ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Six New Mexico teens face murder charges after authorities say one of them gunned down a 60-year-old man in his driveway while the group was prowling through a neighborhood, burglarizing cars and homes and stealing vehicles.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said Friday during a news conference that one of the teens arrested Thursday had confessed but that the investigation was ongoing.
"There are gaps that have to be filled, and there are still a lot of questions that have to be answered," the chief said as the grieving family of Steve Gerecke stood at his side.
The teens range in age from 14 to 17 years old. Four of them made their first court appearance Friday afternoon on charges that include murder, aggravated burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.
Prosecutors said those four were charged as serious youthful offenders, meaning their cases will proceed as if they were adults — something Gerecke's family called for during the news conference. The other two teens are being charged as juveniles.
The Associated Press is not naming the teens because of their ages. Authorities said they don't know if the teens have lawyers yet and a call to the public defender's office was not immediately returned Friday.
Heather Alter, Gerecke's daughter, said her father did not deserve to be executed.
"I want to address the parents of these animals. Where were you? Why did you let your children run the streets at 3 a.m.? ... I hold you, the parents, responsible. Just know a tsunami is coming."
According to arrest warrant affidavits, a mob of teenagers had been stealing from several cars and homes in a neighborhood on the city's northeast side on June 26 before one of them shot and killed Gerecke.
Officers found Gerecke dead in his driveway with multiple gunshot wounds.
Investigators say it appears Gerecke confronted the group, which had apparently used a garage door opener found in Gerecke's wife's car to get into his home.
One of the younger teens told investigators that his 16-year-old friend was the only one in the group armed with a gun that night and that he had fired shots at another man who caught them earlier that night in his home trying to steal his television.
That man was not injured, but the burglars made off with his cellphone, credit cards and keys.
That armed teen also bragged and joked about shooting Gerecke as the group went on to break into more homes, according to the warrants.
Eden said detectives already had started to work on previous reports of mob burglaries in the northeast heights when Gerecke was shot. That information helped a task force of investigators get a jump on the case.
Police tracked a credit card stolen during the June 26 crime rampage and used surveillance video from a Wal-Mart and other locations to find the suspects. A security guard at Highland High School was able to identify two of the teens seen in the video footage.
The police chief said such mob crimes are new to the city and he urged residents to take precautions such as removing their garage door openers from their cars at night and making sure their vehicles and homes are locked.
Investigators are still working to determine whether the teens arrested Thursday were involved in any of the previous mob crimes.
A memorial was planned for Gerecke on Saturday at Balloon Fiesta Park. A husband, father and grandfather, he was known as a fixture at one of the city's popular sports bars where he had bartended for more than 20 years.