Police find grim evidence inside Iraq veteran’s car

Lucero Luna-Gutierrez, right, has some fun with a five-year-old ball python named Moseley in Nancy Frizzell's science class at South Valley Middle School.

Police suspend search for Martha Gutierrez: Police say they are suspending the search for the body of Martha Gutierrez, 52, who they believe was shot and killed inside a car by her son Abel Gutierrez, 27. She was last seen Tuesday, the day before her 11-year-old daughter Lucero Luna was murdered by Abel, who killed himself in the same apartment off Kern Avenue in Gilroy Wednesday.

Gilroy police recovered and impounded the car of 27-year-old Abel, an Iraq war veteran, and inside officers discovered evidence – including blood – in Abel’s 2000 green Ford Mustang, according to GPD Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.

“There was significant physical evidence found within the car to indicate a violent assault occurred, a firearm was discharged and somebody was shot within the car,” he said.  

New stories surfacing from friends of the Gutierrez family reveal that Abel – who allegedly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – was not the same person once he returned home from serving a tour in Iraq. Abel would talk to the wall, sleep with his guns and wake up from night terrors, shouting expletives at the Pakistanis and Iraqis out of a dead sleep, those close to him said. 

“I always wondered if he would kill himself, but never Lucero,” said Martha’s brother Faustino Gutierrez, who described Abel as a “perfect” older brother to Lucero.

Abel’s Ford Mustang was discovered Thursday in the parking lot of the Redwood Apartments near Mantelli Drive in northwest Gilroy, where Abel, Martha, Lucero and two other roommates shared a two bedroom apartment. 

A cell phone police believe to be Martha’s was also discovered in the vehicle, according to a press release from Gallacinao. Police are using the device as they attempt to pinpoint Martha’s exact whereabouts.

There are no other persons of interest or suspects at this time, police say.

Martha was last seen at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at home, according to Gallacinao. The GPD is currently coordinating with various law enforcement agencies as they continue to narrow down and scour locations for the missing mother, Gallacinao said. 

“She’s most likely going to be in the tri-county area,” said Gallacinao, referring to “rural areas” that include Santa Clara and San Benito counties. 

“We have been in communication with a couple of different Sheriff’s offices because of the potential that (Martha) may be in a very rural area,” said Gallacinao.

Police do not have any specific information regarding the last time Abel was spotted by friends or neighbors. They say Lucero was last seen around noon Wednesday. 

When asked if the GPD suspects that Abel killed Martha, disposed of her body and then returned to kill his sister and himself, Gallacinao said that GPD currently is “not releasing much in regards to the timeline. Right now, our priority is finding Martha because we are very concerned about her welfare.”

GPD does not believe Martha is anywhere in Henry Coe State Park, Gallacinao said. 

There were several firearms used in the shooting, according to Gallacinao, though he could not give details on the types of firearms used, or to whom they were registered.

Police responded to the murder-suicide about 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. According to neighbors, 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.

Gallacinao said GPD officers were called to the Gutierrez’s apartment on Feb. 29 because his family was concerned about his mental health. Police had coordinated with Veterans Affairs to get Gutierrez help, Gallacinao said.

“There was an argument during that day,” Gallacinao said. “(Abel’s family) indicated that he was more aggressive than usual.”

The GPD officer on scene and the family determined that Abel was not at risk of physically harming himself or others, Gallacinao said.

“At the end of the call the family specifically indicated that they were not in fear of being physically harmed,” Gallacinao siad. “The family primarily wanted (Abel) to get some help because he was not the same person who came back to them after the war.”

A vigil for the victims: Gilroy bands together in the wake of tragedy

In the midst of Wednesday’s shocking tragedy, more than 200 people gathered at the Redwood Apartments on Kern Avenue to light candles and bring gifts in honor of Lucero Luna–Gutierrez, the 11-year-old South Valley Middle School student who police say was fatally shot by her older brother Wednesday night.

“We have to walk this together, unified,” said GPD Police Chaplain Greg Quirke, who led the crowd in prayers and moments of silence for Lucero. Prayers were also said for Martha Gutierrez, the missing mother of Lucero and Abel. 

After speaking to the crowd, Quirke and GPD Police Chaplain Bill Hawkins led the crowd in a chorus of “Amazing Grace.” People lit candles and marched to the entryway of the Gutierrez family’s apartment, where loved ones shared memories of Lucero.

Abel Gutierrez was a “loving brother,” according to those who knew the family.

Martha’s brother, Faustino Gutierrez, 46, said the war completely changed Abel.

“He would play with his guns, and sleep with his rifle, and say ‘I killed a lot of people, I killed a lot of people,’ talking to the wall,” Faustino said.

Faustino said that Abel, who returned to the United States from Iraq five months ago, would wake up in the middle of the night in a terror, shouting expletives at the Pakistanis and Iraqis.

Faustino, who said that Abel was like a son to him, recalled how Abel began to smoke a lot of marijuana after the war. Abel had “lost his will to live,” and had a rocky relationship with his mother, according to Faustino.

When asked what kind of brother Abel was to Lucero, however, Faustino softened his voice and choked up. 

“Perfecto,” he said. “He was perfect.”

Faustino said that Abel was in therapy for PTSD, an extreme anxiety disorder often found in war veterans and those exposed to intense trauma.

“I always wondered if he would kill himself, but never Lucero,” Faustino said.

A Redwood Apartment resident and close friend of Lucero’s – a girl named Jannine, 13 – said that Lucero adored Abel and would brag to her friends that she was written into his will. Jannine said that Abel took Lucero to the park and Disneyland, and that Abel was like a father figure to Lucero. Neighbors say Lucero’s real father was completely out of the picture.

“She really looked up to him,” Jannine said. “He was a hero to her.”

During Thursday’s Board of Education meeting at Gilroy Unified School District offices on Arroyo Circle, Superintendent Debbie Flores led attendees in a moment of silence for Lucero. 

She commended the city chaplains and school counselors, psychologists and teachers for their “amazing” handling of the situation “under literally one of the worst circumstances.”

“What a sad day this has been for our school district,” she said, addressing audience members from the podium. “It’s at times like this that we all really reflect on what’s important in life. What matters is our family, our health and our times that we have in our lives to enjoy each other.”

Even during difficult times such as this, Flores said, when talk of the state budget crisis regularly dominates conversations and “we feel like we’re at odds with each other…there are a lot of things that unify us,” she continued. “And one of those things is the incredible students we have in our schools.”

How the public can help

The GPD is requesting the public’s help to identify where Abel Gutierrez may have been prior to this incident; a detail that will aid law officers as they search for his missing mother, Martha. 

Abel owned a green 2000 Ford Mustang with Washington license plates 169-VVJ (the car is now in police custody). Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the vehicle or Abel Gutierrez prior to Wednesday’s incident is urged to contact Detective Michael Bolton at (408) 846-0350.

Parties wishing to remain anonymous may call We-Tip at 1-800-782-7463 (800-78-Crime).

Click here to read Thursday’s story on the murder-homicide. 

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