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Famous roadside memorial in northern NM burned overnight

Caleb James
October 23, 2017 10:36 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Situated on a shoulder of State Highway 76, it was famous in its own right in a town known for its deep religious connection.

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But on Monday, two Chimayo sisters say the descanso meant to honor their murdered brother was set on fire and destroyed.

The entire northern New Mexico town of Chimayo is holy ground; a deeply spiritual place for many. For Catholics who make a pilgrimage to el santuario, Chimayo is sacred.

For 20 years, on the state road that cuts through this village, you could not miss it. Covered in flowers, it was perhaps the most famous roadside memorial for miles.

The painstakingly crafted descanso, created in honor of murder victim Tommy Martinez, who was shot dead here in 1998, attracts its own attention.

"This is the Rio Grande Sun," said Mary Lou Martinez, Tommy's sister, gesturing to a newspaper clipping that mentions her brother’s memorial.

She has kept every clipping. Her brother's descanso really is famous, having been featured in local papers and even having a brief cameo in a feature film years ago.

But on Monday morning, she couldn't believe her eyes.

''Oh my god," Mary Lou Martinez said. "What human being would do something like this?" 

Charred beyond recognition, blackened and barely familiar, someone had sent Tommy's memory up in flames overnight.

"This is somebody's husband, somebody's son, somebody's brother,' she said.

Martinez says the entire town is shocked. Local police are baffled.

"The police are very disgusted," she said. "They wish they knew who it was. Very disgusted. We met with two state police this morning."

It doesn't take much investigation to see how intensely the fire burned – crawling its way up the cross, into the heart-shaped metal surrounding it, and even up into a tree above the descanso. The flames were high and hot, singeing the leaves.

"But yeah, you can smell it," Mary Lou Martinez said. “Oh yeah, definitely. It was arson.”

But why? 

The Martinez family says it's hard to comprehend possible motives. The family is asking for any information that could help.

In the meantime, they aren’t letting the memory of Tommy goes up in flames with the descanso.

"We're going to put it up," she said. "They can burn it again. More power to them. But we're going to put it up." 

 

 

 

 

 

Credits

Caleb James

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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