Eleven-year-old South Valley Middle School student Lucero Luna described by neighbors as a “kindhearted,” “sweet little girl” was shot in the head Wednesday night by her brother, 27-year-old Abel Gutierrez, an Iraq war veteran – who then turned the gun on himself, according to the Gilroy Police Department and neighbors who knew Lucero and her mother Martha Gutierrez.
As of 7 p.m. Thursday, Gilroy police were actively searching for Lucero and Abel’s mother, 52-year-old Martha Gutierrez. Officers believe she is critically injured or deceased based on forensic evidence at the scene. Police have obtained her cell phone and are investigating “several” different leads, according to GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.
He said a memo identifying Gutierrez as a missing person has been sent statewide to other law enforcement agencies. Locally, GPD officers are requesting help from the public as they “desperately” try to find Gutierrez, whom officers believe might require “immediate medical attention.” Gallacinao said police are currently searching “everywhere” for the missing mother, although he could not comment any further as to where she could be.
Police responded to the murder-suicide around 9 p.m. Wednesday inside apartment 201 at Redwood Apartments near Mantelli Drive in northwest Gilroy, according to Gallacinao. The incident was reported by two adult roommates who rented a room in the Gutierrez’s household. The roommates, who neighbors said were between the ages of 30 and 40, came home sometime Wednesday evening. About a half hour later, they noticed the bathroom door was slightly ajar and pushed it open all the way. That’s when they discovered the bodies of Abel and Lucero.
Once medical personnel were called to the scene, they confirmed that Lucero and Abel were dead.
When asked if Abel left a note behind, Gallacinao replied “we’re still investigating the incident, and I’m unable to comment.”
There were several firearms used in the shooting, according to Gallacinao, though he could not give details on the types of firearms at this time.
Residents at Redwood are still reeling and confused following Wednesday’s discovery of Lucero and Abel, who police say was an Iraq war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Neighbors say Abel, who “just got out” of the Army and was living with his mother and younger sister Lucero in apartment 201, was struggling with depression.
“He wasn’t mentally fit,” said Mario Reyes, whose 6-year-old daughter Evenny was good friends with Lucero. “He smoked pot because he was depressed.”
Gallacinao said GPD officers have been called to the Gutierrez’s apartment in the past because his family was concerned about his mental health and the fact that he suffered from PTSD. Police had actually coordinated with Veterans Affairs to get Gutierrez help, Gallacinao said.
Dave Galtman – senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6309 in Gilroy that provides outreach, contacts and services to local veterans – said he would have to speak to his post’s personnel regarding whether Gilroy’s VFW post was in contact with, or was actively assisting Abel.
Reyes, 27, and his wife Alissa Fernandez, 25, have lived in the apartment complex below Lucero for eight years. The two sat outside their apartment in their pajamas Thursday morning, visibly shaken and holding back tears as they pieced together the evening’s surreal string of events.
Reyes saw Lucero earlier Wednesday when she came downstairs to borrow a pizza cooking sheet. Later on around 1:30 p.m., Reyes said he heard a “thumping” sound from upstairs that sounded like “something dropped.” Having lived on the bottom floor apartment for a long time however, Reyes said he was used to hearing noises from upstairs and didn’t suspect anything.
Covering his mouth with one hand and choking back tears, Reyes motioned to Lucero’s bike parked in the downstairs foyer of the apartment. Lucero and Evenny would play together every day, Reyes said.
“She was kind of in shock…then it sunk in a few minutes later because she started to cry,” said Reyes, of having to break the news to his daughter.
GPD contacted the Gilroy Unified School District about the tragedy. Around 2:20 p.m. Thursday, GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores sent an email to the Dispatch after she departed South Valley Middle School.
South Valley Principal Anisha Munshi informed teachers of the news first thing Thursday morning, Flores said. A team of 10 counselors and school psychologists assembled by 9 a.m. in the library, which was closed to establish an area where students and staff could address the tragedy in a safe environment. Flores said a poster for Lucero now hangs inside the campus for students and staff to write messages and thoughts; another hangs in the front of campus and is designated for community members.
“There is a very somber atmosphere at the campus as students and staff are trying to cope with their grief and deep sadness about the death of this student,” Flores wrote.
Standing amid watchful residents outside the Redwood apartments Thursday morning, a woman named Emily who would not give her last name described Lucero as “the best little girl in the world.”
“There was no reason to hurt her or get mad at her,” she continued.
Emily, who recently moved to Los Banos after living in the Redwood Apartments for four years, echoed Reyes when she described Abel as someone who “wasn’t sociable.”
She felt uneasy around Abel from the start, Emily said.
Describing the community at Redwood as a place where residents band together like a family and always watch out for each other, Emily said she drove straight to Gilroy Thursday morning when she heard the news from her mother, who still resides at Redwood.
“You see this?” said Emily, pointing to a cluster of children playing together nearby. “This is every day. And Lucero was a part of it every day…all these kids here are best friends…they haven’t seen proof that (Lucero) is gone…I bet they’re still waiting for her to walk out that door.”
Lucero was described by Emily as having a fun and “take-charge personality,” leading the other boys and girls in their play times.
Emily’s son Julian, 11, remembered the last time he saw Lucero. He said that the two played Power Rangers in the back of his mother’s moving truck.
“When we got the call that someone was killed, I was begging and begging that it wasn’t Lucero,” Julian said.
Evenny Reyes, 6, daughter to Mario and Allissa Fernandez, sat on the play structure at Redwood Apartments, with several other children, looking at photos of Lucero on a friend’s cell phone.
“We were all best friends,” Evenny said.
A couple neighbors noted that parents who live at Redwood Apartments kept their children home from school Thursday.
The investigation remains “very active” at this time. The Gilroy Police Department is urging anyone with information regarding this case, or the whereabouts of Martha Gutierrez, to contact Detective Michael Bolton at (408) 846-0350. Parties wishing to remain anonymous may call We-Tip at 1-800-782-7463.
Staff writer Carly Gelsinger contributed to this story.