A few years ago, a homeless man in Albuquerque died a violent death. His life – and death– were relegated to a small column on an inside page of a regional section of the Albuquerque Journal.
I wrote about this issue at the time, but wanted to return again to this tragic situation. I suspect other “unknown” homeless people have died in Albuquerque since then, and neither you or I have heard about their death-or life. Please use this article as a reminder to pray for all of our city’s homeless.
I recall I might not have known about this man’s demise without a call from a local television station asking me if I was familiar with the incident.
The reporter briefed me on the situation, and asked me if I would be willing to make a comment. I arranged to meet her about an hour later, so I made my way to I 40 and 12th Street. That is an area where some of the city’s homeless are known to congregate, and close to where the body was found.
I stepped out of my warm car into the chilly early evening temperatures, and introduced myself to the reporter. I told her I hoped that the homeless would cooperate with police by helping them identify the man who had been killed.
Just as I was finishing that interview, a photographer from another television station arrived. I also gave him an interview.
Even though both interviews combined only took just over ten minutes, by the end of the second one I was very cold and happy to get back in the car. I was again reminded, as I was driving off, how awful it is to be homeless and spend depressing days, cold evenings and frigid nights close to the railroad tracks by 12th Street and I 40 or any similar location.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, all that police were able to ascertain initially was that the victim was a Native American man, about 33 years old, and that he “‘fell victim to massive trauma’ to the lower body with an edged weapon.’”
Police also told the Journal that there were signs of extreme intoxication, but no suspects, no witnesses and no known motive.
I began thinking about the life of this still yet-to-be- identified man, summed up so quickly in just a few words. Homeless, a member of the transient community, and extremely intoxicated.
What, I thought, had driven him to this point? “Choices,” I hear some of you say. “Choices. We all make our choices and we live with the consequences.” That’s true. But why do some people end up making those bad choices that can end up costing them their lives?
There was so much more to this man than the words used above to describe him.
As I later discussed this man’s life with a staff member, we realized that he was obviously someone’s son. We wondered about this man’s parents. Did his mother love him? Did his father love him? Did he have any sort of normal family life growing up? Or was he abandoned, and forced to cope with the devastating emotional consequences that such an action causes?
Was he abused while growing up? Was he an only child, or did he have brothers and sisters? Did he spend his formative years in the foster care system? What kind of music did he like? Was he an artist? What unique abilities did God give him? Was he someone’s father?
On that fateful day, what was it that occurred to get this man “extremely intoxicated?” Was he possibly trying to drown the sorrows of a failed relationship, or had a family member or friend said something desperately hurtful? It’s so easy to judge, but we weren’t there with that man when he began drinking.
Did he possibly think that God, or the Great Spirit of his childhood, had abandoned him? Did he perhaps lose hope in the belief that his life could be really different; that he could wake up one day without the life-consuming desperation that led him to the state of “extreme intoxication” in which he was found?
I wonder how he will ultimately be remembered? Are you and I the only ones thinking about him now?
I hope that he (and others experiencing a similar desperate plight) will at least be remembered as someone who needed our help, but who was not strong enough to reach out in his time of need.
This man’s tragic and senseless death-and the untimely deaths of others since that time- is also a stark reminder of the thousands of needy, desperate homeless men and women in Albuquerque who are mostly forgotten but still remembered by Jesus, Joy Junction and others who care here in Albuquerque.