ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The waves of emotion brought tears, laughs and prayerful reflection Friday as more than 2,000 people gathered to remember five members of a New Mexico family gunned down in their home last weekend.
Following a police escort, fellow chaplains and members of the Albuquerque Fire Department lined the procession for the memorial service held at one of the city's largest churches. Bagpipes played and the urns of former pastor Greg Griego, his wife Sarah and their three young children were carried into the church.
Family members recalled Greg Griego's lumbering walk, his hearty laugh and his endless commitment to helping others to turn their lives around. His wife, known for her cooking, and their children were just as much a part of that ministry. The family was always a front-row fixture at church services.
The crowd prayed for the Griegos and for their 15-year-old son, Nehemiah, who remains in custody after being charged with the killings.
Annette Griego, one of Greg Griego's adult daughters, told those at the service that her father was a man whose heart was after God.
"My dad never gave up on me. He never gave up on any of us. He never stopped giving us Jesus and so I know he would want us to do the exact same thing for our brother, Nehemiah," she said. "So if you wonder where we stand, we stand alongside our brother."
"We stand confident that God will take this tragedy and use it for something good," she said.
News of the slayings has reverberated throughout the community, where Greg Griego — a former gang member turned pastor — was known for his work with jail inmates, his service at local rescue missions and his spiritual guidance for firefighters and members of the military.
Friends said Griego and his teenage son went on missions to Mexico and that the boy was a talented drummer who played with the church's youth band.
On Friday, family, friends and members of the Calvary Albuquerque church who watched the boy grow up continued to struggle, trying to make sense of the tragedy.
Nehemiah Griego was just a normal teen to Vince Harrison, a former police officer who had known the family for about 10 years through his security work at the church.
"He did not fit the criteria of a kid who was crazy into guns and wanted to hurt people. That's absolutely false," Harrison said.
The question of how and why such a tragedy could happen to the Griegos haunts family members and fellow churchgoers as lawmakers across the country debate whether more gun control laws would keep another shooting from happening, even though the signs of brewing tragedy are often impossible to spot.
Public defender Jeff Buckels said in a statement that it's too early for anyone to rush to judgment about the teen's mental state, motives or plans. He accused the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department of parceling out limited bits of information that have led to "sensational headlines that threaten to finish Nehemiah's case in the public mind before it has fairly begun."
Sheriff Dan Houston has said he stands by the facts as presented in the investigation.
Griego is facing murder and child abuse charges in the deaths of his parents and three younger siblings — all found shot to death inside their rural home south of Albuquerque on Jan. 19.
Detectives were at the home for two days collecting evidence. They also have been reviewing text messages and calls between Griego and his 12-year-old girlfriend and security video from Calvary, where the teen apparently spent much of the day following the early morning shootings.
After the killings, authorities allege that Griego reloaded his parents' two semi-automatic rifles and put them in the family van and planned to gun down Wal-Mart shoppers. Houston has said investigators have no information that Griego actually went to a Wal-Mart that day.
Buckels, the defense attorney, promised he will consult with mental health experts and investigate the effects of violent video games. Authorities have said Griego liked to play "Modern Warfare" and "Grand Theft Auto."
Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM