In sermons for the fire department and the local jail, Pastor Greg Griego recalled how he was involved with gangs in California before he turned his life around and found God.
As his wife Sarah homeschooled many of their 10 children in their home in the semi-rural South Valley suburb of Albuquerque, Griego converted their backyard barn into a halfway house for released prisoners, forbade his children from playing violent video games and restricted what they watched on TV.
But somehow, Griego, 51, the brother of a former state senator, could not save his teenage son.
Nehemiah Griego, 15, allegedly turned against his father and the rest of his family early Saturday morning in what Bernalillo county, N.M., Sheriff Dan Houston calls an attack that goes "beyond any human reasoning or understanding." The boy stands accused of fatally shooting his parents and three younger siblings before being coaxed to his father's church where he allegedly confessed. An Albuquerque judge ordered Nehemiah held without bond on multiple charges of murder and child abuse resulting in death.
"It's horrific, what other word do you use?" Houston says. "It's the first time I've been to a crime scene with this much destruction."
Prosecutors say the teen will be tried as an adult. Griego reportedly waived his initial court appearance Tuesday afternoon. His public defender, Jeff Buckels, did not return a call seeking comment.
Parallels to Newtown
The family massacre immediately evoked memories of last year's mass shootings in Newtown, Conn. Griego also allegedly used multiple weapons including an AR-15 assault rifle. In both cases, the gunman first shot his mother. In Newtown, the shooter used his mother's guns, while in Albuquerque, Houston says, Greg Griego owned the guns.
In the Albuquerque case, a motive is still unclear beyond signs of alleged animosity in the family.
"Nehemiah stated that he had anger issues and he was annoyed with his mother," says the arresting officer's report. "He had been having homicidal and suicidal thoughts."
Police reports also say the alleged killer wore camouflage clothes and despite his father's rules found ways to play violent video games like Modern Warfare and Grand Theft Auto. Police did not say how he managed to play the games.
Police say the attacks began around 1 a.m. when the teen allegedly murdered his mother in her sleep and then forced his 9-year-old brother to look at her bloody face before shooting the boy and then their 5- and 2-year-old sisters as they wept in fear.
Police say Griego then text messaged a photo of his dead mother to his 12-year-old girlfriend, waited downstairs for about four hours for his father to come home, then shot him multiple times.
Griego told police that he then reloaded his weapons – police say the youth used a handgun in addition to the rifle – and put them in the back of the family's van "so that he could drive to a populated area to murder more people."
According to The Albuquerque Journal, Griego first called a friend who talked him into meeting at Calvary church, where his father Greg Griego had been a pastor.
A Church Confession
Once at the church, police say, the teen spoke with various people including his girlfriend and her grandmother, first claiming his family was in a fatal car accident but later saying they were shot in the family's home.
A church official drove back to the house with the teen, saw Greg Griego on the floor and called 911.
A report by the arresting officer says Nehemiah at first claimed someone else killed his family, but he soon confessed to being the shooter.
Statements of shock and condolence came from across the state, including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Facebook friend of Greg Griego's.
"Chaplain Griego was a dedicated professional that passionately served his fellow man and the firefighters of this community," says a statement by the Albuquerque Fire Department. "His calming spirit and gentle nature will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Greg's extended family."