ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – During a heart-wrenching press conference Sunday, Albuquerque Public Schools officials revealed all of the victims in the hot air balloon crash had ties to the district. “We appreciated their service and we appreciated them as people and they dedicated their lives to children,” said APS Superintendent Scott Elder.  

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It was an emotional press conference held by the Albuquerque Public School district Sunday afternoon. New Mexico State Police named Susan Montoya who was an Assistant Principal at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary and her husband John Montoya, who was an Educational Assistant at Sandia High School as two of the victims in Saturday’s tragic hot air balloon crash. “Susan was known for having a joyful spirit and a kind heart,” said Troy Hughes, APS Associate Superintendent. “John had a servant’s heart. He loved working with the students and was always so kind.”

Marty Martinez, his wife Mary and the pilot Nicholas Melseki were the other three killed in the crash. APS Police Chief Steve Gallegos was visibly upset during Sunday’s presser as he described his friend Marty, who worked for the district as a field officer for 16 years. Gallegos said telling his staff about Marty’s passing was heartbreaking. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Gallegos. “Marty, when I mentioned his name I had this blank look from everybody out there, they couldn’t believe it.”

Officials said the Martinez and Montoya families were close friends and revealed the group went on the hot air balloon ride Saturday because Susan had it on her bucket list and got the ride as a gift from her staff. “Susan was moving to another school next year, so the staff at Georgia O’Keeffe chipped in funds to purchase a balloon ride for Susan and three guests as a farewell gift,” said Elder. “It was their way of showing Susan how much they loved and appreciated her.”

Elder said Marty, Susan and John had collectively served the district for more than 32 years and impacted thousands of students and staff and will be remembered as some of the best to work at APS. “Honorable and noble and I hope they know they made a significant difference in those peoples’ lives,” said Elder. 

Meleski also has ties to the district. His daughter is a counselor at an elementary school. The district is offering counseling services to staff impacted by the sudden losses.