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Questions surround NM slayings as family, church community prepare to bury former pastor, kids

  • bd972ce3abc15a02270f6a706700def6.jpg

    Nehemiah Griego, 15, is seen in an undated photo provided by the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deptartment. Griego is charged with killing five family members on Jan. 19, 2013, including his father, mother, and three youngest siblings in Albuquerque, N.M. Authorities in New Mexico say Griego had reloaded his guns after the attacks and planned to go to a Wal-Mart and randomly shoot people. Instead, they say he texted a picture of his dead mother to his 12-year-old girlfriend, then spent much of Saturday with her. The two went to the church where his father had been a pastor, and Griego eventually confessed to killing his parents and three younger siblings. (AP Photo/Bernalillo County Sheriff's Deptartment) (The Associated Press)

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    This undated photo provided by Eric Griego shows Nehemiah Griego. Griego is charged with killing five family members, including his father, mother, and three youngest siblings in Albuquerque, N.M. Authorities in New Mexico say Griego had reloaded his guns after the attacks and planned to go to a Wal-Mart and randomly shoot people. Instead, they say he texted a picture of his dead mother to his 12-year-old girlfriend, then spent much of Saturday with her. The two went to the church where his father had been a pastor, and Griego eventually confessed to killing his parents and three younger siblings. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Eric Griego) (The Associated Press)

  • 14f9ae6fabd65a02270f6a706700f1de.jpg

    Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston, right, and Lt. Sid Covington answer questions about the shooting deaths of five family members during a news conference at the sheriff's headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. Authorities have charged Nehemiah Griego, 15, with murder and child abuse counts in connection with the slaying of his family. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan) (The Associated Press)

  • efaa3482accc5f02270f6a70670065b8.jpg

    Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg answers questions during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, about the potential legal aspects in the case of a 15-year-old boy who is accused of gunning down his family. Nehemiah Griego remained in custody Tuesday on counts of murder and child abuse resulting in death. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan) (The Associated Press)

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    Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston prepares for a news conference at the sheriff's headquarters in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, regarding the shooting deaths of five family members over the weekend. Authorities have charged Nehemiah Griego, 15, with murder and child abuse counts in connection with the slaying of his family. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan) (The Associated Press)

Fifteen-year-old murder suspect Nehemiah Griego grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Christian faith.

His father, a gang member turned pastor, helped others turn their lives around. There were missions to Mexico, prayer sessions with former jail inmates and weekly Bible study gatherings. For Nehemiah, there were jam sessions with the Calvary Albuquerque's youth band and pickup basketball games at church.

That all changed last Saturday when five family members were slain at home and Griego was arrested and charged with the killings.

On Friday, family and friends will gather at the church to mourn the deaths of the former pastor, his wife and their three youngest children — a tragedy that just doesn't make sense to surviving family members or the church community that has watched him grow up.

He 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.

So how and why could something like this happen to a family like the Griegos?

The question is haunting family members and the church community as lawmakers across the country debate whether more gun control laws would keep another shooting from happening.

Public defender Jeff Buckels said Thursday that it's too early for anyone to rush to judgment about the teen's mental state, motives or plans. He said the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department has been parceling out limited bits of what he described as "the most damaging supposed 'facts.'"

"This has led directly to a multitude of sensational headlines that threaten to finish Nehemiah's case in the public mind before it has fairly begun," Buckels said.

Sheriff Dan Houston described the case as "horrific" and said Thursday that he stood by the facts as presented in the investigation.

Detectives continue to pour over evidence gathered last weekend at the Griego home. They're also 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.

Authorities have said that Griego reloaded his parents' two semi-automatic rifles and put them in the family van after the slayings and planned to randomly gun down Wal-Mart shoppers. Houston has said investigators have no information that Griego actually went to a Wal-Mart that day.

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."

"It's far too soon to know the meaning of this tragedy and far too soon to judge," Buckels said.

Since news of the shootings first hit Calvary last Sunday, churchgoers have been praying for the teen and the victims Greg Griego, 51, his wife, Sarah Griego, 40, and three of their children — a 9-year-old boy, Zephania Griego, and daughters Jael Griego, 5, and Angelina Griego, 2.

Friday's memorial service follows an hour-long prayer vigil that drew an estimated 2,000 people Wednesday night.

There were simply no signs, said Rick Zemke, a chaplain who knew the family and volunteered with Greg Griego at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

"They were always together. They just always seemed to click," he said. "It's hard to understand."

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Follow Susan Montoya Bryan on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM

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