O.C. Trio’s Killing Carefully Planned
A vengeful Colorado teenager carefully planned the execution-style murders of three Orange County men, right down to the violent rap song that accompanied his macabre crime, the man’s friends and authorities said Thursday.
Joseph Edward Gallegos, 18, a recent juvenile parolee who won his release with the help of one of his victims, primed himself for violence by heavily using methamphetamine and continually playing gangsta rap music, according to several sources.
Friends said the teen had lately been captivated by an artist known as Brotha Lynch Hung, a rapper with gang ties whose lyrics are laced with expletives, racial slurs and references to murders and shootings. One of Gallegos’ favorites was “Locc 2 da brain.”
Shortly after midnight Tuesday, in the house he shared with the three Orange County men, Gallegos turned Lynch Hung’s violent lyrics into reality. Firing his 9-millimeter Baretta handgun from close range twice at each man, he hit two in the head, the other in the head and chest.
“It was a gruesome crime scene,” said Bayfield town Marshall Jim Harrington.
Despondent over being left by his girlfriend, Gallegos contemplated killing her, his friends said. The Orange County men may have been a warmup, one friend said.
Jeb Bryant, pastor of the Calvary Chapel of the Four Corners, and Zac Stankovits befriended Gallegos several months before the murder spree. The two former Orange County residents, schooled at the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, thought they were helping Gallegos turn his life around, with Bryant even vouching for Gallegos with the Colorado youth authorities who granted his parole.
But for three days before the murders, Bryant said Thursday, Gallegos had reverted to his old self, talking crazy and snorting crystal meth, a form of amphetamine that often leads to severe bouts of paranoia.
“Joe was probably cranked up for days and the music was wiring him and giving him the courage to do the unthinkable,” Bryant said.
Although Bryant and others say Gallegos appeared to have accepted his breakup with Heidi Hocker, an 18-year-old college freshman from nearby Ignacio, inwardly he seethed. The two met last spring at a Calvary Chapel youth group and then began dating while they both worked at a pizza parlor last summer.
“It’s really hard, really confusing, right now. I have nightmares still, but I know that I’m safe now and thankful that it’s all over with,” Hocker said Thursday.
“I really don’t have any hard feelings toward him at all. I did care about him, and do now.”
Gallegos made several vain attempts to reconcile with Hocker after she broke up with him about a month ago. The two had met through church and had what Hocker described as a “wonderful relationship” in which Gallegos had been a gentleman, bringing her flowers and always opening the door for her. But then Gallegos became “too possessive” and Hocker broke up, she said.
When Hocker spurned his attempts to get back together, Gallegos seemed “disappointed” but never showed signs of violence, she said. But the apparent acceptance of the breakup didn’t last.
Monday night, after yet another unsuccessful attempt to win Hocker back, Gallegos began screaming at her over the telephone. Then early Tuesday morning, many surmise, Gallegos snapped. He crept around the blue, two-bedroom hilltop house that overlooks Bayfield High School, pulled the phones from the wall, locked the doors at some point, and coldly executed his roommates.
Gallegos then took the keys to a Toyota 4-Runner that belonged to one of his victims and drove across the state to Greeley, in Northern Colorado. Just after 9 a.m. he strode into the University of Northern Colorado and met Hocker as she was walking down the hall toward her dorm room.
She told him to leave her alone and as she opened the door of her room, he pushed himself in and took Hocker and her three roommates hostage.
About 30 minutes later, Hocker said, she pretended that she had to go to the restroom, which was down the hall.
“When I got down the hall, I took off, and that’s when he shot me,” Hocker said. “He told me, ‘Why did you do that? Do you think that I’m playing games with you, Heidi? ‘ “
After screaming at her, Gallegos promptly ripped off his flannel shirt to bandage her wound, she told The Times in a Thursday interview. Then he later brought her “something to drink” and took a blanket and wrapped it around her, all the while still wielding a gun at the women in another dorm room down the hall from Hocker’s.
Once inside the dorm room, the man known as “Crazy Joe” to authorities in rural southwestern Colorado played a soundtrack tape of “The Crying Game,” the mournful title song of a film about lost love, alienation and violence played against the backdrop of Ireland’s civil unrest.
“He told me he came up here to kill me,” Hocker said. “He said I took his life and he wanted to take mine.”
Hocker said she tried to reason with Gallegos, reminding him that he had just been paroled and was out of trouble.
“I said ‘Joe, you don’t need to get in trouble again,” Hocker said. “He said, ‘It didn’t matter because I already killed my roommates.”
“I said, ‘What did you do that for?’ ”
“He said, ‘I’m going crazy and I don’t know why.’ ”
Hocker told authorities and others that Gallegos appeared to be under the influence of drugs, and that Gallegos had previously used crystal meth.
“His pupils were dilated,” Hocker said. “He was real nervous, real agitated. He wasn’t himself at all.”
Weld County Coroner Scott A. Anthony said he would not know whether Gallegos was under the influence of drugs until next week.
After a four-hour standoff in which Gallegos traded one hostage for a six-pack of soft drinks, Gallegos walked to an open window, closed his eyes, and showed his face. A police sniper shot him in the base of the neck. He fell back, grabbed the 9-millimeter Baretta handgun and fired at the door as Hocker and her roommates huddled on the bed.
Moments later, police stormed into the room, and Gallegos and Hocker were rushed to a nearby hospital. The gunman was pronounced dead 28 minutes after being admitted to the emergency room.
“If they hadn’t come through, I’m sure that we would have all been dead in the next five minutes,” Hocker said. “We know we’re going to be fine now. It’s just going to take us a long time.”
It was during negotiations with police that Gallegos revealed that he had killed the three Orange County men. He also described his relationship with Bryant, prompting police to call Bryant with the bad news.
At the request of Greeley police, who had heard of the slayings, Bryant went to the house and found the three young men dead.
In bed was Joshua Turville, 20, curled up on his mattress, the covers pulled over his body. Nearby was John Anthony Lara III, 20, crumpled on the floor in front of Turville’s computer. Slumped against the wall was Steven David Bates, across the room from Turville’s bed.
Turville apparently was the first to die, and likely was alone with Gallegos at the time of his murder. Lara and Bates had gone out to buy pizza, and were slain after their return. Harrington said the pizza they bought was found in the house.
Bryant and Stankovits said authorities later discovered in Gallegos’ room “literature” describing police actions during hostage situations. “It was about how a police SWAT team handles it,” Stankovits said.
Harrington said the literature consisted of one detailed article about a hostage standoff, and the criminal charges faced by the gunman.
Bryant, who had been something of a mentor-father to Gallegos since May, rushed to the house and recoiled at what he saw.
Moments after Bryant made his gruesome discovery, Harrington arrived at the house.
“They’re dead,” Bryant told Harrington. “In the back.”
Recalling Bryant’s demeanor, Harrington said: “He was not in good shape. He was obviously extremely distraught.”
Gallegos, a rebellious youth with a delinquency record that began at age 13, was released five months ago to the custody of Bryant, who operates a halfway house for juveniles.
Bryant helped Gallegos find work, talked to him about his problems, and even introduced Gallegos to his new roommates, all boyhood friends who came to Colorado to help build a church.
Gallegos had moved in with the Orange County men only two weeks ago, taking a converted bedroom in the garage, where his clothes were found neatly stacked and folded.
Like Bryant, the Orange County men were trying to throw Gallegos a lifeline. The three men saw themselves as ministers to wayward youth, a calling that separated them from others their age. Many whom they tried to help had suffered severe emotional and physical trauma as children.
“One kid had seen his father blow his head off,” said Bryant. “Another thought it was normal to get [drugs] from your father at the age of 11.”
With Gallegos, however, the Orange County men thought they were dealing with a boy who had overcome early problems and was well on his way. In fact, Bryant said, local authorities planned to invite him to speak to classes at area schools.
“This was,” Bryant said, “a poster child.”
As three families made funeral arrangements Thursday, Bryant reflected on what went wrong with his poster child. After days without sleep and countless wrenching phone calls, Bryant sat atop a rusty gate on his sprawling farm and conducted a rambling interview punctuated by long silences and tearful outbursts.
Angered and disappointed to learn that Gallegos had spent days doing drugs, Bryant nevertheless refused to blame the crystal meth. Instead, he blamed more abstract forces that corrupt American youth, such as violent rap lyrics and promiscuity on TV.
“He got to the point where he didn’t value human life,” Bryant said of Gallegos. “All that music is preaching killing. It preaches senseless violence.”
But, he said, Gallegos must accept some blame. If not in this life, then in the hereafter.
“He was not,” Bryant said, “Beaver Cleaver.”
Also contributing to this report were staff writers Geoff Boucher, Thao Hua and Tina Nguyen.
* PAROLE DEFENDED: Colorado authorities answer criticism of release. A20