As the city builds a memorial park for the victims of the West Mesa murders, some are asking where one of the site’s first memorials went.
The soon-to-be park at the dirt lot at 118th Street and Amole Mesa on Albuquerque’s West Mesa will honor the 11 slain women and the unborn child whose remains were found in 2009.
Over the last year as the lot has sat awaiting construction, many have noticed a series of crosses lining the site. Each cross was marked with the name of each victim.
“It really gave people an awareness of kind of what happened there,” said Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña of the Descanso memorial.
Pena’s district covers much of the West Mesa, including the burial site.
“To know that it brought peace to some folks,” said Peña. “It was really good.”
No one knew who put the crosses up more than a year ago, but as the city and relatives of the victims broke ground on the new memorial park in early June, the city planned on keeping the crosses in place.
However, days after the groundbreaking, the crosses disappeared. Contractors notified the city of what happened.
“Everyone went into red alert,” said Peña. “I got a call from the folks at Parks and Rec and they were very concerned.”
Before construction started, there used to be a cinder block wall where most of the crosses were located on or near. The wall was recently torn down, but it turns out the crosses were taken before that.
A local non-profit that formed after the West Mesa murders were discovered, Street Safe New Mexico, says it was behind the Descanso project.
“We wanted the attention to go to the deaths themselves, not our organization,” said Kathleen Burke, association director of Street Safe New Mexico.
The group, which helps women living on the street, both put up and took down the crosses. Burke says the crosses were removed for construction to protect the tribute to the slain women.
“It’s something that we have been trying to draw attention to for a number of years,” said Burke of the impact of the West Mesa murders.
While the group says it doesn’t know quite yet what’s next for the memorial, they say they’re grateful that people saw it and it meant something to many.
“We are glad that note was taken that not only were the Descanso put up in the first place, but then that when they were removed, it’s a good thing,” said Burke.
KRQE News 13 notified the city Tuesday of what happened to the crosses. The city provided the following statement”
“Last week, we were alerted by a Parks and Recreation employee that the memorials to the West Mesa murder victims had been removed from the site of the new memorial park. Since being notified, we contacted Councilor (Klarissa) Peña so that her office could notify the families. We also reached out to APD to determine what could be done to help secure the return of the memorials if they had been removed by unauthorized individuals. We are relieved to hear that Street Safe New Mexico has the items in safekeeping. As construction of the park continues, we will work with the families to ensure this sacred land is transformed into a fitting memorial site.”
-Philip Clelland, Public Information Officer for City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation
Street Safe New Mexico says it’s open to working with the city to implement the memorial crosses in some way at the new park. The park’s first phase of construction should be done by the end of the year.