This report airs Dateline Sunday, April 15, 7 p.m.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — August 18, 2005 was a typically warm summer day in Albuquerque. But the forecast called for clouds to move in—perhaps an omen.
That Thursday started routinely for teenager David Fisher. He headed for his job at Rider Valley Motorcycles.
At age 17, Fisher was a top amateur motocross rider who dreamed of racing professionally. He’d already earned his first commercial endorsement. Parents Dave and Sue Fisher said their son was born to ride.
Dave Fisher Sr., David’s father: [From] out of the womb. Even if he was eating or sitting still, his wrists never stopped moving. It was almost like he had a handful of throttle already.
Play and work all centered around motocross. He loved his job fixing and selling bikes at Rider Valley, even during the school year. But just the night before, the teenager told his parents about a disturbing confrontation with a frequent customer.
Dave Fisher: David’s description was this guy really just flipped out and got in his face. Told him he didn’t know who he was messing with that day.
David Fisher was just one of many people in Albuquerque whose lives would intersect that August day.
Another was Fisher’s co-worker, 26-year-old Garret Iverson, these were challenging times for the newly-married Iverson, whose main job was to repair bikes. The young couple had a new baby boy, and Iverson worked two jobs to make ends meet, but shop owner Gino Pokluda, says it never seemed to get Iverson down.
Gino Pokluda, shop owner for Rider Valley Motorcycles: Just a really good, competent, trustworthy person I could rely on. You know, if I need something done, Garret would get it done.
Newly-married young father, Ben Lopez had been married to Sally, his high school sweetheart, for 35 years. Although he planned to work another 10 years, he was already looking forward to retirement.
Sally Lopez: And then we were gonna go to Rome and just travel. He wanted to do a lot of fishing. He loved to fish.
Officers Richard Smith and Michael King had already tried the retirement which Ben Lopez craved, and decided it wasn’t for them. The two veteran Albuquerque cops had recently rejoined the force. Chief Ray Shultz was happy to have them back.
Chief Ray Shultz: Two very respected veteran police officers, both who had retired, left this job then came back because they weren’t done serving our community.
Fitting into the community was always a challenge for 48-year-old John Hyde. Ever since he was a young adult, he had struggled with illness. Recently, he had stopped exercising or grooming himself. His hair was now long and dirty. His brother Robert was frustrated, unable to help.
Robert Hyde, John Hyde’s brother: I really didn’t know what to do. I had never had any experience with this.
Six people. They were strangers for the most part. Yet in a matter of 18 hours they would cross paths in a series of seemingly random events that would rock this city to its core. Later, people would wonder whether those events were really random at all, whether warning signs had been missed, clues overlooked, and whether lives could have been saved.
T.J. Wilham, reporter: Looking at this timeline is like watching the movie "Titanic," you know? You know the ship is sinking when you read this timeline you—and you just wanna jump in and tell the people this ship is sinking.
The morning began like any other for Ben Lopez. He had been a state employee for 15 years and had been promoted to supervisor.
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Do you remember that morning?
Sally Lopez: Oh yeah. I remember cause that particular morning, for some reason, the coffee maker decided to spill over. And so we were talking. And he had his coffee. And he kissed me and said, “I love you. I’ll see you tonight.”
Dave and Sue Fisher remember that morning too. They were already anticipating the weekend, when their teenage son would compete in another motocross race.
Dave Fischer Sr.: Our day that day was congested trying to get everything rounded up and get home and get some practice time in.
6:30 a.m. The northwest side of Albuquerque. The quiet routine of that morning is shattered by a call to 911.
911 caller: My co-worker is laying on the outside of the building, looks like he’s been shot or something.
The body of a man is found at a state Transportation Department maintenance building. Reporter T. J. Wilham covers crime for the Albuquerque Journal.
Wilham: They found a man wearing his flourescent yellow or orange construction jacket. And he had been shot. And he was laying in a pool of blood.
It is Ben Lopez, shot in the back, at very close range. Police arriving at the scene find precious few clues.
Stafford: Any signs of a robbery?
Chief Shultz: It did not appear that a robbery or burglary had taken place.
7:03 am. Central Albuquerque. As the investigation into Ben Lopez’s murder gets underway, Robert Hyde wakes up to discover something’s wrong with the cars belonging to him and his girlfriend.
Robert Hyde: One of my tires was flat. And I looked at her car and one of her tires was flat and you could see that they were knifed.
9:00 a.m. Northeast Albuquerque. As Robert Hyde reports his slashed tires to police, his brother John is at Presbyterian Hospital. John’s been treated at the hospital for years but on this day does not have an appointment. In fact, no one is sure why he’s here. Whatever the reason, he is clearly upset.
Wilham: Hyde comes in contact with Caseman employees. Some sort of argument erupts. He cursed out some profanities.
9:27 a.m. Detectives begin questioning workers at the transportation department building where Ben Lopez was murdered. They take particular interest in one employee at the shop, someone Lopez had suspected of abusing his sick leave.
Wilham: Immediately, information comes forward that Mr. Lopez had been in a dispute with another employee the day before. So to them, it made perfect sense that this person would ultimately be their first suspect.
10:29 a.m. Police arrive at Ben Lopez’s home to tell his wife he has been killed, and to see if she can help solve his muder.
Sally Lopez: They had asked me if ben had been having problems with anybody at work.
Stafford: What did you say?
Sally Lopez: The only one I remembered him saying something about was one that he had written up for calling in sick like on Fridays and Mondays. And they thought he was just taking long weekends.
Grief stricken, Sally does NOT remember a crucial conversation she had with her husband the night before. As she talks with police, Garret Iverson,is opening up Rider Valley Motorcycles on the southeast side of town. Shop owner Gino Pokluda is there too, concerned Iverson is pushing himself too hard by working two jobs.
Gino Pokluda, shop owner: He just looked tired. And I said, “Garret, you know. Quit the job. We’ll figure it out.”
Business is slow this day. But Iverson perks up around noon when his wife and newborn baby come by the shop for lunch.
Stafford: How did Garret seem when his wife and the baby walked in?
Pokluda: Happy. He was happy to be with his wife and his kid.
12:30 p.m. As the Iversons eat lunch, John Hyde calls an agency which manages certain health care programs for the state of New Mexico. According to Reporter T.J. Wilham, Hyde makes an appointment to talk with his case managers later that afternoon. It’s an appointment Mr. Hyde will never keep.
Robert Hyde: I was really worried that something was going to happen. Something bad.
Mid-day, August 18, 2005. John Hyde’s cousin, Christian Meuli, is enjoying the day off. Christian, a family physician, hasn’t seen John for several months, and is unaware that John is trying to get help from the hospital for his illness. Suddenly, Christian gets an urgent call from a patient—it’s Sally Lopez, and she is in extreme distress.
Christian Meuli: I got a pager call from the answering service from Sally Lopez’s family saying, “We’re worried about her blood pressure. She has had a severe trauma today.” She comes on the phone and she says “My husband was killed this morning. He was shot. And we have no idea why.”
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Did you think, “Who would do something like that?”
Meuli: I did, I did. What sort of world is this that somebody would shoot a man just going to work early in the morning?
At about the time Christian is talking to Sally Lopez the widow of the murdered state worker, Christian’s cousin John Hyde is making phone calls too.
1:10 pm. Hyde makes a second call to the private agency that manages some health care programs for the state. He is frustrated that he is not getting the care he says he needs His anger is escalating.
T.J. Wilham: He leaves a voice mail message saying that he needs help. And that if he doesn’t get help that people at Presbyterian Kaseman could be in jeopardy.
3:00 p.m. Officers Rick Smith and Michael King start their evening shift. At 3:30, a half hour after they begin their routine patrol, John Hyde’s latest voice mail message threatening the hospital is retrieved. On it, Hyde says he has a list of people he wants to kill.
According to reporter T.J. Wilham, the message is passed to hospital administrators.
Wilham: It appears that that was a key time because it appears to us that things were starting to be taken seriously.
Dave Fisher, David Fisher’s father: He said, “I’ll be out of work here in about a half hour. I’ll meet you at home.”
4:53 pm. A 911 operator fields a horrifying phone call. An armed robbery and shooting in progress. The caller: a polite teenager.
The voice on the call is 17-year-old David Fisher’s. He’s been shot through his hand, the bullet passing into his chest.
Operator (911 call): Where are you at?
David Fisher: Rider Valley Motorcycles.
Operator: Did you know who did this to you?
But the operator does not follow-up, does not ask Fisher who shot him. Her priority at that moment is to send help.
Fisher: Hurry up. Hurry up. He just took all the money out of the cash register...
Operator: You were robbed?
Fisher: ... and shot me and my friend
Operator: You were robbed?
Fisher: He just took all the money out of the register and shot me and my friend.
Operator: So the business was just robbed.
Fisher: Yes, and we just got shot.
Operator: Okay stay on the line. I’ve got people on the way.
Operator: How many people got shot?
Fisher: Me and my friend.
Operator: You an employee?
Operator: And is your friend an employee?
Fisher: Yes. He got shot three times. I only got shot once.
Operator: And there was only the two of you there?
Operator: Ok stay on the line.
But Fisher is anxious to get off the line. The gunman has returned, and Fisher, worried about being spotted, tells the operator to be quiet.
Fisher: Ok. shhh. Here he comes.
The phone call ends. The gunman shoots Fisher in the head. By the time police arrive, it’s too late. David Fisher and Garrett Iverson are dead. An investigation is launched immediately.
Stafford: Were there any possible leads for the homicides?
Schultz: A vehicle had been seen in the area that consisted of either three or four males and a female who they believe to have been casing the area.
Police begin searching for the group of possible suspects. At the same time, authorities decide to seal the cycle shop, and wait for a warrant before looking for evidence inside the store.
5 p.m. Police Headquarters. A fellow employee of Ben Lopez is still being questioned about Lopez’s early morning murder. Detectives gather for a routine debriefing on the status of the case.
Wilham: I don’t know what was said at that debriefing, but at a typical one, they’re talking about what evidence they’ve gathered, what they need to do in the future. You know, where they’re going to go next.
5:10 p.m. Police Dispatch Center. Someone from Presbyterian Hospital calls police to report a threatening phone call to one of the doctors. Although John Hyde has been making threats against the hospital since 9 that morning, this is the first law enforcement has heard of it.
Stafford: How do police respond to that call?
Wilham: An officer’s not dispatched. We were told by the police chief that the reason why the officer wasn’t dispatched initially is because it was second hand information.
5:49 p.m. The head of Presbyterian Hospital phones Robert Hyde to say that his brother John has been making death threats against employees, and that the hospital will ask the police to pick John up for a medical evaluation.
Stafford: And how concerned are you at this point?
Robert Hyde: I’m extremely concerned obviously, but also relieved, because nothing terrible has happened. He’s made some threats but now they’re going to pick him up.
Minutes later the hospital’s head of security calls Robert, asking for a description of his brother John.
Robert Hyde: He’s probably wearing a long sleeved leather motorcycle jacket, camouflage pants, long hair, black helmet, black spray painted dirt bike.
The hospital’s written request for a pick up says “John Hyde presents a likelihood of serious harm to others or to self. Immediate detention is necessary.”
While that sounds ominous, police officials say it is routine language required to justify a pick up order, that they had no other reason to be concerned.
Chief Schultz: At this point in time, checking John Hyde’s record, there is no history of violence.
6:15 p.m. The head of Presbyterian Kaseman Hospital clearly thinks this is more than a routine pick up order. He places an extraordinary phone call to the U.S. Marshall for New Mexico, whose wife works for the hospital, asking the marshal to call the police on the hospital’s behalf.
Stafford: And he called the chief of police?
Wilham: Chief of police, the deputy chief of police, a second deputy chief of police, and the commander of the swat team.
Stafford: So news of John Hyde’s threat is suddenly traveling through the channels at APD.
Wilham: Not through normal communications, through executives, through high-ranking officials. Both from the hospital and in the law enforcement community.
Stafford: What do you think’s going on here?
Wilham: Obviously, from the facts that we know, the people at the hospital at this point were taking things very seriously.
By now, Robert Hyde’s phone is ringing off the hook. He takes a call from a member of the police crisis intervention team who wants to know if John might be armed.
Robert Hyde: I said, “I know he has knives. He may very well have a gun. And I would consider him dangerous.” I said, “I’m very concerned that nobody gets hurt here.” And he said “Oh, that’s my main priority. we don’t want anybody to get hurt either.”
6:29 p.m. The head of the hospital’s security sends an email to all employees warning that threats have been made, and the facility is on a heightened state of alert. The suspect is described as 5'10, long black hair, and multiple body piercings, wearing camouflage clothing and riding a motorcycle. At almost the same moment, at the Rider Valley Motorcycle shop on the other side of town, a witness tells police he saw someone riding away on a motorcycle about the time David Fisher and Garrett Iverson were killed.
Stafford: How does the witness describe the man he saw leaving the motorcycle shop?
Wilham: Similar description—with multiple piercings, that was given in the email.
Stafford: So the description from the witness at Rider Valley is matching the description given out by the hospital.
7:04 p.m. Police arriving at the hospital, get the pick up order for John Hyde. Contrary to what his brother Robert Hyde told the hospital administrator, a nurse tells police that John Hyde does not have weapons, though he may be off- balance.
Wilham: He was told that Hyde was just “a little bit crazy, that’s all.”
Stafford: Are police receiving mixed messages from the hospital about how dangerous John Hyde is?
Wilham: It appears that way, from what we’ve been able to find out.
By now, Dave Fisher Sr. is growing concerned that his son hasn’t come home from work, he doesn’t answer his cell phone, and no one is picking up the phone at the motorcycle shop. He and his wife decide to drive there. As they approach the store, it’s clear something is terribly wrong.
Sue Fisher: And an officer came out, and then they just said there was two young men in there and they were both deceased.
Stafford: And you know at this point?
Sue Fisher: You’re hoping not. You’re kind of looking to see maybe David’s standing off to the side somewhere. And you’re hoping he’s not in the shop.
Store owner Gino Pokluda, harbors those same hopes as he arrives at the scene.
Gino Pokluda: It was just devastating. I just broke down.
Stafford: What did you say?
Pokluda: Not so much saying, but you know, crying a lot. And just—it’s just awful. It was a horrible feeling.
At this point, police are chasing two leads in the motorcycle shop murders: a group of potential suspects in a car, and a lone motorcycle rider. Downtown, detectives continue questioning a co-worker in connection with Ben Lopez’s murder. Three people have been shot to death in two separate incidents in Albuquerque, and the police are nowhere near making any arrests.
Wilham: All they needed you know was just one lucky break.
At Rider Valley Motorcycles, the investigation into the murders of David Fisher and Garrett Iverson continues. Police want to know if a disgruntled customer could have killed the two young men.
Gino Pokluda: I said, “Not that I could think of at that time. Not any that would have done something like this.”
Police tell store owner Gino Pokluda that at least one eyewitness saw a man with long hair and multiple body piercings leaving the store about the time of the shootings. Suddenly, Pokluda makes a connection with a customer, but he can’t remember the man’s last name.
Pokluda: But I do remember that I did work on his bike earlier in the summer.
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Is there a way to find out his last name?
Pokluda: Sure. Yeah, we would have it written on our maintenance ticket.
Stafford: And where’s that maintenance ticket?
Pokluda: Inside the shop.
But police say they have to wait for a search warrant before they or the shop owner can go inside to look for the work order.
Stafford: How long would it have taken you to find that work order?
Pokluda: Oh, probably about 10 minutes.
David Fisher, talking separately to police, tells them about his son’s confrontation with a customer the day before. He can’t understand why police are waiting for a search warrant.
David Fisher Sr.: I’m thinking at this point in time, “What difference does it make? We need to find out who it is.”
9:04 p.m. More than four hours after David Fisher and Garrett Iverson were killed, police, with warrant in hand, head inside the motorcycle shop to search for evidence. Outside, Gino Pokluda and David Fisher’s parents come face to face for the first time that evening.
Stafford: What was said?
Pokluda: “I’m sorry.”
Stafford: And do you remember what they said back?
Pokluda: “I’m sorry too.”
Fisher: I knew that Gino would feel some sort of responsibility. I didn’t want him to feel that. And we’re hugging each other, and trying to make some kind of sense out of this.
9:15 p.m. The late summer sun has set. In response to the request from the hospital, the police dispatch center sends Officers Smith and King, to pick up John Hyde for an evaluation. Both Smith and King had recently rejoined the force after brief retirements.
At 9:43, they arrive at the corner of Ash and Gold streets in the southwestern section of Albuquerque.
Stafford: Did your officers have the information they needed about John Hyde when they went to pick him up?
Chief Ray Schultz, Albuquerque PD: This was pretty much a standard pick-up. Officers responded the way we would have normally responded.
Hyde lives in a small apartment. The two officers stand on a tiny, dark porch, trying to persuade Hyde to go with them.
Officer Smith turns on a small audio recorder which he carries on his belt, to record the conversation he and Officer King have with Hyde.
Stafford: Does John Hyde sound agitated on the tape?
Police Chief Schultz: He appears to be very lucid in the tape.
The tape recording lasts for 23 minutes. The two officers seem to persuade John Hyde to go with them voluntarily.
Wilham: He asked for a drink of water. And they allowed him to go into his residence, and gather his belongings.
10:15 pm. Seven minutes after the tape recording ends, a frantic call.
Smith: Shots fired. Down. Officer down.
Officer Smith is heard on the police radio saying “Shots fired!! Officer down.!!”
Officer King is shot one time and falls immediately. And then there’s a gun battle that ensues between officer Smith and Mr. Hyde.
Stafford: What does Officer Smith do?
Shultz: Officer Smith left his position to try to get to Officer King.
Wilham: He didn’t know if his partner was dead or alive. He obviously was risking his own safety to help his partner. And in the end, it might have cost him his life.
Within a matter of seconds, it is over.
Wilham: Officer Mike King was shot in the head. And Officer Smith was shot what appears to be through the armpit of his vest. And a round lodged into his heart.
10:18 p.m. Witnesses hear John Hyde yell “Mexican Mafia rules” as he jumps on his motorcycle and races away. Police responding immediately to the scene quickly get a description of the man who gunned down the two police officers.
Shultz: Male on a black motorcycle with the black helmet and the multiple piercings. That’s when the officers who were up at the homicide investigation scene at the motorcycle business realized that this was the same individual.
Stafford: And what’s the name?
Shultz: John Hyde.
The link among 4 out of the 5 murders that day comes just minutes after officers Smith and King are shot. Police immediately launched a massive manhunt.
Wilham: It was like the city was on lockdown. Every officer was out, seemed like every street was blocked.
Hyde is on the loose. Police believe he is still armed, extremely dangerous, and likely to kill again. What could have caused a man with no history of violence, with almost no contact with police, to commit such violent acts?
While the murder of Ben Lopez early on the morning of August 18th remains a mystery, police believe they know who killed David Fisher and Garrett Iverson at the motorcycle shop, and gunned down Officers Richard Smith and Mike King. A huge manhunt is underway for John Hyde.
Police have had little contact, and no trouble with John Hyde over the years. He and his younger brother Robert were adopted separately into the same family. Robert remembers the usual sibling rivalries.
Robert Hyde: He was always better at everything. He was someone that I looked up to.
John was an excellent student, with a promising future.
Robert Hyde: He was a national merit scholarship finalist. He could have gone to any college in the country on scholarship.
His family was bewildered when John decided not to go to college. Instead he went to live on the family ranch in Colorado. Then, when he was in his early 30s, John had a mole removed from his face. His reaction to that minor surgery was bizarre and worried his family.
Robert Hyde: He said that he had seen a doctor and that they had moved his face around.
Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Moved his face around?
Robert Hyde: He looks in the mirror and thinks it’s not his face. And at that point, I thought, “Something weird’s happening here. And then he starts talking about other things like people are following him.”
According to Robert, John’s behavior was like nothing he had ever seen.
Robert Hyde: I remember calling my mom and saying “This is not about alcohol and drugs, this is a mental illness.” And she was just floored. We had no experience. We didn’t know what to expect. What do you do?
John was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He heard voices—thought people were following him. He went to therapists and doctors, and tried medication to keep his demons at bay. But the drugs didn’t help much.
Robert Hyde: They tried one medication, didn’t work, so he quit taking it. The side effects are just so debilitating that the illness itself is better than the side effects of the medication.
John’s best friend growing up, was his cousin, Christian Meuli, the man who would later become Sally Lopez’s doctor. Over the years, Christian saw his cousin deteriorate.
Christian Meuli: He was very frustrated. He was very depressed with his diagnosis, and his inability to do things.
Schizophrenia can be like a swinging door. Sometimes it opens to let in the sunshine and fresh air. According to medical records and notes from his therapist, when John was in his 40s, he began to respond to his treatment. A new medication worked without side effects. He became optimistic, began to socialize, and decided to pursue a college degree after all.
Robert Hyde: And boom, he starts to bloom again. The eyes come back, the mind comes back.
Meuli: He totally reset his whole life—yeah. The old John is back again.
Then, just as suddenly, the doorway into John’s world slammed shut. In late 2004, 10 months before the murders, he went into a rapid downward spiral. John came to believe that doctors had made a terrible mistake, that he really wasn’t paranoid or schizophrenic.
Robert Hyde: I remember him coming to my house, sitting down on the chair and saying, “I think they’ve misdiagnosed me.” And I said, “Do you really believe that?” And he goes, “I think so, yeah. I was misdiagnosed.”
John Hyde’s sudden change in behavior coincided with a change in his medication. His reaction was so dramatic, John wrote an open letter to the hospital, demanding a different medication, and a different doctor. Robert kept a copy.
“The side effects of the medication are many and unpleasant. I lost many years of my life due to improper medical care. And I don’t intend for that to occur again.”
We don’t know if the hospital received the letter. Whatever the case, by early 2005, John was taking his medication irregularly, if at all. And his condition continued to worsen.
Stafford: What changes do you start to notice in John?
Robert Hyde: The first thing I noticed was black fingernail polish. And then it was a piercing, facial piercing, maybe the ears, and then one in the neck. He started talking about the devil and Satan and that had never come up before.
Stafford: Does he feel a connection to Satan?
Robert Hyde: I’m not sure what he feels. But I mean, to me it’s just—he’s losing it. And at that point, I didn’t even know that things were going to get worse.
For years, John was well enough to take care of his elderly mother. But one day, in the spring of 2005, he locked her in the house. She was afraid she would not be able to unlock the door, because she suffered from severe arthritis. So she called 911.
Stafford: The police arrive, and how does he react?
Robert Hyde: He said, “You better get my mom in for a mental evaluation, there’s something wrong with her, she’s insane.”
Stafford: She’s the one that’s sick.
Robert Hyde: And the police took him out into the driveway and talked to him and he said, “I’m fine. I’m taking my medication. I’ve been taking my medication for years. I’m fine.”
Later, John attended a public meeting of the police review board. He insisted that he was the victim in the confrontation with his mother, and that the police had been disrespectful to him.
For his brother Robert, the incident was one more sign of John’s deteriorating condition. Robert says he tried calling John’s psychiatrist and therapist, and hand-delivered a letter to the hospital, pleading for help. Four months before the murders, John was picked up for an evaluation, but he was quickly released.
Stafford: What did the doctors say the next day?
Robert Hyde: Well, I called the therapist and I said, “What happened?’ and she said, “Well, I guess we’re just gonna have to wait ‘til this escalates a little more.”
Stafford: Escalates to what?
Robert Hyde: What it means to me is that he’s gonna have to get violent or hurt somebody or hurt himself until we can get him some help.
By now, John’s illness was in high gear. Christian Meuli tried to help his cousin, by inviting him to stay in a guest house next to his home. Christian, a family physician, thought would be safe, so Christian went on a long-planned vacation, leaving John with explicit instructions.
Meuli: And I very specifically said, “You don’t need to worry about the cat and don’t water anything.”
Stafford: And what does he do?
Meuli: He starts leaving multiple spigots on. Watering the field. Watering wind breaks. Watering trees around the house.
Stafford: How much water are we talking about?
Meuli: 292,000 gallons of water in three or four weeks.
In early summer, his brother Robert was driving to work, when his brakes failed. So he had it towed to a mechanic.
Robert Hyde: He called me and he says, “You got any enemies?” And I said, “what do you mean?” and he said, “Well, somebody cut your brake line.”
Stafford: Do you have a suspect?
Robert Hyde: I think it is probably my brother. And it was just getting pretty scary.
Stafford: You’re scared?
Robert Hyde: Right.
Stafford: Do you think he’s a time bomb at this point?
Meuli: I thought so.
Robert Hyde: Yes.
On August 18, 2005 John Hyde exploded. Robert called his mother to tell her what had happened.
Robert Hyde: I said “John had shot two police officers.” And you just never think that that would ever happen in your life that you’d have to say something like that to your mother.
Stafford: And it wasn’t over.
In three separate shootings, a state transportation worker, two motorcycle shop employees, and two police officers have all been brutally murdered in Albuquerque on the same day.
T.J. Wilham, Albuquerque Journal: It was one of the worst days in the history of the city, without a doubt.
The man wanted for four of those murders, John Hyde, is still on the loose.
Eleven minutes after midnight. An officer spots Hyde on his motorcycle and gives chase. Hyde collides with the police cruiser but survives with minor injuries. He is arrested immediately.
Wilham: And according to reports that we obtained, he said that he was sorry for what he did, or something to that effect.
Unaware of the arrest, Sally Lopez, the widow of state transportation worker Ben Lopez, awakens in the middle of the night. Unable to sleep, she wonders if police will ever figure out who killed her husband earlier that morning. Then Sally turns on the news, and hears a report that suddenly jars her memory.
Sally Lopez: They were talking about the killings the shootings at the motorcycle shop and Ben’s murder. And then about two policemen being wounded. And then the person that they were after was on a motorcycle.
Stafford: You hear “motorcycle” and “suspect.”
Stafford: What goes through your mind?
Lopez: The conversation with Ben.
Sally suddenly recalls that the night before her husband’s murder, he told Sally about a strange man who was riding around the transportation building just as Ben was closing up for the day.
Lopez: He had asked Ben for motorcycle oil. And he specifically said Pink oil.
Stafford: Pink oil?
Lopez: Pink oil. And, you know, Ben told him didn’t have any. And he told him to leave the property.
Stafford: Did the man on the motorcycle say anything back to your husband?
Lopez: That he would be sorry.
When Sally calls the police with her information, their investigation goes in another, unexpected direction.
Wilham: I was sitting right next to my colleague, we were both working this together, and I remember him saying, ‘Oh, my god.’
As the investigation into the shootings on August 18th continues, police conduct ballistics tests on bullets from all five victims. Those tests confirm they all came from one weapon: a World War One era pistol owned by John Hyde. The tests also confirm the suspicions raised by the call police receive from Sally Lopez.
Later that day, Chief Schultz holds a news conference. Reporter T.J. Wilham is in the front row.
T.J. Wilham, Albuquerque Journal: I had no clue that he was gonna go in there and say that that Ben Lopez killing was connected to John Hyde. And I remember I was sitting right next to my colleague. And I remember him sayin’, “oh my god!”
Two days after the shootings, John Hyde appears in court on five counts of first degree murder. But he seems more concerned with his clothes than his crime.
John Hyde (in court): Your honor, I have not been allowed to groom myself and have been put in a red jump suit like Elvis Pressley and my hair looks ridiculous. And it’s moppy. I do not appreciate standing before a court of law looking as I do now. I’m not allowed to groom myself and appear as I should be allowed to appear before a court of law in the United States of America. Thank you your honor.
In the aftermath of the killings, the police wrote an investigation report which says that John Hyde had gone to the hospital on each of the three days before the shootings, asking for help but did not receive treatment. As for the decision to wait to search the motorcycle shop until they got a search warrant, police say it was the right thing to do at the time, because they initially thought those killings were part of a robbery.
Chief Schultz: It’s the safest way to make sure that any evidence is collected, can be admitted into court for the prosecution.
Since the killings, John Hyde has been at the state hospital, where doctors have determined he is incompetent to stand trial. His family believes that while his actions were caused by his mental illness, and the hospital failed to give him adequate treatment, that doesn’t excuse what he did, and he should be punished.
Christian Meuli, John Hyde’s cousin: He needs to be incarcerated for the rest of his life, hopefully in a mental institution and be out of society. And I think society needs to see that as well for its own feeling of safety.
But that is not nearly enough to satisfy all the relatives of his victims.
Sally Lopez: I want the death penalty. I don’t want him to stay in a hospital.
Dave Fisher Sr.: I truly hate him. I want to see him die for what he’s done. He’s caused pain beyond any repair. It’s not in me to forgive him for what he’s done.
The Fishers are left to ponder the haunting questions that come when they miss their son the most. What if, for example, the 9-1-1 operator had asked their son the name of the shooter. Would he have known?
Fisher Sr.: Absolutely. There’s no question in my mind. He would have known his name.
Stafford: Why are you so sure of that?
Fisher Sr.: He knew it was Hyde, because they used that between one another at the store. They called him, you know, Jekyll and Hyde because of the different ways that he would enter the store. One day, he was in a good mood, one day he was in a bad mood.
Stafford: What difference would that name have made for the rest of what would happen on this day?
Fisher Sr.: I believe if she’d asked that name, it would have saved two police officers.
The Fishers do have sympathy for John Hyde’s family, believing that they did all they could to get help for him. And the two families share a belief that this tragedy was caused in large part by a failure of the mental health system.
Sue Fisher: I think the mental health system is just flawed. And it needs to... they need to have better procedures in place you know, to help people like John Hyde.
We tried repeatedly to ask hospital officials about their actions on August 18, 2005, but they have declined our request for an interview. As for John Hyde’s treatment over the years, hospital officials would only say that they have reviewed the case very carefully and remain confident in the care they provided and in their response to safety concerns. The hospital says federal privacy laws prevent it from commenting further.
The events of August 2005 have left this city with a mixture of bitterness and sadness that will not soon fade away. A memorial to Ben Lopez now stands outside the building where he was gunned down. A stone marks the corner of Ash and Gold streets, where officers King and Smith were shot. The Rider Valley Motorcycle store where Garrett Iverson and David Fisher lost their lives was sold. There is something else that remains here—the nagging fear that this could happen again.
Robert Hyde: I think that there’s a lot more to treating mental illness than just medication.
Stafford: You’re saying that the medication’s crucial, but doctors need to be keeping track of mentally ill patients?
Robert Hyde: Yes. And if they can be more accessible to their patients, I think it would solve a lot of the problems.
Stafford: That’s not the world we live in right now, though.
Robert Hyde: Well, then we’re gonna have to deal with these kind of tragedies.
One year after the murders, Albuquerque became the first city in the country to adopt Kendra’s law, which would allow the police to force mentally ill patients to take their medication if they pose a danger to themselves or the community. The law was named for Kendra Webdale, a New York City woman, who was killed in 1999 after a paranoid schizophrenic man pushed her in front of an oncoming subway. Whether the law would have prevented John Hyde from doing what he did is an open question, since he did not have a previous record of violence.
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