Navajo leader, mayor to meet on homeless killings
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Mayor Richard Berry will meet with top Navajo officials on Thursday about the killing of two homeless Native Americans who were found beaten beyond recognition in a vacant lot, his office said.
Berry scheduled the meeting at the request of Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, who issued a statement denouncing the weekend attack in southwest Albuquerque as "beyond senseless."
Three teenagers have been charged with murder in the Friday night slayings. Police say the men were attacked while sleeping and beaten with cinderblocks, bricks and a metal pole. One of the suspects told police the attack lasted more than an hour, according to a criminal complaint.
"The Navajo Nation is appalled that this type of attack is happening upon our people. We pray that justice will be carried out in this case," Shelly said.
Police and prosecutors said one of the boys told investigators the trio had been targeting homeless people around Albuquerque for about a year.
Authorities, however, said there was no evidence of racial motivation.
While the killings were "a hateful act ... evidence to date doesn't indicate a hate crime occurred," Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said Tuesday.
The medical examiner's office identified the victims as Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson. The office confirmed the men were Native Americans but didn't yet know if they were Navajo. Their hometowns and ages also weren't available.
New Mexico has 21 pueblos and tribes, and homeless advocates in Albuquerque say they see a number of Native Americans on the streets.
"There are spots in town where the majority of homeless people are drunk Native Americans," said Jeremy Reynalds, president of Joy Junction homeless shelter.
He says many are beaten and abused.
In interviews with police, the teens acknowledged targeting homeless people but "didn't specifically say they were targeting Navajo people," police Sgt. Simon Drobik said. "That never came up."
Some states include the homeless in the groups of people protected by laws against hate crimes. However, state Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque, has been unsuccessful in trying to add the group to such laws in New Mexico.
In light of the fatal beatings, O'Neill told the Albuquerque Journal he plans to reintroduce legislation to protect the homeless.
Berry was planning to meet with Shelly and officials with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
"We need to sit down and discuss possible solutions to assist the homeless population in Albuquerque," Shelly said in a letter requesting the meeting.