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The father of one of the three Albuquerque teens accused of fatally beating two homeless men said Saturday his son was a homebody with a "clean record" — and can't imagine him to be the heartless murderer portrayed by police.
Joel Rios, the father of 18-year-old murder suspect Alex Rios, visited his son in jail for the first time Saturday to find out "what was he thinking that night," he told NBC News in an exclusive interview.
Joel Rios said his son denies being directly involved in the June 18 killings that police say were so brutal the two victims were pummeled beyond recognition with sticks and fists. "They’re saying a lot of things that aren’t true. Everything that they are saying on TV, and the police, what they are saying, is pure lies," Rios said in Spanish, while his sister-in-law translated.
Alex Rios, along with half-brothers Nathaniel Carillo, 16, and Gilbert Tafoya, 15, allegedly confessed to the vicious assault. Police said the teens also confessed to beating up at least 50 other homeless people within the past year.
The elder Rios said that he wished he would have been alerted to the alleged violent attacks sooner so that he could have put a stop to it before the deaths. His son is being held on $5 million bail on multiple charges, including murder, at the Bernalillo County detention facilities.
"The parents of Gilbert, they said the police went to the house and said that Gilbert and Alex and the other boy ... were bothering the homeless," Joel Rios said, upset that the police didn't also come to his door.
Albuquerque Police Officer Simon Drobik denied Saturday that police were previously aware the three teens had been targeting the homeless over the past year. "It's hard to get transients or homeless people to report crime, especially when they have been victimized," Drobik previously told NBC News.
Without the alert from the police, Joel Rios said, he had no idea his son had gotten involved in hostile behavior. "He never was on drugs, not alcohol, smoke, nothing. He has a good record, [a] clean record," he added.
But he admitted that his son may have spiraled into drug use the night of the attack. "He always was home and I'm surprised at what happened, and I think he was on drugs or something to do that," Rios said.
Meanwhile, Tafoya's out-of-control behavior may have stemmed from being "very angry over breaking up with his long-time girlfriend," a criminal complaint said.
The victims have been identified as Al Gorman and Kee Thompson, both Navajos, according to NBC affiliate KOB.
On Saturday, politicians, community members and Navajo leaders gathered at the site of the killings — a mattress-strewn lot — to commemorate the men.
“How many of us would have turned these men away if they came up to us for help? How many of us would have locked the door,” State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, who represents Albuquerque, asked the dozens who gathered.
“We have to be more compassionate and loving as people,” he urged.