Created on Friday, 25 January 2013 Written by SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN,Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Fifteen-year-old murder suspect Nehemiah Griego grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Christian faith.
A crowd begins to gather in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, for a prayer vigil in honor of a couple and their three young children who were shot to death in their home last weekend. Authorities have charged the couple's 15-year-old son, Nehemiah Griego, with murder and child abuse resulting in death. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)
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 Griego, there were jam sessions with the Calvary Albuquerque's youth band and pickup basketball games at the church.
That all changed last Saturday when his parents and three younger siblings 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 — a tragedy that just doesn't make sense to surviving family members or the church community that has watched him grow up.
Griego 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 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)
"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.
He is facing murder and child abuse charges in the deaths of his family. They were all found shot to death inside their rural home south of Albuquerque last Saturday.
After the killings, authorities allege that Griego reloaded his parents' two semi-automatic rifles and put them in the family van and planned to 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."