By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, KEN RITTER and MORGAN LEE (Associated Press)
FARMINGTON, NM (AP) — At least three people were killed and several others injured in a barrage of gunfire Monday, including two police officers, in a northwestern New Mexico community before law enforcement fatally shot the 18-year-old suspect , authorities said.
The shootings occurred around 11 a.m. in Farmington, a town of about 50,000 near the Navajo Nation, a supply line and bedroom community for the region’s oil and natural gas industries.
Officers responding to several calls about a shooting found “a chaotic scene” in which a man shot at people on a residential street, Farmington Police Department Deputy Chief Baric Crum said at a news conference.
Police confronted the suspected gunman before fatally shooting him. They found three dead.
Crum did not identify the suspect and said he did not know the ages of any of the victims.
“Besides the suspect himself, who died, nine other people were injured,” Crum said, adding that police were trying to figure out why he was around.
It was not immediately clear whether the number of injured included the injured officers. The two, who work for the Farmington Police Department and the state police, are said to be in stable condition at San Juan Regional Medical Center.
“There are no other known threats at this time,” police said, adding that city, San Juan County and state police officers were involved.
Joseph Robledo, a 32-year-old tree pruner, said he rushed home after learning his wife and 1-year-old daughter had taken shelter in the laundry room when gunshots rang out. A bullet passed through his daughter’s window and room, without hitting anyone.
Robledo jumped a fence to get in through the back door. In front of the door, he found an elderly woman on the street who had been injured while driving past. She appeared to have fallen out of her car, which continued to roll without her, he said.
“I went to check because the lady was just lying in the road, and to find out what the hell was going on,” Robledo said. He and others began providing first aid.
Neighbors sent an arriving police officer to the suspect.
“We told (the officer), ‘He’s down there.’ … The agent just sprang into action right away,” Robledo said.
Robledo’s own family car was pierced with bullets.
‘We’ve been working in the garden for the past week. I just thank God no one was in the front,” he said. “… It is clear that older people – he had no pity for them. Who says he would have sympathy for a small child.
According to Crum, detectives will now have to review a crime scene that spans several blocks. Police are asking people with information to come forward.
“What we need from our community right now is anyone who has additional information, whether that’s eyewitness information or video information or whatever, if you think it’s relevant,” Crum said.
After the shootings were reported, the city’s schools were placed on what officials called “preventive lockdown.”
High school teacher Nick Akins, whose home is on a police-closed street, described the neighborhood as a mostly great place to live, with a mix of homes, short-term rental apartments, and churches.
“It’s not the roughest area in town, but it can be done,” he said. “We have great neighbors and rental properties, people who come and go. We don’t always know everyone.”
It was surreal for him to see Farmington in the national spotlight for yet another mass shooting, especially one that took place on his street.
“You never think it’s going to happen here and all of a sudden it comes here in a small town,” Akins said.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement that she was praying for the families of the victims and that the incident “is yet another reminder of how gun violence destroys lives in our state and our country every day.” The governor, a Democrat, did not describe other circumstances of the deadly confrontation.
“Today, gun violence has claimed the lives of our elders, injured two police officers and paralyzed the small community of Farmington with fear,” U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, a Democrat whose district includes the area, said on Facebook. “I praise the heroes who have gone into danger to stop the violence. I pray for the speedy recovery of the injured and the families of those we have lost.”
“Our beautiful Nuevo Mexico is not immune to the mass shootings happening across the country – Every. Single. day,” the message said.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tweeted that Phoenix officers were heading to Farmington to assist with the investigation.
Farmington is not far from where New Mexico borders Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. In recent years, cafes and breweries have sprung up downtown alongside decades-old businesses trading Native American handicrafts, from silver jewelry to woven wool. Touring Broadway shows regularly stop at the community center’s sprawling auditorium, while rural suburban lots are littered with dismantled oilfield equipment.
Last month, Farmington police shot and killed a man at his front door after going to the wrong address while responding to a domestic violence call.
Ritter reported from Las Vegas, Nevada and Lee from Santa Fe. Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed.