A 28-year-old welder surrendered to authorities on Sunday, 24 hours after he allegedly killed seven people, including two police officers, in what is believed to be the worst mass slaying in modern New Mexico history.
Ricky Abeyta, who was wanted for fatally shooting five people Saturday in a domestic dispute, then gunning down two officers when they tried to serve him with a restraining order, turned himself in at a state police station in Albuquerque, about 100 miles south of here, authorities said.
“We’re just glad no one else’s lives are at risk,” Senior Patrolman Dan Lichtenberger said.
The slayings, which state Police Chief Neil Curran described as the larget mass murder that he had seen in 26 years in the state, occurred Saturday afternoon along County Road 89, a winding dirt lane that cuts through this tiny village at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Abeyta, a skilled hunter who had been the target of a massive search in the rugged foothills nearby, is suspected of fatally shooting his 36-year-old girlfriend, her teen-age daughter, the daughter’s boyfriend, their infant child and another relative during a dispute in Abeyta’s mobile home.
Abeyta’s girlfriend, identified as Ignacita Sandoval, had won a restraining order against him and was moving her belongings to a rented van outside the house when the shooting began about 4 p.m. Saturday, officers said.
The bodies of two women--believed to be Sandoval and Cheryl Rendon, 25, who was described only as a relative--were found inside the mobile home. The body of another woman, thought to be Sandoval’s 19-year-old daughter, Maryellen Sandoval, was found on the front steps along with her 6-month-old son, Justin Gonzales. The boy’s father, Macario Gonzales, 19, was found inside the van.
The only survivor was Ignacita Sandoval’s 13-year-old son, Eloy, who was in serious but stable condition Sunday with two gunshot wounds at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.
“He probably shot several, if not all of the victims before the officers got there,” State Police Maj. John Denko said. “The officers were not apprised of it and evidently walked into a hornet’s nest.”
The first to arrive was Jerry Martinez, 35, who had been a deputy in the Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Department for seven years. Martinez, who leaves a wife and a 5-week-old baby, was found shot to death next to his patrol car, police said.
On his heels was Senior Patrolman Glen Huber, 35, who also had been a state policeman for seven years. Huber, who leaves a wife and two children, was shot once in the head as he sat behind the wheel of his patrol car.
Police said Abeyta was believed to have been armed with three weapons: a 7-mm magnum rifle, a .38-caliber handgun and a .357-caliber magnum revolver, apparently taken from Martinez.
“We don’t know what his mental state is,” Denko said. “We know it’s not normal.”
Luis Garcia, a neighbor from across the county road, said he knew Abeyta and the two slain officers.
“It hurts, man, it really hurts,” said Garcia, 28. “Whatever was going on between him and the woman was something else. Killing the officers and the other people, especially the kids, I don’t see why he killed them.”
Other neighbors said they heard frequent gunshots, which they assumed were from target practice, coming from the Abeyta property. Several people said their dogs had been shot in recent years and had accused Abeyta and his brothers.
A cousin of Abeyta, who asked that his name not be used, said the suspect was an experienced outdoorsman who often hunted deer and elk in the surrounding mountains.
“Everybody is in shock here,” said another neighbor, Bertha Cole.
Bill Diven in Chimayo, N.M., contributed to this story.