The streets of downtown Santa Fe shut down temporarily Tuesday to make way for the funeral procession of a reclusive former Marine who died alone in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Retired Sgt. Eloy Timothy Tafoya was described as a “loner” by the few people who knew him. But his tragic death by his own hand in a Santa Fe apartment in January struck a chord with dozens of people who gathered at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in the veteran’s honor.

The funeral itself — which included dozens of uniformed military and police personnel, a motorcycle brigade, a 21-gun salute, bagpipers from the Santa Fe Police Department and a drummer from Santa Clara Pueblo — was pulled together by people from a specialty cleaning company and a funeral home who had never heard of Tafoya until they were called to clean up after his death, which was discovered Jan. 23.

After seeing the retired Marine’s home full of a lifetime of memorabilia and realizing that Tafoya had few family or friends to observe his passing, a group of local men — Joe Chavez from Servpro, Raymond Lucero from the Rivera Family Funeral Home and several others — spent weeks arranging a ceremony they felt was fitting for a man who had served his country for 20 years.

Dozens of others, strangers to Tafoya until Tuesday, when they learned of his funeral and were touched by his story, showed up at the cemetery.

“Knowing he died alone was so upsetting,” said Taneya Vigil, wiping tears from her face as she left the ceremony.

Like most of the other people there, she hadn’t known Tafoya. But after reading about his suicide in The New Mexican on Tuesday morning, she and her husband, former Marine Cpl. Ronny Petago, who live more than two hours away on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in Northern New Mexico, decided to attend his funeral during their trip to Santa Fe.

“In Marine boot camp, they taught us that all Marines are our brothers,” Petago said. “So I figured I owed him this.”

One attendee, Vietnam veteran Chuck Zobac, who is active in veteran suicide prevention efforts, said about 22 veterans take their own lives in the United States every day.

Zobac said advocates trying to combat the problem have recently begun targeting rural areas, leaving literature and hotline numbers at post offices and convenience stores in small towns across the Four Corners region.

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com.

Suicide hotlines

• The national Veterans Affairs hotline is 800-273-8255 .

• The New Mexico Crisis Help Line number is 888-920-6333 .

(6) comments

Andrew Salas

Thank you, citizens of Santa Fe and others from the area and those of you from far away - many mentioned by Francisco in his post below - who honored our fallen veteran with such heart-felt passion. Special kudos to Chaplain Villegas for making this tribute possible. I am proud of, and grateful to, each one of you for giving your heart and your time to remember and honor Eloy, and truly all veterans, who made it possible for the rest of us to live as free men and women in this blessed land of opportunity we call the United States of America.

Joseph Hempfling

Having been in attendance to bid a formal farewell to SGT Tafoya, would like to say how proud and blessed each one of us who was there, to be part of a truly caring and compassionate Santa Fe Community who took time out of their busy lives and with such short notice to say goodbye to one of it's own. And to witness his relatives in attendance being handed Eloy's Mission Completed Medal and Memorial Flag, making the occasion that much more solomn if not more heart wrenching. And as the presiding Chaplain said; Until we Meet Again on the Other Side Eloy and thank you for your many years of service to this country. And we will meet again.

Barbara Harrelson

Thank you, Mr Carbajal, for sharing this important information with all of us. Blessings to all who attended and who made arrangements for this neighbor that few of us knew until he chose to leave us. Let us all be more vigilant about attending to our neighbors. And may Mr. Tafoya truly rest in peace.

Francisco Carbajal

I met each one at the funeral services yesterday and got a list of new friends that I thought should be acknowledged: Mr. Raymond Lucero, Rivera's Funeral Home, Horses for Heroes (Rick & Nancy), SFPD Chief Rael, NM Army General Andrew Salas, Santa Fe City/County Fire Dept, Lee Moquino from Santa Clara Pueblo, Santa Fe PD/Los Alamos Fire Bag Piper Team, USMC Recon, VFW Funeral Detail, Santa Fe Vietnam Vet's (Jerry's Unit), NM Legion Riders Motorcycle Association/Patriots, NMSP/Santa City PD/Santa Fe County Sheriff's Traffic Units, the Santa Fe National Cemetery Staff, and especially Santa Fe Police Chaplain Jose Villegas, Sr., thank you for making it happen for placing USMC SSGT. Eloy T. Tafoya to his final rest. Good job! [thumbup]

Diane Rivera-Silva

God Bless you Tim Rivera, Owner, Rivera Family Funeral Home, Raymond Lucero, who was born for this service to others and Mr. Tafoya for your service to this great Country. God Bless you.

Carolyn DM

How beautiful. He is at peace, and his service to his country has been recognized and celebrated. That may have been all he really wanted in his life.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.