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Law enforcement officers investigate a fatal shooting involving Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies that occurred in July off Bishops Lodge Road in Tesuque. A Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 45-year-old Edward Daniel Santana following Santana’s violent attack on his mother at her Tesuque home.

The year 2021 was marked with the rising toll of violence in the city and county of Santa Fe.

There were 11 homicides, including two teens; six shootings involving local law enforcement officers, four of them fatal; and the high-profile shooting death of renowned cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Rust film production at Bonanza Creek Ranch, where Hollywood star and producer Alec Baldwin’s prop revolver discharged a live bullet.

A number of other volatile incidents sent bullets just inches away from adding to the statistics.

Last week, 19-year-old Flavio Gonzales was suspected of firing 10 rounds at a man who confronted him in a Senda del Valle parking lot, according to court records. A downtown shooting Dec. 15 sent a man to a hospital with a gunshot wound.

Many of the violent incidents have involved drugs. One young woman accused of participating in a drive-by shooting spree on the city’s south side died in October from the effects of a drug overdose she suffered in jail, Santa Fe police said.

“There have certainly been plenty of situations and instances where an aggravated battery could have easily have been at homicide,” said Paul Joye, Santa Fe’s interim police chief. He stepped into the role earlier this month following the retirement of Andrew Padilla.

“We’ve seen more gun violence — that is happening — but it’s happening everywhere,” Joye said. “It’s not just Santa Fe.”

The New Mexico Department of Health found gun-related deaths increased 55 percent statewide over the last decade.

Law enforcement officials point to a need for more community support to address the higher rates of gun violence in the upcoming year.

The suspected killer in the death of one Santa Fe County teen, Isaiah Herrera, also was a teen, a trend Sheriff Adan Mendoza said could continue without interventions.

“I think that goes back to gang activity and the drug epidemic that we’re facing,” he said. “If we don’t start taking this serious and prosecuting these crimes ... we’re going to see more of the same, which is gonna be an uptick in violence, an uptick in homicides and violent crimes.”

Along with the rise in violence came shots from the other side of the badge.

Sheriff’s office deputies were involved in four shootings of suspects, including three deaths.

“We have had, unfortunately ... a few officer-involved shootings in the last year, which was obviously not a good thing for the sheriff’s office or the community,” Mendoza said. “But we wanna continue working with the community; we want to continue responding in a safe manner.”

Mendoza said the sheriff’s office is investing in less-lethal options, such as beanbag rounds, that are expected to arrive in early 2022, along with simulation training in deescalation techniques.

The city of Santa Fe had eight homicides in 2021, a number equaled only once in the last decade, in 2019. The city also logged one fatal officer-involved shooting.

Six of the deaths occurred in the first half of the year, drawing concerns from law enforcement officials and community members.

Joye noted none of the homicides this year appeared to be related. “There was nothing necessarily that would’ve predicted those were going to occur,” he said.

January saw three deaths: Virgil Tortalita, 50; Frank Pete, 50; and Peter Gurule, 40, with another three in the months that followed.

Three of the deaths in the first six months were at the GreenTree Inn on Cerrillos Road, which participated in a program offering housing to members of the homeless community. Each of the incidents involved a client of a local nonprofit serving the homeless.

When asked if the police department made any changes in the second half of 2021 to address the homicide rate, Joye said nothing but hard work.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say the department did anything different so much as we have been able to act quickly to identify the suspects and try to get the information out and get warrants issued and get people in custody quickly before they’re able to act again,” he said.

Limited resources

As the city saw a rise in violent crimes, the increased workload fell on an understaffed police department.

As of Thursday, there were 34 unfilled jobs in the agency out of 169 positions, a vacancy rate of over 20 percent, Joye said.

Seven empty slots are in the criminal investigations unit, which is budgeted for 27. Investigations Capt. Aaron Ortiz said two members of the team were put on patrol duty to help with the call volume.

Joye said the agency’s high rate of solved homicides — suspects have been named in all but the death of 52-year-old Arthur Loretto, whose body was found with multiple stab wounds in a room at the GreenTree — shows the hard work of the remaining investigations staff.

“They’re on call 24 hours a day,” he said. “These folks have been working very hard this year.”

Charges filed against one homicide suspect were dropped this year due to uncooperative witnesses. Lt. David Webb said that was a hard blow, but it allowed the department to refocus the way it was handling cases.

“There was some frustration in the beginning as to why they’re not moving forward, and that’s because [investigators] take it so personal,” Webb said. “But I could see how we needed to go down the realm of the investigation to get actual evidence and articulable facts that will assist us in case we have a situation where a witness chooses not to testify or is afraid to do so.”

He noted the changes are part of the reason it took months to file a murder charge against Jay Wagers, 25, accused of fatally shooting 39-year-old Joseph Aiello early Oct. 4 in a home on Alamosa Drive.

Wagers, arrested later that day on counts accusing him of a shooting spree and attempted carjackings, was charged with first-degree murder Dec. 16.

Mendoza said resources also have been stretched at the sheriff’s office.

Though he’s not struggling with such a stark vacancy rate, the sheriff said, recruitment and retention have been difficult over the past two years.

The Rust shooting in October at the movie ranch south of Santa Fe — which immediately captured the attention of media worldwide, shocking and saddening the global film industry — also has had a significant effect on his staff, Mendoza added.

An investigation into the incident, which uncovered multiple live rounds on the set and has raised questions about safety protocols, has continued for months.

So far, no one has been named a suspect in the shooting that killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

“I would say that was probably the biggest challenge over the last couple [of] years is managing our resources, recruitment, retention and pretty much keeping everybody healthy and at work,” Mendoza said.

Call for interventions

While violent crime and homicide rates have been declining nationwide since the 1990s, FBI data shows New Mexico’s rates are higher than national averages and have even increased since 2015.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked the state fourth in the nation in 2019 for firearm-related deaths for all ages, including children.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing a $100 million investment in 2022 to hire more police officers around the state. Other possible legislation in the upcoming session would address the rising rates of violent crime, theft and lack of police retention.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of the nonprofit New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said the organization is planning to ask the governor for a gun violence prevention fund.

Viscoli said more community intervention, primarily aimed at youth, also is needed to address the issue — and soon.

“The first thing I would do immediately is get a violence intervention program established here in Santa Fe — today and not tomorrow,” she said. “I think that’s what really needs to happen because I sadly think that the gun violence is going to get worse in Santa Fe.

“It’s not just the homicides,” Viscoli added. “We have so many more gun violence instances, in my opinion, than I’ve seen in the past few years. ... We have to get people out of the cycle.”

(49) comments

Khal Spencer

Its the people, not the implements.


Angel Ortiz

I'm going to jump on the Monday morning Quarterback bandwagon. Maybe it is the ability to acquire firearms Khal.

Khal Spencer

Maybe its the fact that we don't treat FIP as a serious crime. Maybe its the fact that most of these folks are repeat free range criminals. Its just as easy to acquire a firearm in Los Alamos as in Albuquerque. I guess both places have the same murder rate. Oh, wait...

Khal Spencer

Angel, aside from the obvious point that its not about how to get a gun but what you intend to do with it, we have to fix a lot in the system. Get rid of the motive to commit crimes and do more to keep guns away from those who shouldn't have them.

I have suggested to my legislators one possible solution. Anyone wanting to own a gun gets a Firearms Owner's ID Card used to buy or own guns and ammo. You get the background check done once. Periodically, the New Mexico Dept of Public Safety reviews ID card holders against criminal convictions, protective orders, ERPOs, and domestic violence records. You get in trouble, you lose your card either temporarily (such as with an ERPO) or for good, such as with misdemeanor domestic violence or felonies. Keep your nose clean and you don't have to go through the hassle with every purchase. That can be done if we make New Mexico a Point of Contact State with the FBI for the purpose of the NICS check system.

Meanwhile, felons in possession, convictions of crimes of violence, and serious gun crimes are treated with the gravity they deserve rather than with the revolving door justice system. Same with unlawfully providing a gun to prohibited person: you get thrown in jail. No more continually harassing law abiding gun owners with more badly written bills. No more poorly thought out bills such as the last safe storage law, which would have conflicted with teen hunting and training programs.

Know what? Virtually no member of the public will ever be seriously heard on a gun bill in the legislature unless they show up with a fat checkbook or belong to a favored organization (NAACP, NMTPGV, Moms, etc). Everytown for Gun Safety funnels hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe, er, I mean, provide campaign contributions to key members of the legislature while handing them Everytown-written bills to be introduced verbatim. (Far outstripping contributions from the NRA). You've got to pay to play and most of us don't have Mike Bloomberg's deep pockets.

So I think there are compromise ways of making it tougher to have guns end up in the wrong hands. Both sides will have to give something up. Gun owners may have to swallow some ID rule--hey, if voter ID is Ok, so is gun ID. The Liberal Left will have to stop letting criminals loose on us and stop trying to disarm or micromanage people who have done nothing wrong. And both sides should support Miranda's ideas about solving the social and drug problems that cause people to, as she said, walk around with a bag of drugs in one hand and a Glock in the other.

But don't hold your breath. That's not how politics works and we both know it.

Happy New Year.

Kirk Holmes

“Violent criminals (many repeat offenders) are on the rise, New Mexico stats show”. There you go, fixed it for you.

Denise Jimenez


Khal Spencer

Here's an example of why we have violence:


"Wanted on nearly a dozen arrest warrants, Procopio Montoya Atkinson was about to fill the gas tank of his stolen Ford Escape when Belen police spotted him at a service station Dec. 20 and a high-speed chase ensued through the city....Atkinson, already an eight-time convicted felon at the age of 23, is now facing federal carjacking and other charges, according to federal arrest and search warrant affidavits. "

Letting eight-time convicted felons roam the streets? I'm shocked, shocked that we have violence going on here.

Mike Johnson

The left wing, lax, soft-on-crime political and judicial system is responsible for this.

Jim Klukkert

The name calling and sloganeering of extremists like Mike Johnson do little to illuminate issues or resolve our differences. Johnson's comments are more often salt than balm to our social wounds.

Too bad, for it is healing that in needed, rather than more discord.

Mike Johnson

Jim, I express my opinion as I see it, and if you look at who is and has been in charge in NM, that is accurate, they certainly are not right wing or even moderates. And it is not my job to "heal" or put "balm" on wounds. Too many people have tried that and it obviously is not working, just look at the facts and data, crime is out of control in NM. We need action, change, and to arrest and keep criminals in jail, "healing" and putting "balms" on these problems guarantee failure.

Angel Ortiz

Mike loves labels. Just how you flow in the 87508 zip code. Sad but true

Mike Johnson

Angel, wrong, not my zip code, guess again.

Angel Ortiz

Left wing? Hmmm....brilliant Mike. We need to chat

Mike Johnson

Angel, if you doubt who is and has been in charge here, just look at the party affiliation and records of the judges, DAs, Mayors, legislators, etc. And they are not moderate/conservative Ds either.

Kirk Holmes


Lyndell Vallner

Violent people...not violent self shooting guns. Violent people will use whatever they can obtain.

Lupe Molina

But allowing dangerous people to have military grade weapons makes it a lot easier and their outbursts more damaging.

Joseph Tafoya

What exactly is a military-grade weapon Lupe? Civilian use of automatic weapons has been outlawed since July 26, 1934.

Miranda Viscoli

Uh no. Assault weapons pulverize organs as they tumble through the body. Why mass shooters use them and not a hunting rifle that has to be reloaded.

Mike Johnson

Ms. Viscoli, that kind of bullet property also is useful in hunting large mammals, like elk, deer, pronghorns, bear, etc. I guess you have never been hunting or in the military?

Khal Spencer

I sure do imagine something as large as an assault weapon tumbling through the body would pulverize organs. [wink]

The rounds themselves are typical of small to moderate caliber ammo having long been used in hunting rifles. Examples include the 223 Remington, 22/250 Remington, 225 Winchester, 220 Swift, 243 Winchester, etc. The round used by the military, which is a somewhat higher pressure/velocity version of the 223 Remington, is not much different than what we loaded for small game in Upstate NY when I was a kid: a 52-55 grain soft point or hollow point boattail pushing about 3,000-3,200 fps. Of course that was out of a bolt action or semiauto rifle with typically, a 5 rd magazine.

Not sure, but I think the modern military round might be heavier, similar to the 75 grain HPBT match bullet I've used when shooting long range steel target.

Guns are not toys. When parents buy their fifteen year old a Sig 226 for Christmas and let him have free rein with it, one can have a brutal problem. I long for the olden days when I was a kid and guns were normal, but not normally treated lightly. As a teen, it was normal for me to ask permission to open the gun case and wander out into the rural land behind my parents home with a 22 rimfire rifle. I never touched a handgun as a teen except under direct supervision. I think the problem nowdays is a total lack of accountability and responsibility in a significant section of the public. And of course, drugs, poverty, delinquency, poor literacy, and gangs.

I think it would be great for organizations like the NMSSA and NMTPGV to routinely have seminars with parents as well as teens about responsible gun ownership, if they are not doing that already. And for every gun sold in a gun shop to come with the five minute safety sermon rather than just the lock. From what I have read, safe storage laws don't accomplish squat unless augmented with positive reinforcement such as a p.r. campaign attached to gun locks or storage kits.

Mike Johnson

Right Khal, that old saw about the M16 bullets "tumbling" is just silly. All bullets deflect or yaw when they enter flesh. Ms. Viscoli should see what a Nosler Partition bullet from a .240 Weatherby Magnum does to a Pronghorn's inerds. She would be less impressed with a 5.56 FMJ.

Khal Spencer

What's a military grade weapon, Lupe? Other than a nice political slogan. The M1 Garand, just about NEVER implicated in crime, was the "military grade weapon" that won WW II in the hands of our GI's. It has also been sold to the public ever since, as part of the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Likewise the 100 year old M1911 semiauto pistol, which has been variously re-purposed as one of the finest target pistols used in competitions.

My pen pal and gun violence prevention advocate Dr. Megan Ranney has occassionally opined "I'm less worried about what guns people have than with which people have guns". I concur. If we had a single, moderate national handgun licensing law (i.e., not written by CA, NY, NJ or some of the deep red states) maybe we could get a better handle on who is getting weapons who should not have them. But to go with that requires two things to ensure we gun owners aren't doing all the lifting while the criminal justice and social services people take a pass: One, some of the programs that Ms. Viscoli recpmmends. Two, serious penalties for misusing firearms in crimes, with sentances that stick. Restorative justice should be included but as a recent NY Times column asserts, restoration comes after one pays for one's crime.


Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Well stated Khal.

Pam Walker

Right o the money Khal. The guns do not have a mind of their own. Its the mixed up mess of peoples minds that are occurring whether to drugs or just plain frustrated at life in general right now.

Emily Koyama

A nonsensical statement from Lupe, which echoes much ignorance on the anti-gun side. Even Ms Viscoli would have to admit that the vast majority of gun deaths involve handguns, not rifles, or so-called "scary black military grade weapons of death".

Khal Spencer

Something like 80% or more of homicides are with handguns of all sorts and that has always been the case. Rifles make up a tiny portion, and that's all rifles. As Mike Weisser has researched, some rifles such as dedicated hunting rifles are almost never used in crimes. OTOH a brace of AKs or ARs (s.l.) or hi cap pistols in the hands of a lunatic causes mayhem out of proportion to one bad person (Las Vegas, Orlando, VA Tech, El Paso, etc) so I don't blame people for wanting to see a higher standard of ownership for these, although confiscation should be off the table. When the bar is set too low, whether it be motor vehicles or guns, some bad outcomes are guaranteed.


Emily Koyama

All true, however, the mass shootings grab all the sensationalist headlines, despite the fact that they represent a very small percentage of total gun homicides, regardless of the type of firearm used .

The focus needs to be on the failures of our culture and society, and certainly the way criminals who chose to use guns are handled in the justice system, but it seems that the anti-gun crowd only wants to talk about one thing...gun control, which can be part of the solution, just not the only part.

Khal Spencer

All true, Emily. If I were God, I would in my infinite wisdom, fashion a solution for all of this.

Chris Mechels

Missing from this piece, the incompetence of the SF Sheriff's office. Two deputies, Ficke and Guzman, involved in fatal shootings, had violent histories before being hired; Ficke in ABQ and Guzman in SFPD, and should have lost their badges. Instead they were hired by the Sheriff. The investigation of the shooting at the "Rust" set seems completely bungled to this point by the Sheriff. NMSP or the AG should have been involved but weren't.

And under it all, STILL going unreported by this newspaper, the fact that SFPD and the Sheriff have the WORST police training in the state, to an ILLEGAL curriculum established in 2013. How can we fix these problems when we won't even acknowledge their existence?

Angel Ortiz

Wow. Please expand. From your law enforcement experience.

Miranda Viscoli

Santa Fe needs a Violence Intervention Program like the one that Albuquerque has so we can get people the services they need and an "honorable exit." Such a program has the potential to stop the cycle of violence. In addition, we finally have a great rehab with Santa Fe Recovery and they take Medicaid. Gun Violence and drugs are inextricably linked. Continuing to incarcerate youth will do little to stop the violence. As a community, we need to take a deep look at how we have failed these youth. An 18-year-old with a gun in one hand and a bag of meth in the other is on us. That is our responsibility to fix and we cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem. We need to scaffold these youth and young adults to get them into the services they need. I would suggest we start today and not tomorrow.

Joseph Tafoya

The headline should have been “Deadly drug violence on the rise, New Mexico stats show”. The genesis of most acts of violence in New Mexico has been from drugs. From those that are on drugs, those that are committing crimes to support their habit, or those involved in drug deals. Politicians give us lip service by telling us that guns are to blame. Yet they fail to address the real issue, “DRUGS”. The drug cartels in Mexico and South America have made gains in our state and with the help of the Biden administrations, on day one, dismantling of policies that were working to stem illegal immigration and the flow of drugs across our border and into New Mexico. New Mexico's progressive will not deal with the drug problem because it requires steps that go against their ideology.

Miranda Viscoli

Santa Fe needs a Violence Intervention Program like the one that Albuquerque has so we can get people the services they need and an "honorable exit." Such a program has the potential to stop the cycle of violence. In addition, we finally have a great rehab with Santa Fe Recovery and they take Medicaid. Gun Violence and drugs are inextricably linked. Continuing to incarcerate youth will do little to stop the violence. As a community, we need to take a deep look at how we have failed these youth. An 18-year-old with a gun in one hand and a bag of meth in the other is on us. That is our responsibility to fix and we cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem. We need to scaffold these youth and young adults to get them into the services they need. I would suggest we start today and not tomorrow.

Mike Johnson

An excellent approach, thank you, and we also cannot confiscate all guns to get out of this problem.

Miranda Viscoli

Where and when have I ever advocated for the confiscation of all guns?

Mike Johnson

I didn't say you did openly, but your organization has very thinly veiled goals that lead that way: Broad red flag laws, an office of so-called "Gun Violence Prevention", etc.....https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/gun-violence-is-a-public-health-crisis/article_ccde36ae-3213-11ec-9466-c7cb7501216d.html

Khal Spencer

Just some guns.


Khal Spencer

Agree 100% with this approach when applied to folks who are still capable of turning their lives around, and one only finds out by experiment. But there are times when you also just have to put someone in jail, such as Procopio Montoya Atkinson. Eight times a felon suggests someone who needs to be warehoused, not scaffolded.


Peter Romero

Concentrate on the "violence" not the gun.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]Agreed, and the person doing the violence.

Jerry Appel

It is interesting to see the national trend heading for lower numbers until the Trump years. Totally get the drug and violence connection. I've read studies as far back as the 1970s that show at least 70 percent of all property crimes were drug related.

Emily Koyama

The majority of the increase in gun violence is happening in Democrat-run cities, fueled by meth, fentanyl, and human trafficking, etc.

It is still rising now, as we speak, a year after Trump left office, so that connection is made up in your own mind.

Emily Koyama

Yeah. Mr Appel wants to put some blame on Trump. (Some commenters here can't help themselves in that regard)

Mr Mechels wants to blame the police (as always), even though 19,400 of the 20,500 people shot by other people were not cops.

Seems, if we can't put our personal little axe grinding issues aside to focus on real solutions, we are destined for more of the same.

Emily Koyama

I meant to say, "19,400 of the 20,500 people shot by other people were not shot by cops".

Emily Koyama

These are 2020 numbers, btw.

Jim Klukkert

Emily Koyama would do well to learn that there is a difference between associated phenomena and cause and effect.

Nowhere has Ms. Koyama ever demonstrated that the Democratic leadership of major urban areas has caused an increase in gun violence, human trafficking, hard drug usage and so on.

Ms. Koyama again makes charges without logic or substance, comments worth a bucket of warm spit.

Khal Spencer

I doubt Trump had anything to do with it. Homicide rates have risen and fallen all through the 20th adn 21st Centuries regardless of who was in the White House for complicated reasons.


Mike Johnson

OMG! Ms. Viscoli, what is the answer?

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