MONTE VERDE LAKE — Angel Fire Police Chief Brad McCaslin and Lt. J.D. Harvey studied a 5-foot-high heap of ash, melted plastic and twisted metal Monday afternoon where a home had burned down a day earlier and an officer had fatally shot a man suspected to be armed with a knife.
The New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau is looking into the shooting but has not yet released the identity of the man who was killed or the officer who shot him outside the burning home.
Local residents said these are rare events for this high-mountain resort village 40 minutes east of Taos, where vacation homes abound and the town’s population shrinks to around 1,000 full-time residents when the ski resort closes for the season.
“I’ve been here five and a half years, and I can’t think of any officer-involved shootings before or after I arrived here,” Harvey said, looking at the pile of scorched debris left by the fire. “Have you ever seen a home burned like that?”
The fire was reported at 2:45 a.m. Sunday at 14 Mountain Lake Terrace, not far from Monte Verde Lake.
Village fire Chief John Murtagh said his crew responded within eight minutes to find the home engulfed in flames and collapsed in on itself. They were quickly joined by at least one officer from the Angel Fire Police Department and firefighters from Moreno Valley and Eagle Nest, he said.
As they were fighting the fire, the police officer encountered the man wielding a knife and fired shots at him, according to state police. The man later died of his wounds in the back of an ambulance. State police said his identitification is pending an investigation by the New Mexico Office of the Medical Examiner.
Harvey and McCaslin would not comment on the investigations into the fire or the shooting, but officers appeared to be searching for something at the crime scene Monday.
The lack of answers from authorities regarding the man’s identity and the circumstances surrounding the fire have led local residents to speculate about what might have happened before the fire was reported.
Gretchen Brockfeld, who lives on Mountain Lake Terrace, said two people had lived at the home, but her interactions with them were brief — usually just a wave now and then as she passed by. On Monday, she wasn’t sure where the home’s residents were.
Half-burnt photos and old magazines blew among the huge pile of ashes. A steel oven stood intact on top of the heap. All around the yard, blue crime scene gloves had been discarded.
Three vehicles that didn’t belong to police were parked at the front of the property. One of them appeared to have been burned and gutted by the fire.
Brockfeld, who walked past the scene with her dog after the officers drove away, said, “The whole community is on edge right now. I’ve lived here for a little over a year. There’s a lot of part-timers, a lot of rental homes, not many that are full time.
“A lot of the neighbors are very friendly,” she added. “We hang out. We have barbecues.”
This story first appeared on the website of The Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.