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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The national Veterans Affairs hotline is 800-273-8255 .
• The New Mexico Crisis Help Line number is 888-920-6333 .