The makeshift memorial is a tribute to Jose Hernandez, a longtime postal worker and Army veteran, who was killed in the residential neighborhood on Monday. Hernandez, 47, was attempting to break up a fight between a mother and her teenage son outside their home when the 17-year-old allegedly shot him before escaping from authorities, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
The two-day manhunt came to an end Wednesday night when Xavier Zamora was found at a residence in southwest Albuquerque and taken into custody “without incident,” Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman with the Albuquerque Police Department, told The Washington Post in an email. Zamora faces a count of murder and an investigation is ongoing, Gallegos said.
The events leading up to Hernandez’s death began Monday afternoon.
Hernandez was working his route when he spotted Zamora and his mother outside their home arguing and intervened, according to the Journal. Zamora’s mother told police Hernandez stepped in to help her, but the situation swiftly escalated, KOAT reported.
Zamora allegedly “became aggressive” toward Hernandez, prompting the postal worker to mace the teen, the Journal reported, citing court records. Zamora retreated inside his mother’s house, and then re-emerged with a gun and shot Hernandez in the abdomen, police said, according to CNN.
Authorities say the teen dashed back into the house as chaos ensued.
Neighbors rushed to help Hernandez, but despite their efforts, he died at the scene, the Journal reported. Zamora’s mother also stayed by Hernandez’s side, according to KOAT.
SWAT officers then descended upon the neighborhood, believing Zamora to be hiding inside the residence. KOAT reporter Brandon Evans said Monday night that the sound of gunfire and “flash-bang grenades” could be heard coming from the direction of the house. Videos later showed damage to the exterior of Zamora’s home, including one shattered window that was boarded up. What appeared to be an outdoor light fixture had been knocked to the ground near the front walkway.
But the hours-long standoff didn’t end with Zamora’s arrest. When officers entered the home, the teen wasn’t there, even though neighbors said they had not seen him leave, KOAT reported.
As authorities searched for Zamora, the community mourned Hernandez’s death.
“Jose was a very special guy,” one resident told KOAT. “He was not your ordinary mailman.”
Martin Hernandez, one of Hernandez’s brothers, told KRQE the letter carrier was a father of four who loved superheroes.
“In his mind and in his heart, he always thought and did things like a superhero,” the brother said, later adding, “When we found out that this happened to him, we felt that ... if he were to choose a way to leave this Earth, it would probably be doing something like that.”
Tributes poured in for Hernandez. A memorial was swiftly erected near where he died, with one person leaving a note addressed “to a great mail carrier who sacrificed his life for the greater good.” Several miles away, outside the post office where Hernandez worked, balloons and flowers decorated the base of a tree, framing a homemade sign that read “Rest in peace Jose.”
“This tragic shooting has shaken our city,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement Tuesday. “We are grieving with the family of the victim, and with the entire postal service family.”
The Postal Service was “shocked and saddened” by Hernandez’s death, Rod Spurgeon, a spokesman, told CNN. Hernandez had worked for the agency for 12 years, CNN reported.
“We all loved Jose very much,” one of Hernandez’s co-workers, who declined to be named, tearfully told KOAT. “He was a very good guy. We’re just really sad and we’re dealing with it as best we can.”
Keller said Tuesday that the city will continue to “fight against the gun violence that has taken a terrible toll on our community.” The mayor ended his statement with a special request for residents.
“Albuquerque, please take some time in the next few days to personally make sure your local letter carrier knows how much you appreciate them, and give them your love and support,” he said.