A wedding photo shows a glowing Ernestine Saucedo, a renowned Santa Fe singer, next to her husband, Jessie, in July 2017 at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, a city on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
“We learned we were soul mates a long time ago,” the couple posted on the resort’s website before their wedding.
Four days after the couple’s second anniversary and one day after Ernestine’s 32nd birthday, grief-stricken family members wept outside the state office building in downtown Santa Fe where the pair were found shot to death just after noon inside a white SUV. Santa Fe police recovered at least one firearm from inside the vehicle, Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said.
There were no suspects at large, he said, raising suspicions of a murder-suicide. But Valdez said it was “too early to tell” if that was the case; officers are still investigating the possibility the couple died in a double suicide.
The state government’s Jerry Apodaca Education Building on Don Gaspar Avenue was quickly evacuated early Thursday afternoon, and employees of the Public Education Department, where Ernestine Saucedo worked as an executive budget analyst supervisor, were sent home for the day. Police closed down a parking lot and adjoining streets for hours around the Apodaca Building. The investigation continued into the evening.
City and state officials gathered at City Hall for a midafternoon news conference, where police Chief Andrew Padilla and Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, gave a brief account of the investigation but held back details of the case, including the names of the couple.
Public Education Deputy Secretary Tim Hand, who was in tears at the event, declined to comment on the deaths.
Police said a state employee discovered the couple’s bodies in the BMW SUV and called 911.
Public Education Department chief of staff Daniel Manzano told The New Mexican in a text message he was “the one who found them.” He then referred questions to Stelnicki, who confirmed education department workers had been sent home and that grief counselors would be available to them Friday.
The governor also released a statement on the shootings, saying, “My heart is broken for the family and loved ones of the state employee who was tragically and violently taken from us too soon. I am grateful to Santa Fe law enforcement for their quick response and I want every state employee to know that we are here to support you through this trying time.”
Later, after authorities confirmed the couple’s identities, Stelnicki said Ernestine Saucedo had worked for several state departments since 2008 and didn’t appear to have any children.
While the popular recording artist and songwriter, who performed Tejano-style music under her maiden name, Ernestine Romero, left behind a legacy of music in Northern New Mexico and had a large following on social media accounts — which quickly filled with messages of sorrow, disbelief and condolences — her husband kept a much lower online profile.
A Facebook profile for 34-year-old Jessie Saucedo says only that he was married. He had posted photos of cars and trucks on his page but little about his personal life, including where he worked. One February post shows a collection of handguns.
According to a photo posted on his wife’s Facebook page, he completed a New Mexico concealed handgun training course Feb. 10.
Valdez said officers were looking into the status of the couple’s relationship, but he had no information Thursday about Jessie Saucedo’s background.
Public records show the couple lived at a home on Mutt Nelson Road in southern Santa Fe.
Ernestine Romero began performing as a young child and released the first of her 10 albums when she was 11. She performed Tejano music, a style of dance music combining elements of Mexican folk, German polka and American country music.
According to interviews with The New Mexican, her first gig, as an 8-year-old, was a Valentine’s Day dance at Pojoaque Elementary School. She graduated in 2005 from Pojoaque Valley High School, where she played basketball. Romero, who also performed under the stage name “La Jovencita,” told The New Mexican she had absorbed her passion for music from her father, Willie Romero, who played drums in a band that practiced at her home when she was growing up.
Videos of Romero’s performances show a musician who interacted with her audiences and was constantly singing, dancing to the beat or both.
In 2015, she released the album Gracias Señor, which included a duet of the same title with two-time Grammy Award-winner Ruben Ramos. In January 2016, she won CD of the Year, Cumbia Song of the Year and Salsa Tropical Song of the Year at the New Mexico Hispano Music Association Music Awards.
According to Tejano Nation, an online music news site, Romero also was a nominee for Female Vocalist of the Year at the Tejano Music Awards last year.
She released her last album, Mi Tesoro, in March, the site says.
Her last performance, Romero’s website says, was June 30 at the San Ignacio Church Fiesta in Albuquerque.
News of her death swept across social media Thursday.
“Absolutely shocked and speechless over this senseless act of violence,” a friend wrote in a message posted on Romero’s Facebook page. “Sing it sweet in heaven sweetie. That’s where you’re going to be.”
“My deepest condolences to Ernestine Romero’s family,” said another Facebook post. “Her smile was as big as her heart and her love of music and performing. She will be missed. My prayers are with you.”
She also was honored in Twitter messages:
“Rest easy. NM show love and respect to this amazing artist.”
“I am lucky I had the pleasure of knowing her and hearing her music.”
“You were such a dope talent.”