers, said San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari.
Mayor Nate Duckett said Tuesday that the Farmington officer and state police officer were treated for their wounds and released from a hospital.
Authorities began receiving reports of gunshots at 10:57 a.m. and the first officer arrived at 11:02 a.m., police Chief Steve Hebbe said Monday in a video statement. Three minutes later, the gunman had been killed.
Joseph Robledo, a 32-year-old tree trimmer, said he rushed home after learning that his wife, Jolene, and their year-old daughter had sought shelter in the laundry room when gunshots rang out. A bullet went through his daughter's window, without hitting anyone.
Jolene Robledo said they had just finished breakfast when she heard "pop, pop, pop, pop," which she first thought was a car backfiring. She said they were going to run out the back door until she heard a man curse right outside, so she quietly shut the door and hid with her daughter between the washing machine and dryer.
"I mean it was crazy. I called my husband and he could hear the gunshots over the phone," she said. "He was freaking out and I was like, 'don't hang up, don't hang up!'"
Joseph Robledo said he jumped a fence to get in through the back door. Out front, he found an older woman in the street who had been wounded while driving by. She appeared to have fallen out of her car, which kept rolling without her, he said.
"I went out to see because the lady was just lying in the road, and to figure just what the heck was going on," Robledo said. He and others began to administer first aid.
Neighbors directed a police officer toward the suspect.
"We were telling (the officer), 'He's down there.' … The cop just went straight into action," Robledo said.
Robledo's own family car was perforated with bullets.
"We've been doing yard work all last week. I just thank God that nobody was outside in front," he said. "Obviously, elderly people — he didn't have no sympathy for them."
Downtown Farmington, a short drive from the neighborhood, has undergone a transformation of sorts in recent years, with cafes and breweries cropping up alongside decades-old businesses that trade in Native American crafts from silver jewelry to wool weavings.
On Tuesday, orange circles of spray paint still marked the ground where police had collected evidence. Authorities were using metal detectors to search the grass in front of one of the churches along the street where gunfire erupted.
As night approached Monday, dozens of people gathered at Hills Church, a few miles (kilometers) from the attack scene, to pray at the base of a tall metal cross. Lead pastor Matt Mizell talked about living in a "dark and broken world" but told the crowd there was still hope and asked God to provide them strength.
New Mexico enacted a red-flag law in 2020 that can be used to seize guns from people who pose a danger to others or themselves. Dowdy said relatives expressed concern about Wilson's mental health when interviewed by police but that he didn't have enough information at this time to further elaborate.
New Mexico Supreme Court denies motion in controversial energy merger case –Albuquerque Journal
The New Mexico Supreme Court rejected a request yesterday/Monday to send a case back to the Public Regulation Commission, or PRC, regarding a proposed merger between the state’s largest utility and a large energy company.
The Albuquerque Journal reported the decision stops efforts by Public Service Co. of New Mexico, or PNM, and Avangrid to get a rapid “rehearing” of the case by the newly appointed PRC.
The previous PRC had rejected the proposed merger of Avangrid and PNM last year and the two energy companies filed an appeal. Then in March, members of the new PRC joined Avangrid and PNM on a motion to the court seeking a dismissal of that appeal so the current Public Regulation Commission could regain jurisdiction over the case.
The Santa Fe organization New Energy Economy opposes the merger and sought to stop efforts to remand the case back to the PRC. The court’s order scheduled oral arguments for the case for September 12 and a final decision is unlikely until late this year or early 2024.
It’s not clear how Avangrid and PNM will respond now that the appeal process will continue. The two companies already extended their agreement to merge to July 20 and would need to extend it again.