Two men are dead after witness reports of a shooting inside a camper trailer that was later followed by a standoff and police shooting.
KRQE News 13 has learned that both of the men found dead had deep ties to the New Mexico hot-air ballooning community and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
New Mexico State Police say 55-year-old Michael LaPlante and 70-year old Fred Lete were both found dead of apparent gunshot wounds inside a trailer at the KOA campgrounds in Bernalillo.
LaPlante was a longtime flight director or “zebra” at the Balloon Fiesta. He was interviewed by KRQE News 13 in 2005. Fiesta organizers say LaPlante was also signed up to volunteer as a zebra for the upcoming 2018 Fiesta.
Lete was a balloon pilot from Rio Rancho and flew at the Balloon Fiesta several times, including in 2017. Lete was also listed as one of the judge’s in the 2017 “America’s Challenge” gas balloon race.
The incident involving LaPlante and Lete unfolded around 6:30 p.m. Monday. Neighbors told KRQE News 13 they heard around five gunshots shots coming from a camper trailer two spaces away.
“There was arguing… and then shots fired,” said Tanya Palmer, a neighbor who heard the shooting.
Neighbors told KRQE News 13 LaPlante was living in the camper trailer.
“Our Mike lives here, and he’s the one that was the really sweet, lovable guy,” said Lisa Stoner, who lives nearby.
“Really kind, really gentle,” said Palmer, speaking of LaPlante. “And (he) got confronted, I guess.”
New Mexico State Police say Bernalillo Police responded after the initial “shots fired” called at the campground. When officers arrived, New Mexico State Police says Lete opened the door of the trailer while holding a revolver in his hand.
New Mexico State Police says a Bernalillo Police officer then fired multiple shots at Lete as Lete went back inside the trailer and “barricaded himself.”
A SWAT team set up a perimeter, then used equipment some time later to look inside trailer. Officers saw both Lete and LaPlante dead from apparent gunshot wounds.
A .38 caliber revolver was also found inside near Lete.
New Mexico State Police hasn’t said how Lete or LaPlante knew each other or who killed who. However, police are treating LaPlante’s death is being treated as a homicide.
A spokesman for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta related the following statement Tuesday about Michael LaPlante:
The events in Bernalillo are tragic. Mr. La Plante was a long time Launch Director, his regular involvement and contributions will be missed. He helped Balloon Fiesta to be successful and will be missed by our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those impacted by Monday night’s events.
–Tom Garrity, spokesman, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta