A person of interest in a road rage shooting on a New Mexico interstate that killed a four-year-old girl was taken into custody Wednesday afternoon, Albuquerque police said.
Police spokesman Tanner Tixier told reporters it was “too soon” to say if authorities captured the man involved in the deadly shooting, but said the person taken into custody matched an earlier description given out by police.
Tixier said the person of interest was found driving in a different vehicle than the one involved in the road rage incident. He said that vehicle may be in a garage, and authorities need to obtain search warrants to examine it.
“We’re going to take our time with this,” he said Wednesday. “We’re going to take our time, get our appropriate documents, gather evidence appropriately.”
Albuquerque cops spent much of the day in a “desperate” search for a man believed to be in his mid-20s or early 30s who was seen driving a maroon or dark red Toyota sedan when he opened fire in a road rage incident that killed Lilly Garcia as her horrified father and seven-year-old brother watched.
Tixier said earlier Wednesday that police believe the assailant was driving a Corolla or Camry with a spoiler on the trunk and dark tinted windows. The car also had a University of New Mexico plate and may contain the digits “200.”
“We are in desperate need of info to help us resolve the conflicting information we’re getting right now,” Police Chief Gordon Eden said. “We’re begging for the community’s help.”
The killer was going west on Interstate 40 within city limits and pulled up alongside the car the unidentified child was riding in and opened fire around 3 p.m., shooting the child in the head. The child’s heartbroken father told police it was a case of road rage.
“The dad explained there was some type of road rage incident,” said police spokesman Officer Simon Drobik.
The information released Wednesday afternoon on the suspect’s age and the type of vehicle he was driving was the first bit of descriptive information released to the public.
The child’s father was unable to identify the assailant, and police initially received conflicting details about the gunman’s vehicle, including its color and even whether it had two or four doors. A red pickup truck which appeared to have a bullet hole in the rear window was seen pulled over on the interstate, which was shut down, but police would not confirm it was involved.
A woman who said she was on the road at the time of the incident told KOB-TV she saw a red truck driving erratically on I-40, and believes she saw the early stages of the tragic incident.
“We were actually behind the two vehicles that were in the middle of the road rage incident: red truck, red sedan,” Jonelle Tafoya told the station. “The red truck was not allowing the red car to pass [and] kept swerving from lane to lane to keep the vehicle behind them.”
Tafoya said she exited the highway out of fear something bad would happen, then later heard about the girl’s death.
“I got the notification that something had occurred on my phone that a child had been shot in the head at Unser and I-40, and all I could think was, ‘oh my God. That was it exactly. That was probably the road rage incident we had seen.'”
The girl’s father pulled over after the incident, and a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputy arrived on the scene to find the child inside, Drobik said. The girl was rushed to University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Drobik confirmed the girl’s death at an evening news conference, saying the shooting represented “a terrible, tragic loss” and a “disrespect for human life.”
I-40, one of two freeways running through New Mexico’s largest city, reopened late Tuesday.
Detectives were interviewing multiple witnesses, Eden said.
“Our priority is always the collection and preservation of evidence,” he said. “We should never see these incidents happen.”
The shooting comes after a road-rage shooting last month in Albuquerque in which police say a man fired at another driver in self-defense. The Sept. 9 shooting that wounded 34-year-old Jacoby Johnson was being reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office. A month earlier, a driver used a camera to record another motorist brandishing a gun at him on I-25 in Albuquerque, resulting in felony charges for the suspect.