To his family, he was a bright and talented musician who played guitar, drums and bass with a church group. He also was a champion wrestler who dreamed of following his family’s long tradition of military service, and a boy who accompanied his pastor father on rescue missions to Mexico.
In a statement issued Tuesday night on behalf of family, the boy’s uncle Eric Griego described those traits, and called on the media and the public not to use 15-year-old Nehemiah Griego “as a pawn for ratings or to score political points.”
“He is a troubled young man who made a terrible decision that will haunt him and his family forever,” the statement said.
It gave no clue as to what might have prompted the alleged assault by the teen, who authorities say confessed to shooting his mother and three younger siblings in their beds early Saturday, then waiting in a bathroom with a military-style semi-automatic rifle to ambush his father upon his return from an overnight shift at a homeless shelter.
“Our family is heartbroken over this senseless tragedy,” the statement said. “We have not been able to comprehend what led to this incredibly sad situation. However, we are deeply concerned about the portrayal in some media of Nehemiah as some kind of a monster.”
The family noted they had no indication such a tragedy could happen, but said it’s clear something went terribly wrong.
“Whether it was a mental breakdown or some deeper undiagnosed psychological issue, we can’t be sure yet,” the statement said. “What we do know is that none of us, even in our wildest nightmare, could have imagined that he could do something like this.”
After killing his parents, younger brother and two sisters at the family’s home in a rural area southwest of Albuquerque, Griego planned to randomly shoot people at a Wal-Mart, Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston said Tuesday. The teen also contemplated killing the parents of his 12-year-old girlfriend, Houston said.
Griego loaded guns and ammunition into the family’s van, but it was unclear if he ended up going to a Wal-Mart or how seriously he contemplated continuing his rampage, the sheriff said.
The attack happened Saturday, the same day thousands of gun advocates rallied around the country to oppose the gun-control measures proposed by President Barack Obama following the December elementary school massacre in Connecticut.
What authorities know, Houston said, was that Griego texted a picture of his dead mother to his girlfriend, then spent much of Saturday with the girl and her family. That evening, Griego went to the church where his father once worked, and he confessed later that night to killing his parents and three siblings, authorities said.
“We know Nehemiah had been contemplating this for some time,” Houston said. Griego apparently had told others of his plans, but whom and when were still under investigation, the sheriff said.
The motive, Houston said, “was purely that he was frustrated with his mother.”
“He did not give any further explanation,” he said.
The teen waived his right to arraignment in adult criminal court Tuesday on charges of murder and child abuse resulting in death and was ordered held without bond. He was arrested Saturday at his family’s home.
The sheriff’s office identified the dead as 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.
The teen had no history of mental illness or run-ins with the law, and neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be a factor, Houston said. The sheriff noted the teen liked violent video games such as “Modern Warfare” and “Grand Theft Auto,” but he didn’t say whether he believed the games were a factor.
Greg Griego was a gang member-turned pastor who had served at Calvary, one of Albuquerque’s largest Christian churches. He had an extensive arrest record from his gang days, but was best known throughout the law enforcement community for his work as a volunteer chaplain.
The church planned a prayer vigil Wednesday night.
“We are doing what we can as a church body to minister to the remaining family members,” Calvary Pastor Skip Heitzig said in a statement. “Only the Lord Jesus Christ can heal this type of pain and heartache.”