By John Miller [email protected]
Damian Herrera was known in the small town of La Madera as a quiet, respectful young man. He played on the basketball team at Mesa Vista High School. He had gone on to attend classes at University of New Mexico-Taos, where he was pursuing a pre-science degree. He was seeing a girl who spoke highly of him and said that he was close with his friends and family. But there was another side to Herrera, a side of him that seems to contradict nearly every statement given by those who recalled the young man they grew up with – the same man who allegedly shot and killed three of his family members – including his mother, Maria “Brenda” Rosita Gallegos – and two strangers on Thursday (June 15). Dolores Archuleta-Lopez, 65, Gallegos’ cousin, said that people in La Madera “grew up in loving families.” She was unaware of Herrera ever getting into trouble. “We’re all in shock that this happened,” she said.
Her disbelief is shared by the residents of La Madera, who struggle to grasp that a shooting of such magnitude and brutality could take place so close to their homes. That incredulity seems to have lent itself to early speculation that seemed to oversimplify what may have truly been behind the shootings – that Herrera must have been a drug user or, according to an initial police investigation, that Herrera allegedly shot and killed five people because he became enraged during an argument over a family vehicle. But as Herrera’s sister, Carissa Herrera, 16, watched her brother allegedly shoot to death her stepfather, Max Trujillo Sr., 55; brother, Brendon Herrera, 20; and mother, Gallegos, 49, at her family’s home Thursday afternoon, she said Damian Herrera turned to her with a blank stare on his face that she didn’t recognize. “That wasn’t my brother,” Carissa Herrera wrote in a post on her Facebook page four days after the shootings. The suspect could be seen wearing the same emotionless expression on his face as he appeared on a taped arraignment in R o Arriba Magistrate Court on Friday (June 16) after he was arrested Thursday night.
In an interview with Albuquerque-based KRQE-TV earlier this week, Carissa Herrera and her sister, Candice, said that he had been struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness for about two years. They said that “he would hear things” and that on the day of the violent shootings, he was scheduled for an “appointment.”
But they said Damian Herrera never actually went, as he “was scared.”
Police still don’t know for certain where the 21-year-old suspect actually traveled Thursday morning in a family truck he had taken without permission. The violent incident that transpired when he returned to his family’s home in the gray Toyota pickup, however, has been recorded in police reports in grisly detail. Carissa Herrera was inside the residence Thursday afternoon when she heard Damian Herrera and her stepfather arguing in the front yard over the pickup the suspect had taken. “Three to four gunshots” then rang out, according to her statements to police. She left the residence with her brother, Brendon Herrera, and her mother to discover Trujillo lying on the ground with gunshot wounds to his chest. Damian Herrera allegedly stood over the body with a black, short-barreled revolver. Carissa Herrera ran back inside to call 911 as Brendon Herrera attempted to wrestle the weapon from his brother. The suspect then allegedly shot Brendon Herrera in the neck. Gallegos rushed to her son’s side as he died of the injury. Damian Herrera then allegedly pointed the gun at his mother as she knelt on the ground, pleading with him not to shoot her as well. He then allegedly shot her in the head.
When police and emergency personnel arrived on the scene around 3:15 p.m., Brendon Herrera and Trujillo were pronounced dead where they lay. Gallegos would die of her injuries the next day.
What happened next is unclear. Following his arrest later Thursday night, Damian Herrera stated in an interview with police that he then hitched a ride with a fourth victim, Michael Kyte, 61, of Tres Piedras. Kyte’s wife returned home Thursday evening to find her husband with bullet holes in his chest, allegedly inflicted by the suspect before he stole Kyte’s Chevrolet Silverado. Kyte would also be pronounced dead when Taos County Emergency Services personnel arrived on the scene minutes later. It took police a few days to discover the location of the Toyota truck Damian Herrera had driven from the first crime scene in La Madera, which was discovered in the Tres Piedras area this week.
After allegedly shooting Kyte and stealing his vehicle, Damian Herrera then fled north along State Road 285, wending his way west through Antonito, Colorado, before turning south along State Road 84. It is also unclear whether the suspect stopped in Colorado or why he chose the route. An official at the Conejos County Sheriff’s Office said Monday (June 19) that his office was not looking into the incident. But R o Arriba County Sheriff James Lujan, 56, speculated that Herrera may have taken the roundabout route to throw police off his trail. Fleeing south, Damian Herrera stopped for gas at Bode’s General Store in Abiqui , southwest of La Madera. His fifth victim, Manuel Serrano, 59, a security officer at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, was filling up at a pump across from him. Security cameras captured the moment when the suspect finished filling his truck and Serrano then began running frantically around his vehicle. It is during these moments that police believe Herrera fatally shot Serrano.
Damian Herrera then drove the stolen truck south along State Road 84. Police caught up to him traveling at a “high rate of speed” near mile marker 202. Officials said Herrera was traveling so fast that he nearly crashed into a police vehicle traveling in the opposite lane. The suspect overcorrected, hitting a tree on the right-hand shoulder of the roadway. Herrera left the vehicle and “ran” at sheriff’s deputies, a “large” kitchen knife visible on his side, according to police reports. Herrera attempted to take one of the officer’s service weapons, which discharged during what police have described as a “scuffle.” The round fired injured no one. A deputy standing by subdued Herrera with a Taser.
Damian Herrera was arrested around 8:30 p.m. and incarcerated in R o Arriba County Thursday night. Shortly after his arrest, police say he admitted to shooting and killing all five victims.
He was initially charged with four counts of first-degree murder Friday morning, along with other charges stemming from the alleged crimes. When his mother, who had been kept on life support, died of her injuries Friday evening, a fifth count of murder was added. The suspect has been assigned a public attorney, who will provide defense counsel as the case moves through the court system.
From The U.S. Coast Guard: The 126-member crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche returned to Coast Guard Island in Alameda, Calif. following a 58-day, 12,000 nautical-mile deployment to the Eastern Pacific Ocean,Monday. Since Waesche s departure from Alameda on April 22, the cutter patrolled international waters off the coast of Central America, disrupting Transnational Organized Crime networks through joint interagency counterdrug operations.
While deployed, Waesche s crew conducted eight interdictions and seized more than 17,000 lbs. of cocaine with an estimated value of more than $266 million and apprehended 20 suspected narcotics traffickers. Waesche s crew offloaded the contraband in San Diego on Thursday, along with another $288 million in cocaine seized by other Coast Guard cutters. Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Alires, a member of Waesche s law enforcement team, said, The training we receive makes a huge difference in our ability to work together as a unit, making boardings at sea much smoother and more efficient. The most recent seizure by Waesche s crew was on June 8. Crewmembers intercepted a 55-foot Low Profile Vessel with approximately 5,500 pounds of cocaine onboard. LPVs are designed to be low profile and colored to blend in with the ocean, making them difficult for law enforcement to detect.
The men and women of Waesche s crew performed flawlessly during this deployment, preventing millions in illicit narcotics from reaching U.S. shores, said Capt. James Passarelli, Waesche s commanding officer. Their efforts under challenging and dangerous conditions speak volumes to their collective sense of dedication and sacrifice in keeping America safe. I am incredibly proud of them all.
Known as the Legend class, National Security Cutters are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. NSCs are 418 feet in length, 54 feet in beam and 4,600 long tons in displacement. They have a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 nautical miles, endurance of up to 90 days and can hold a crew of up to 150.
Image Courtesy of US Coast Guard
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Originally published June 22, 2017.
Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus, Nevada National Guard
RENO, Nev. Sarah Hunt never enjoyed the girlie lifestyle. She begrudgingly wore feminine clothes at McQueen High. At Nevada, Hunt played Division 1 softball and soccer where she was more comfortable around campus wearing gender-neutral athletic sweats and sportswear as opposed to dresses and high heels.
“Except when we traveled, we all wore a dress or skirt,” Hunt said. “It was awkward and really uncomfortable for me.”
After college, Hunt enlisted in the Nevada Air National Guard’s 152nd Security Forces Squadron, content to wear the same gender-neutral work uniform as her male counterparts. After a deployment to Kuwait in 2015 months before the U.S. military lifted its transgender ban Hunt explored options to end that awkward feeling surrounding her gender identification. That’s when Hunt began a gender transition, today the first openly transgender soldier in the Nevada National Guard.
“It wasn’t just like one morning I woke up and said, ‘Yup, I’m going to be a male today,'” said Hunt, who now goes by Sam. “I think it was more of a process… The process is very different for everyone.”
The Department of Defense lifted its transgender ban last summer for service members already enlisted in the military.
“Although relatively few in number, we’re talking about talented and trained Americans who are serving their country with honor and distinction,” then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said during the announcement in 2016. “We want to take the opportunity to retain people whose talent we’ve invested in and who’ve proven themselves.”
As an extension of the 2016 policy that lifted the ban for those already serving, a person’s gender status including being transgender will no longer be a disqualifying factor from enlisting in the military beginning July 1, according to the current policy developed last year. Meanwhile, members of the active military and reserve components have undergone training sessions on the new policy over the course of the last year in anticipation for proposed full integration next month.
“All of this is an effort to ensure the seamless transition and the full implementation of [the] DoD policy,” said Zenia Boswell, with the Army National Guard’s Personnel Policy Division. Boswell added: “This is all about diversity and inclusion.”
Hunt first took testosterone in September 2015, about 10 months before the Defense Department’s announcement. Three months later, Hunt switched military branches and joined the Nevada Army National Guard’s G Company, 2/238th General Support Aviation Battalion, of Stead, as an electrician. The unit flies UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
“I didn’t know anybody in the Nevada Army Guard,” said Hunt, who took on the physical appearance of a man, including a short haircut, by the time she entered the Nevada Army Guard. “I was telling people I was a male in the civilian world, but I was still a female on the record books in the Army. It was a strange transition.”
Hunt first opened to Sgt. 1st Class Teresa Dennington, the unit’s readiness non-commissioned officer.
“One sergeant walked in my office when I was with Hunt and said ‘he,’ (referring to Hunt),” Dennington said. “I said, ‘That’s a she.’ Hunt said, ‘Don’t bother correcting them, I’m transitioning.’ Now the whole unit calls him ‘he.’ We’ve decided to let him go by what he prefers to go by, because we don’t have a problem with him.”
Weeks after the end of the transgender ban, during a drill weekend in the summer of 2016, Hunt approached his chain of command and told them about the transition. Capt. Dustin Petersen, the unit commander at the time, immediately researched how other organizations approached the topic of transgender employees.
“At first it was shocking, not in a bad way, but I had never dealt with this,” said Petersen, the aviation unit’s commander at the time. “The day I heard, I did a lot of research. I researched how corporate America dealt with incorporating transgender people in the workforce. I tried to get as much data as I could. I didn’t want a grand unveiling. I thought that would be tacky and potentially humiliating for Hunt A grand unveiling is wrong and cheap. Just because he is transgender, that’s no reason for a special ceremony. I didn’t want to approach the unit by bringing Hunt in front of a formation.”
“Leadership was very supportive,” Hunt said. “My platoon sergeant said, ‘Whatever you need, let me know. Obviously you’re going to be a first if anybody gives you any grief, I don’t care what happens, you come tell me.’ They eventually told everyone in the unit, and they said, ‘Oh, we know,’ as if it wasn’t a big deal. It’s a super cool unit.”
Now two years into hormone therapy, Hunt has written a memorandum requesting to be recognized as a male. It is awaiting approval from the National Guard Bureau. Hunt meets the Army physical fitness standards for a 30-year-old male and scored a 260 out of 300 on his most recent physical fitness test.
Hunt now feels comfortable as a man. But it wasn’t easy. The process took many years, through a childhood and adulthood where Hunt struggled to fit societal norms of what it meant to be a girl and woman.
A challenging childhood
Hunt grew up in what he called a “non-traditional family.”
His parents divorced shortly after his birth. At 7, Hunt’s 20-year-old sister died. She left three children behind, and Hunt’s mother eventually gained custody of them. Once the baby of the family with two older siblings, Hunt suddenly became the oldest of four, and a parental figure for the three children.
“Resiliency is an interesting thing. The fact that I had to grow up and be the adult kind of helped me grow to be the person I am today,” said Hunt, who works as a substance abuse, marriage and family therapist intern in his civilian career. “I don’t know where I would have been if my sister hadn’t died. It was such a huge moment in my life.”
In addition to family challenges, Hunt said his youth was non-traditional in other ways, too. A self-described tomboy, Hunt dressed and acted differently than most girls, so much so that his non-conformist appearance became a way of life, he said.
“Did I think anything different of it? No, because there was nothing to compare it to,” Hunt said. “I just thought I was that friend who was different. For me, different was normal. I never had to question who I was. I just thought, ‘Oh, I’m different, cool.'”
‘I’m an athlete’
Throughout Hunt’s youth and time in college, sports served as an avenue of expression and established an identity. Hunt was a three-sport athlete at McQueen, playing soccer, basketball and softball.
In 2005, Nevada offered Hunt an athletic scholarship to play third base for its softball team. Hunt also played keeper for the Nevada soccer team after the soccer coach asked if Hunt would be willing to play two sports because the team needed someone between the posts. In 2009, Hunt hit .296 for Nevada and finished second on the team with nine home runs. Nevada went 40-19, won the Western Athletic Conference regular season championship and made the NCAA Tournament before losing to No. 22 Cal Poly in the regionals. In that game, Hunt scored the Wolf Pack’s only run a home run in Hunt’s final career at bat. After college, Hunt played six seasons for the Nevada Storm, of the Independent Women’s Football League. As soon as Hunt began taking testosterone, he quit women’s football, noticing the increased strength.
“I wasn’t sure how people were going to view me as a proud female athlete after my transition,” said Hunt, who has since stayed on the women’s football team as a coach. “That’s how people know me (as a female athlete). How am I going to change this person again? Eventually, I got over it and dropped the ‘female’ and realized I’m an ‘athlete.'”
Don’t ‘shut people out’
Outside sports, Hunt knows he wants to help people. Hunt recently graduated with a masters of arts from the University of Nevada, Reno, in marriage and family therapy.
Hunt’s background growing up with an alcoholic father, who is now sober two decades later, and the experience of losing his sister at a young age played a role in that career path, he said. He also has a girlfriend he met last May during the transition.
“She has been one of the most supportive people,” Hunt said of his girlfriend, Nichole Raymond. Hunt has a year remaining on his enlistment in the Nevada National Guard and hasn’t decided if he wants to re-enlist, but mentioned the importance the military has played in his life and is grateful of the acceptance he’s received from other soldiers during the transition.
“It’s hard to come across good people and great friends, especially ones you’ve served with,” said Nevada Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Jillian Green, who deployed with Hunt in 2015. “Hunt is one of the best people I know.”
Hunt also says he wants to educate people on issues concerning members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer community, highlighting the different experiences for members of that community and other people in general.
“Each person’s experience is unique and different from the next It’s different based on where you live, who you spend your life with, who is supporting you, and what you experience in life,” Hunt said. “Some people will struggle more than others. My experience has been awesome. I’ve had the acceptance and support of family and friends. I think that is a motivator for other people.
“No matter if you’re transgender, straight, gay, lesbian, you’re still a person who struggles throughout life. It’s important to not shut people out just because they are different.”