Five people dead following Thursday shootings in Taos, Río Arriba counties

Suspect captured after hourslong manhunt, arraigned Friday on multiple charges

Posted

Updated June 16 at 8:45 p.m.:

Maria "Brenda" Rosita Gallegos, who had been on life support for several hours after sustaining a gunshot wound police say was inflicted by her son, Damian Herrera, has died, according to an update recieved from District Attorney Marco Serna.

The confirmation brings the total count of those dead to five in a string of shootings allegedly committed by Herrera across Taos and Rio Arriba Counties Thursday (June 15).

Sheriff James Lujan had released a revised report on Gallegos' condition at 2:45 p.m. Friday (June 16). New Mexico State Police had said earlier Friday that Gallegos was one of the first victims to be confirmed dead after sustaining gunshot wounds at the Trujillo home in La Madera. No explanation for the mixup has been provided by officials involved in the ongoing case, which includes multiple homicide scenes throughout Northern New Mexico.

Gallegos is one of three of the suspect's family members to be killed in the shooting spree at the family's home in La Madera, in addition to Herrera's brother, Brendon Herrera, 20, and his step-father, Max Trujillo Sr., 55. After fleeing the residence, the suspect would allegedly shoot two other men later Thursday evening, whom investigators believe he had never met – one a retired archaeologist, Michael Alan Kyte, in Tres Piedras and another man, Manuel Serrano, in a store in Abiquiú.

Lt. Elizabeth Armijo, public information officer for New Mexico State Police, said Thursday night that police believed Damian Herrera acted alone as he moved across multiple towns west of Taos allegedly shooting his victims.

The suspect was initially arraigned on four counts of first-degree murder Friday morning in Española Magistrate Court and is being held without bond. A fifth count was added following Gallegos' death Friday afternoon.

Río Arriba County sheriff's deputies and crime scene investigators were still at the first crime scene in La Madera at the home of Trujillo Sr. Friday morning (June 16), assessing the situation in the haze of a wildfire that burned near the tiny village. The body of at least one of the three victims allegedly shot at the household still lay in the dust in the family's front yard.

A dog at the home meandered back and forth, sniffing at the legs of investigators, who placed crime scene markers around the victim. Police said the triple homicide stemmed from a "domestic dispute."

Zack Wright, 38, a Río Arriba County sheriff's deputy, arrived at the home early Thursday evening (June 15) and said that little had changed with the investigation at that time. "We've been here for going on 21 hours and [the investigation] really hasn't changed at this point," he said. "We are not aware of any other victims, but I've been here, so I have no idea as to what's going on out there. Right now, we're just processing the scene."

Wright stated that it "had been years" since he had responded to an incident of the sort this kind – a quintuple homicide. "This stuff doesn't happen often," he said.

Other investigators had responded to the locations where Kyte and Serrano were also allegedly shot and killed by Damian Herrera.

After fleeing his family's home, the suspect then hitched a ride with Kyte in the man's Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck. Upon their arrival at Kyte's home in Tres Piedras, Herrera then allegedly shot Kyte, who died of his injuries shortly thereafter, according to police reports.

From there, Damian Herrera traveled north along U.S. 84 into Antonito, Colorado, then south through Chama, New Mexico, before arriving in Abiquiú. Herrera stopped at Bode's General Store along U.S. 84 just after 8 p.m., where he then allegedly shot and killed Serrano, 59. The suspect fled southbound along U.S. 84.

Río Arriba County sheriff's deputies soon located Damian Herrera as he fled at a high rate of speed – a factor which caused Herrera to lose control of the vehicle at a curve in the roadway. He crossed over the median and nearly collided with a State Police Crisis Negotiation Team member's vehicle headed in the opposite direction. The suspect then overcorrected, crashing into a tree on the right-hand shoulder of the road around 8:30 p.m. He then immediately exited the vehicle and "ran" toward deputies, initiating a fight in which the suspect allegedly attempted to disarm a deputy. The law enforcement officer's weapon discharged during the altercation, but the round fired injured no one. A second deputy on the scene deployed a Taser at the suspect, who was then arrested.

The New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau and the Río Arriba County Sheriff's Office are continuing to handle the homicide investigations at the locations where the alleged murders occurred. State police are in charge of the homicide in Tres Piedras and in Abiquiú, as well as the location along U.S. 84 where Herrera was taken into custody.

Damian Herrera had been a student at University of New Mexico, according to university officials.

Olibama Margaret Maestas, who said she had dated Herrera on and off last year, and lives in El Rito, said she couldn't believe what had happened. "He was so kind – I'm trying to figure out why he would resort to something like this. He loved his little brother," she said. "They were inseparable. He was so goal-driven, too. He always talked about his college courses. He was so soft spoken and kind to me – he was never violent."

One of Trujillo Sr.'s neighbor's said he liked to camp and fish. "He sure was a good man, a very good man. He was helpful to others. He was like a real old-fashioned, traditional man," said Noel Chacon.

Whatever Damian Herrera's motive for allegedly shooting three members of his family, his killing of two strangers who were became caught up in the violence that took place Thursday night leaves investigators with other questions.

Kyte's colleagues at the Carson National Forest were in shock as news spread of his death. Michael Kyte was a recently retired archeologist with the Carson National Forest.  “He was one of the gentlest, nicest human beings; good and generous and as fine a field archaeologist as I’ve ever known,” said Skip Miller, also a retired archaeologist with the forest service.

Investigations into the shootings are ongoing. This story will be updated as more information becomes available. The Río Arriba County criminal complaint and statement of probable cause can be found here.

Tripp Stelnicki, Uriel Garcia, Cody Hooks, Sami Edge, Andrew Oxford and Staci Matlock contributed to this report. 

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