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Suspect in Custody in Slayings of Seven People

January 28, 1991

CHIMAYO, N.M. (AP) _ A skilled hunter suspected of killing a policeman, a sheriff’s deputy and possibly five other people, including a 6-month-old boy, was in police custody late Sunday.

Ricky Abeyta, 29, allegedly shot the two officers Saturday, when they were caught by surprise while trying to serve a restraining order on Abeyta that had been requested by his girlfriend, who was among the dead.

″Ricky Abeyta is in the custody of the state police this evening,″ state police Major John Denko said Sunday. He couldn’t give details.

Law officers on foot and in helicopters had searched earlier for Abeyta in mountains near the cluster of modular homes where the victims were killed near Chimayo, about 100 miles north of Albuquerque.

Abeyta was believed armed with a rifle and two handguns, including a revolver taken from one of the slain officers. Neighbors and acquaintances described him as a skilled hunter.

All seven of the victims were shot to death after what Denko described as a domestic dispute officers may have stumbled upon in progress. It was the worst mass slaying in modern New Mexico history, authorities said.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that Abeyta was not responsible for all the shootings, which occurred at his home, state police Sgt. David Osuna said.

State police Officer Glen Huber, 35, and Rio Arriba County sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Martinez, 30, were killed Saturday as they approached Abeyta’s home, in the neighborhood at the end of a dirt road.

″Evidently, the situation became volatile before they got there,″ Denko said of the officers. ″They were caught by surprise, totally off guard.″

Huber was shot in the head through the window of his car, Denko said. Martinez was shot in another car. It was unclear which officer was shot first.

Police earlier had said two children were killed, but that report was incorrect, Denko said.

Osuna identified the dead as: Abeyta’s girlfriend, Ignacita R. Sandoval, 36, of Penasco; Ignacita’s daughter, Maryellen F. Sandoval, 19, also of Penasco; Maryellen’s 6-month-old son, Justin Gonzales; Justin’s father, Macario Gonzales, 19, of Alcalde; and Cheryl Rendon, 25, of Dixon, whose relationship to the others was not known.

Eloy Sandoval, 13, a son of Ignacita, was wounded and was in serious but stable condition Sunday at University Hospital in Albuquerque.

It was unclear how many were dead by the time the two officers arrived.

The first two bodies were found just outside the front door of Abeyta’s home. They were those of the baby and one woman, Denko said. The man’s body was found in a parked U-Haul truck in front of the house, Denko said.

About 30 officers surrounded Abeyta’s home, believing he was still inside. When they stormed it several hours later, they found the bodies of two women.

Abeyta’s pickup truck was found abandoned Sunday near Chimayo, Denko said.

Denko said Abeyta was believed to be armed with three weapons: a 7mm Magnum rifle, a .38-caliber handgun and a .357-caliber Magnum revolver taken from one of the slain officers.

The village is known for the Santuario de Chimayo, a small Roman Catholic church. It’s a site for pilgrimages, particularly at Easter time, because of what some believe are the healing powers of dirt from a hole in a church anteroom.

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