Most of the homicides that occur in Roswell stem from two potential sources, domestic disputes or revenge killings. As Police Chief Phil Smith said in a recent Police Committee meeting: “Killings in Roswell are not random events.”
Most subjects know their victims and the victims know their attacker. In 2013, the City of Roswell and Chaves County have recorded a total of 11 homicides so far. Of these, one was the result of a domestic. The remaining nine are believed to be vendettas.
Revenge killings are not unique to Roswell or New Mexico. They are a nationwide problem, often part of gang wars.
Former Roswell Police Department Commander Leo Lopez referred to gang wars as civil wars, tearing a community apart. “It’s the same way in every corner of the country.”
Vengeance and vendetta are also part of New Mexico history, stretching back to the Lincoln County Wars and before. “Gangs are not new. Gangs started in the 1800s, when people banded together for protection against the Apache,” Lopez said.
Former FBI agent Dennis Kintigh says revenge killings are more clan wars, rather than gang wars — something of a Hatfields-and-McCoys feud.
While Lopez attributes vendettas to gangs, he admits that gang associations often follow familial lines.
“You are likely to join the same gang that your grandfather belonged to.”
The cycle of death, vendetta, revenge and death reverberates throughout a family, like a spider’s web, where one plucks a string and the entire structure vibrates violently.
He spoke of families wiped out through attrition. Lopez summarized the psychology behind revenge killings.
“The mentality is: ‘We get even. You kill one of mine; I’ll kill two of yours.’”
A former member of the Southeast New Mexico Gang Taskforce in the 1980s and 1990s, Lopez has seen the destruction gangs visit on the community and wreak havoc upon human lives.
He pointed out that the lines of vendetta are not always straight.
“It could be a cousin or a brother who takes up the cause. The cycle of revenge does not stop until everyone involved is either dead or in prison.”
The influence echoes throughout time as the vendetta is passed from one generation to another. A youth gets into a fight. He complains to his family, who decide to defend his honor. At the end of the confrontation, two people lie dead. Time passes. A third individual is killed. The homicide is traced back to one of the warring families.
Lopez explained that reputation is everything: “… any show of disrespect is reason enough to kill.”