Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Killer of 3 O.C. Men Eulogized

Shooting: Funeral is held for man who executed his three roommates. Pastor who introduced them speaks at service.

September 29, 1996|J.R. MOEHRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CORTEZ, Colo. — Although he shot and killed three young Orange County men who were trying to befriend him, 18-year-old Joseph Edward Gallegos now dwells among the angels, a pale and shaken pastor told 150 mourners at Gallegos' funeral Saturday.

"I know Joe is in heaven," said Jeb Bryant, a graduate of the Calvary Chapel seminary in Costa Mesa, who introduced Gallegos to all three victims.

"Even though he allowed drugs and rap music to dement him for a few hours, long enough to create a tragedy that has caused great grief and pain, [Gallegos] knew who his Lord and savior was."

Many teens who attended the service at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church wore a specially designed T-shirt with Gallegos' street alias, "Bubba," written in Old English type above the heart. They wept and held each other, and two read poems written for the occasion.

But none would comment about Gallegos or the circumstances of his death, and many were offended by the presence of the media.

"They get their thrills from seeing people cry," a woman told her daughter, scowling at the reporters and photographers clustered along the sidewalk.

Gallegos' mother and father also left the church without speaking to reporters.

Father Bill Nelson of St. Margaret Mary tried to address the high tension of the funeral service at the start of his brief remarks. "We know that Joe was heavily burdened," he said. "We probably never knew all the problems he had within him."

Until recently, Gallegos lived in a halfway house Bryant runs for juvenile delinquents. While there, Bryant said, Gallegos proved himself a model resident.

"He was a loving, caring mediator in my household," Bryant recalled. "He was a peacemaker. But like all of us, he was a sinner."

Besides being his pastor and proctor, Bryant served as mentor to Gallegos, whose home life in Cortez was unstable. Shortly before the killings, Bryant helped Gallegos win early release from his halfway house, despite the teen's long criminal record, including a vicious assault two years ago that police called racially motivated.

Bryant then helped Gallegos find work as a laborer, and introduced him to three young men from Orange County who came here to help Bryant build a ministry for wayward teens.

With Bryant's approval, the three men--Joshua Turville, Steven David Bates and John Anthony Lara III, all 20--took Gallegos into their home until he could find more permanent housing. But after living with them for about a week, Gallegos grew despondent over his fizzled relationship with Heidi Hocker, a student at the University of Northern Colorado.

Using drugs and rap music to work himself into a frenzy, Bryant and the victims' friends said, Gallegos executed his three housemates, then drove 400 miles to Hocker's dormitory, where his life ended in a tense standoff.

Toxicology reports won't be complete until next week, but Gallegos had a history of substance abuse, and police have seized a tape of hard-core rap music that they suspect was the soundtrack for the crime as evidence.

The rap music tinged with violent lyrics Gallegos favored was very different from the music at his funeral. As mourners approached his open casket, stereo speakers thrummed a soft country and western ballad, "Love Without End, Amen."

Bryant, who discovered the bodies of Gallegos' victims, has publicly expressed a deep sense of personal responsibility for the tragedy. But he also blasts Hollywood and various recording artists for desensitizing teens like Gallegos to violence.

Saturday, in the church pulpit in downtown Cortez, Bryant continued to walk the line between guilt and blame.

"Tuesday morning, I found that a young man whom I loved had shot and killed other young men whom I loved," he said in barely a whisper. "And yesterday, a reporter asked where I thought Joe was, and I said he was in heaven, and he said, 'How can you reconcile that after the actions he committed?'

"I shared with him the hope of Jesus Christ, which is a hope not based on any acts we do."

At the end of his eulogy, Bryant appeared exhausted. He leaned against the pulpit and stared at the mourners, his face as gray as the casket at his feet. To one side stood an oil portrait of Gallegos, oddly smirking.

"I loved him," Bryant said weakly. "And I still do. And I know a lot of you do too."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|