Published June 17, 2017
A man accused of killing his stepfather, brother and two strangers in a shooting rampage spanning nearly 200 miles across New Mexico had made troubling statements to family members about his intentions to kill or hurt people for fun, court documents said Friday.
An argument between Damian Herrera, 21, and his stepfather over using a pickup truck likely led to the shootings outside the family's home in a rural community not far from some of the state's popular tourist draws, according to a criminal complaint. Herrera shot his mother as she pleaded for her life, witnesses say.
After Herrera gunned down his family, police say, he carjacked and killed a driver before shooting another man hours later at a general store in a tiny town that artist Georgia O'Keeffe called home. That's where the final victim, a regular at the store and security guard at O'Keeffe's home, died.
Herrera was arrested Thursday and initially accused of five counts of murder. But prosecutors later said Herrera's mother was in critical condition. She had been taken off life support, leading authorities to believe she had died, District Attorney Marco Serna said.
It was not immediately clear if Herrera had a lawyer to speak on his behalf.
His sister and others were at the family home in La Madera when they heard gunshots ring out Thursday.
Witnesses told police that Herrera shot his stepfather first while the two were outside. Hearing his calls, Herrera's brother and mother went outdoors. The brother was shot in the neck during a struggle, and Herrera then shot his mother in the head as she begged for mercy, according to the complaint.
Family members told police that Herrera was calm and had a blank stare as he opened fire, "as if he knew exactly what he was doing," the complaint said.
"None of these victims had a chance, none of them," State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said during a news conference.
Police found the lifeless bodies of Max Trujillo Sr., 55, and Brendon Herrera, 20, when they arrived. The mother, Maria "Brenda" Gallegos, 49, was bleeding and gasping for air and was taken to the hospital.
Damian Herrera then headed north toward the community of Tres Piedras, where he's accused of killing Michael Kyte, 61, and stealing his truck. Kyte had picked up Herrera after he ran out of gas, offering to help, police say.
One Taos County commissioner offered her condolences on social media, saying Kyte had recently retired from the Tres Piedras Ranger District, where he worked for years as an archaeologist.
Herrera drove into Colorado before finding his way back south into New Mexico, winding through a rural area dotted by just a few close-knit communities and scenic mountain ranges.
About five hours after the first 911 call came in about the family's slaying, Manuel Serrano, 59, was killed at the general store in Abiquiu, a traditional Hispanic enclave where O'Keeffe lived.
Community members were shaken.
Jonathan Naranjo, 35, of nearby Espanola, said his parents and uncle live along the road that leads past the store. They saw a stream of emergency vehicles just before sundown.
"My uncle was locked and loaded. Everybody was pulling out their rifles, because you know how it is around here. It's mostly ranchers," Naranjo said.
Herrera was caught after sheriff's deputies spotted the stolen pickup and chased it.
He was speeding through a curve when the truck veered into oncoming traffic, overcorrected and crashed into a tree, police said.
Herrera got out and ran toward deputies. He tried to grab one of their guns and it fired, authorities said. A second deputy used a stun gun on Herrera, and he was taken into custody.
An officer hurt his elbow but there were no other injuries, police said.
Kyle Frettem, who took classes at the University of New Mexico with Herrera and would go hiking with him, said he had not talked to Herrera in about a year but described him as someone who was into inner peace.
"He was the kind of guy who would go out into the mountains and meditate," Frettem said. "People can change pretty drastically in a year, but someone like this, it's like no way."
Court records show Herrera had no criminal record, just two traffic citations in the past two years.