FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The gunman who killed three people and wounded six others as he fired randomly while roaming his northwestern New Mexico neighborhood was a local high school student and his victims include a 97-year-old woman and her daughter, police said Tuesday.
Investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the attack by Beau Wilson, 18, in the Farmington neighborhood where he lived. They say he opened fire Monday, killing Gwendolyn Schofield, her 73-year-old daughter, Melody Ivie, and 79-year-old Shirley Voita.
Voita had worked as a nurse and was a devoted parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said former state Rep. James Strickler, who was her friend.
“She was just a dynamite lady. She was well-loved and I’m still shocked over it,” said Strickler, who heard gunfire ring out on Monday before learning the circumstances of Voita’s death.
Witnesses and police say Wilson walked through the neighborhood a short drive from downtown Farmington spraying bullets until police arrived within minutes and fatally shot him. Two police officers were among the wounded.
Farmington Deputy Police Chief Baric Crum said at least 150 bullets were fired but that number was expected to go up as the investigation continued.
“The amount of violence and brutality that these people faced is unconscionable to me,” Deputy Police Chief Kyle Dowdy said.
Deputy Police Chief Baric Crum said Wilson was indiscriminately shooting at vehicles, but that some rounds also hit homes.
Dowdy said investigators do not believe Wilson knew anyone he shot.
“We’ve discovered nothing that leads us to believe that the suspect knew” the victims, he said. “We’re pretty confident in that this was completely random.”
Bryan Brown and Brandi Dominguez were home Monday morning with their five children when the shooting began. Their doorbell camera captured yelling and the repeated pops of gunfire. Brown said it was loud and sounded as if it were coming from two different directions.
Brown was among those who ran into the street to help the victims. He said one woman had gunshot wounds to the leg and head. She asked for help and he said he tried to stop the bleeding.
“I feel bad for her family,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t even know, this kind of stuff is just uncalled for.”
Before Brown came outside, he told Dominguez and the kids to stay inside and stay down. Bullets hit the family’s home and vehicle.
Brown said his teenage son knew Wilson from school and had texted him, knowing that he lived down the street. It was only later they found out that authorities identified Wilson as the shooter.
“It just goes to show you never really know somebody until something happens,” Brown said. “He seemed like an OK kid.”
The tragedy was noted Tuesday night during otherwise exuberant graduation ceremony for 374 students on the Farmington High School football field. Speakers spoke of resilience and hope.
Principal Rocky Torres noted that there was an empty chair with a bouquet of white roses on it at the back of the student rows in recognition of “our fellow graduates, family members and friends that cannot be here with us tonight.” He led a moment of silence.
The main speaker, retired principal Ttimothy Kienitz, told students that there was no better message for them and the community than “find a way to win.”
“This is a strong, tough and tenacious community and we will overcome,” he said.
Wilson was a senior at the school but it wasn’t immediately known whether he was due to graduate with his class.
In November, after he turned 18, Wilson legally purchased at least one gun used Monday, police said. He carried three firearms in the attack, including an assault-style weapon.
Four officers fired a total of 16 rounds at Wilson, including one of the wounded officers, said San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari.
Mayor Nate Duckett said Tuesday that the Farmington officer and state police officer were treated for their wounds and released from a hospital.
Authorities began receiving reports of gunshots at 10:57 a.m. and the first officer arrived at 11:02 a.m., police Chief Steve Hebbe said Monday in a video statement. Three minutes later, the gunman had been killed.
Joseph Robledo, a 32-year-old tree trimmer, said he rushed home after learning that his wife, Jolene, and their year-old daughter had sought shelter in the laundry room when gunshots rang out. A bullet went through his daughter’s window, without hitting anyone.
Jolene Robledo said they had just finished breakfast when she heard “pop, pop, pop, pop,” which she first thought was a car backfiring. She said they were going to run out the back door until she heard a man curse right outside, so she quietly shut the door and hid with her daughter between the washing machine and dryer.
“I mean it was crazy. I called my husband and he could hear the gunshots over the phone,” she said. “He was freaking out and I was like, ‘don’t hang up, don’t hang up!’”
Joseph Robledo said he jumped a fence to get in through the back door. Out front, he found an older woman in the street who had been wounded while driving by. She appeared to have fallen out of her car, which kept rolling without her, he said.
“I went out to see because the lady was just lying in the road, and to figure just what the heck was going on,” Robledo said. He and others began to administer first aid.
Neighbors directed a police officer toward the suspect.
“We were telling (the officer), ‘He’s down there.’ … The cop just went straight into action,” Robledo said.
Robledo’s own family car was perforated with bullets.
“We’ve been doing yard work all last week. I just thank God that nobody was outside in front,” he said. “Obviously, elderly people — he didn’t have no sympathy for them.”
Downtown Farmington, a short drive from the neighborhood, has undergone a transformation of sorts in recent years, with cafes and breweries cropping up alongside decades-old businesses that trade in Native American crafts from silver jewelry to wool weavings.
On Tuesday, orange circles of spray paint still marked the ground where police had collected evidence. Authorities were using metal detectors to search the grass in front of one of the churches along the street where gunfire erupted.
As night approached Monday, dozens of people gathered at Hills Church, a few miles (kilometers) from the attack scene, to pray at the base of a tall metal cross. Lead pastor Matt Mizell talked about living in a “dark and broken world” but told the crowd there was still hope and asked God to provide them strength.
New Mexico enacted a red-flag law in 2020 that can be used to seize guns from people who pose a danger to others or themselves. Dowdy said relatives expressed concern about Wilson’s mental health when interviewed by police but that he didn’t have enough information at this time to further elaborate.
Lee reported from Santa Fe and Yamat reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed.