His Last Words

A Murder by the Albuquerque Police Department.

Gabriel Romero Graduation 2017 Albuquerque, NM — Photo by Jay Duran

In a couple of days, it will be my son’s 21st birthday. Twenty-one is the age where he is finally considered a man. He is an official adult, deemed by society because he is legally old enough to drink and smoke. He would be so excited for this day to come. Except, he isn’t here to celebrate it. He is in an urn on the mantel above our fireplace.

I was blissfully unaware of the incident that occurred that afternoon. I didn’t find out from the police department that my son was killed on the scene and didn’t make it to the hospital. He was carried out in a body bag, not on a stretcher. I had to find out from Gabe’s best friend, who called while I was writing Christmas cards for my co-workers that winter night.

I didn’t believe it.

I couldn’t.

Even when I picked up my other sons and pulled over to let one out of the car to catch his breath, as he is flooded by so much emotion, I still couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it when I got to the scene, and news cameras were reporting about yet another murder by the Albuquerque Police Department. I didn’t believe it when the detective took my wife to interview her as she is the biological mother and wouldn’t let me come too. They recorded a frantic, scared mother expecting her racing mind to speak clearly, as they were grasping for straws to justify the part they played in this murder.

I still didn’t believe it when they told my wife that off the record, it is him, but they would call to confirm. I still didn’t believe it when they said that they matched his fingerprints, and they confirmed, the Hispanic male who died on the scene is our son Gabriel Romero.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

The entire first year, we were numb. It wasn’t until we surpassed the first year that our hearts began to defrost. Even before the pandemic, we were recluse. We were finding it hard to go to gatherings such as baby showers because it just reminded us that our baby is not here. We found it hard to go to the grocery store because the crowds gave us anxiety and sometimes a panic attack. We found it hard to just be around people that weren’t grieving; because they didn’t understand our sudden, unpredictable outburst of tears and anguish at times. My wife couldn’t drive anywhere because at times she was so distraught she forgot she was driving. Distracted driving is dangerous. So anytime she had an appointment or needed to go anywhere, I drive her there.

Photo by Gabriel Romero — Avid BMXer

My son was not a saint. I am not contesting that he was allegedly involved in a crime at the time of his execution. The 19-year-old with a traumatic brain injury a year prior, mental illness, and a neurological disorder needed intervention, not a firing squad.

As a mother of a special needs child, my wife and I cannot express to you how scared we were, every day, to receive the phone call we did on the night of December 12, 2018. With Gabe being legally an adult, we no longer could make him attend the many programs and therapy he so desperately needed. There is no protection for adult children who “look okay” on the outside and who appear to be perfectly functional adults. And he was, for the most part, a functional adult. He maintained a job and paid his bills on time. But, the brain injury he sustained took him somewhere dark. That, in combination with his already prevalent mental health and neurological issues, fueled something in him that was not present before the brain injury.

His behavioral health issues were managed by the help of early intervention, advocacy by his mother, and several assisted programming throughout his entire adolescence. The programs are only available to a minor child. Once he turned 18, there was NO help. There are no specialized programs for young adults with mental illnesses who participated in therapy their entire lives. Just like in the foster care system, when they age out, they are discarded and forgotten.

In his last days, there were talks of suicide. There was a brief moment where it was suspected that he had committed suicide by cop. However, after several news outlets and other media sources leaked video footage, that theory rested. You simply don’t cry out for the officer to “Stop” if you wish to die by his hand.

Photo by Roman Koester on Unsplash

The Albuquerque Police Department had lied to us. They told us a female officer was scared for her life as our son was much bigger than her, and shot as he aggressively approached her. That was not near the truth. It was not a female officer; per the official police report, it was male officer Douglas Moore. Although officer Moore didn’t have any shootings under his belt, he was involved in previous use of force cases.

The corruption of the critical incident procedure is far beyond this one officer, and further, a departmental issue within the Albuquerque Police Department. The history of officers shooting first and asking questions last is a systematic problem in New Mexico and across the nation. In an incident three weeks before the murder of my son, the CIT (Critical Incident Trained) certified officer was present on the scene to utilize de-escalation techniques by talking first.

My son did not have a CIT officer available to deescalate the stressful situation. The verbal instructions given were simultaneous to the officer opening fire, as was the case in three other surrounding incidents where APD officers opened fire before proper assessment. The claim was that the suspects had pointed a gun at police. I can’t speak for the other cases. But, there is no evidence to support that statement with my son. The camera was conveniently pushed towards a different direction when the shooting occurred.

After receiving misleading information, you can understand why I refuse to take the officers’ word for it. It is on record that my son not only had no bullets in his firearm but that he pleaded for the officer to stop shooting. His final words were that of surrender. So tell me again how a suspect who shoots countless times at the officers, walks away with an injury to his shoulder?

The difference is the CIT officer. That officer shot once when the rifle pointed in his direction. He waited to see if the suspect was subdued. Then, the suspect returned several rounds with an automatic rifle, causing a shootout to ensue. Why couldn’t my son have been afforded the same opportunity of having a CIT officer present? Instead, he was brutally murdered by Officer Moore. There is no contesting that. The cause of death listed on the death certificate is homicide.

The premature death of our youngest son, Gabe, devastated our family, friends, and the community. His life mattered. His unjustified murder by police, matters. My son had a significant presence; anyone that knew him remembered it well. You just had to meet him once for him to make an impact on you. His life cannot be summed up by the mistakes he made on his final day on Earth. Because of the actions of officer Moore, Gabe is not here to speak for or redeem himself. We are now his voice.

Photo by Mike Von on Unsplash

The death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department is a senseless, horrific tragedy. It was unnecessary, cruel, and inhumane. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Rather, it is a significant systematic problem we have in America. I would like to be out there protesting alongside my fellow New Mexicans for justice, but unfortunately, this devious murder hits too close to home. Instead, one of our sons is out there representing his baby brother, amongst the protestors in downtown Albuquerque, NM. Just know that we support you from afar Minneapolis. My wife and I are overwhelmed with emotion for Mr. George Floyd. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, and his community. May he rest in peace.

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