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Albuquerque mourns Greg Griego, family after massacre

January 24, 2013|By Matt Pearce | This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.
  • Nehemiah Griego, now 15, plays the drums in this undated family photo.
Nehemiah Griego, now 15, plays the drums in this undated family photo. (Eric Griego )

Greg Griego was working the overnight shift at a homeless shelter last weekend, police say, when his 15-year-old son Nehemiah Griego shot three siblings and his mother, then lay in wait for his father.

Rene Palacios, assistant executive director at the Albuquerque Rescue Mission, said Griego’s final shift would have run from 6 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Saturday.

Griego had been hired in November to work as the winter shelter monitor and to check in homeless individuals, assign them blankets and keep watch as they slept.

“Greg was kind of a big guy. He had kind of an intimidating appearance at first glance,” Palacios told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “He had some rough edges; he had been involved with some rough people. Once you got to know him, he was not what he looked like. He was a very kind man. He always had a really quick smile, and most people who met him remember his kindness.”

Greg Griego, 51, had been a gang member in his younger years, but became religious and turned his life around.

“There are some people when they're gone, you’ll miss their presence, and he’s one of those people,” Palacios said.

“It’s been a little bit of a rough week,” he added. “Sometimes people die, but this was definitely horrific, and so we really do feel for all of Greg’s family.”

Nehemiah Griego faces murder and other charges in adult court and is being held without bond.

Police said Nehemiah Griego shot his mother and siblings with a .22-caliber rifle as they lay in their beds early Saturday, then apparently switched to a .223-caliber, military-style AR-15 rifle, which he used on his father hours later.

The guns appeared to have been stored in his parents' closet and were legally purchased, police said. A security-style sign outside the family’s rural house said, “Home Protected by Smith & Wesson,” the Associated Press reported.

Authorities said Nehemiah Griego first shot his mother, Sarah Griego, 40, and brother, Zephania, 9, early Saturday morning, then his sisters Jael, 5, and Angelina, 2. He planned to shoot more people at a Wal-Mart, authorities said, but instead went to the Calvary Albuquerque church, where he spent much of the day.

In a message on the church's website, pastor Skip Heitzig said Greg Griego used to be on Calvary's staff. He worked with prison inmates and “did a terrific job in helping to rehabilitate convicts and help them and their families re-enter society."

"He impacted many lives in this community and he will be dearly missed,” Heitzig said. “We are doing what we can as a church body to minister to the remaining family members.”

The church held a candlelight vigil for the family Wednesday night. Funeral services were scheduled for Friday.

Surviving members of the Griego family pleaded with the public not to politicize the killings.

In a statement Tuesday, relatives asked the public and the media “to not use Nehemiah as a pawn for ratings or to score political points.” It was reportedly issued by Eric Griego, Nehemiah's uncle and a former Democratic state senator.

“It is clear to those of us who know and love him that something went terribly wrong,” the statement said. “Whether it was a mental breakdown or some deeper undiagnosed psychological issue, we can’t be sure yet. What we do know is that none of us, even in our wildest nightmare, could have imagined that he could do something like this.

“There is so much more to the Nehemiah we know than what the media is portraying. We know him as a bright, curious and incredibly talented young man. He was a brother, nephew, grandson and cousin.”

The statement added: “To be clear, our family has differing views on gun rights and gun control. What we do agree on is that those who wish to score political points should not use a confused, misguided, 15-year-old boy to make their case.”

[For the record, 9:10 a.m. Jan. 26: An earlier version of this post misspelled Sarah Griego's first name as Sara.]

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matt.pearce@latimes.com

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