ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Three teenagers accused of fatally beating two homeless men beyond recognition with cinder blocks, bricks and a metal fence pole may have been terrorizing transients around Albuquerque for months, police said Monday.
A man who identified himself as the father of two of the boys said they were once homeless themselves and he had no idea what prompted the beatings. One of the boys told police they had attacked about 50 homeless people over the last few months, but had never gone that far. But on Friday night, he was angry about breaking up with his girlfriend, he said.
Alex Rios, 18, and two boys ages 16 and 15 were ordered held on $5 million bond each during initial court appearances Monday. They face murder charges stemming from the brutal attack in an Albuquerque lot where neighbors say transients regularly camped at night.
Following their arrest, the 15-year-old also told police that the trio had been targeting homeless people for the past year, according to a criminal complaint.
Prosecutors requested bonds of just $1 million, but Metropolitan Court Judge Linda Rogers set it higher, citing the gravity of the alleged crimes and the suspects’ potential to flee. The district attorney’s office said the younger suspects were charged as serious youthful offenders, meaning they could be tried in adult court.
The two younger defendants, one wiping away tears, sat in the courtroom while Rios made his appearance by closed circuit video from the county jail.
Family and attorneys for the three declined comment after the proceeding.
According to the criminal complaint, the 15-year-old told police the attack lasted more than an hour, and that the trio took turns picking up cinder blocks over their heads and smashing them into the faces of the men who had been sleeping in the field across from his home, according to the criminal complaint.
A third transient who escaped led police to the boys, whom he said were known for attacking homeless people. And the father of the two younger defendants told an Albuquerque television station there were rumors his son was violent, but he assumed it was with other kids.
Victor Prieto told KOB-TV that he has no idea what prompted the beatings, and that he and his family had once been homeless themselves.
“It’s so hard that he could do that to someone where ... I mean, like I said, we came from there,” said Prieto, who said he was the father of the 15- and 16-year-olds accused. “You know what I mean? We’re not there now, but that’s where we... We got out of there,” Prieto said.
A man at the house declined comment on Monday.
According to the criminal complaint, the teens came home from a party and the 15-year-old was “very angry” over a breakup with a girlfriend. So they covered their faces with black T-shirts and went out to look for someone to beat up and possibly rob.
The attack was so brutal it stunned even veteran police officers.
“I personally, after reading that complaint, was sick to my stomach because of the nature of the violence and the age of the offenders,” police spokesman Simon Drobik said.
Officers responded Saturday around 8 a.m. to a 911 call reporting the two bodies in a field. They found one victim lying on a mattress and another lying on the ground. Jerome Eskeets, who said he was able to flee, was hospitalized with injuries.
Eskeets told police that he recognized one of the “kids” hitting and kicking him as someone who lived in a house nearby, and police found the trio of suspects there. Prieto said the 15- and 16-year-old were his sons and Rios was a friend who had spent the night.
Rios told investigators he acted as a lookout while the other boys attacked the men with bricks, sticks and a metal fence pole. The younger suspects, however, told police that Rios also took part in the attacks.
Investigators have not confirmed the identities of the victims, although police found an Arizona driver’s license at the brothers’ home. The victims’ transient background and the severity of their injuries have made identification difficult, Drobik said.
In one corner of the lot on Monday, a mattress, dirty pillows, clothing, broken bottles, and cinder block were visible.
William Toyama’s house backs up to the lot. He said the homeless regularly sleep there without bothering anyone.
“Everybody here seems to be pretty shocked. They seem to find it deplorable,” he said. “Like I said, most people around here have the same opinion I do. They don’t cause any trouble.”
Toyama, a 29-year-old cook, said he doesn’t know the teens but has told them to stop throwing rocks at his dogs.
The department is asking anyone in the homeless community with information about other attacks to get in touch with them.