ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Police Department credits technology with helping detectives solve crimes quicker this past year. One piece of equipment played a large role in uncovering who APD said is behind the shootings at four elected officials’ homes — the National Integrated Ballistics Information system, or NIBIN.
When responding to the shootings at the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley, New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martinez, and State Senator Linda Lopez, APD said officers collected bullet casings found on scene.
Each one has a fingerprint created by the gun that fired it. “It leaves specific markings on the shell casing — firing pin prints, ejector markings,” explained Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Special Agent Brendan Iber.
The casings are put into APD’s or New Mexico State Police’s NIBIN system, which creates images of the casing from various angles with different lighting. The images are sent to an ATF analyst who compares them to images of casings collected at other scenes. The analyst works to determine if there’s a connection.
“We will make the phone call and ask them for a priority on a case like this and they will assist us,” APD Chief Harold Medina said of the agency’s partnership with the ATF. “So now we’re able to get these casings in and out and get results back usually within hours once we send them in.”
Court records show APD got matches from casings picked up at the elected officials’ homes to casings found in various stolen vehicles recovered around the same time. APD found its suspect vehicles. Now, investigators needed to find the gun or guns used.
“And when the firearm is actually recovered and if they test fire the firearm, shell casings comes out,” Special Agent Iber said. “We put that in there, then it matches that gun to every single crime.”
APD got its first gun match after the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office arrested Jose Trujillo on January 3, 2023. A criminal complaint states a deputy pulled him over on a traffic violation. Trujillo had a warrant, so he was put in custody. As a result, APD said his car could be searched.
“During that search two firearms were recovered, and at least one of them has been a direct match to the shooting that had just taken place,” APD Acting Commander Kyle Hartsock explained. He was referring to the shooting at State Senator Linda Lopez’s home just after midnight on January 3rd. APD said Trujillo used a Glock handgun, outfitted with a drum magazine, to fire more than a dozen shots into her home. Investigators put Solomon Pena in the car during that shooting. He would later be their main suspect.
“In the law enforcement world, the more you know, the better off you are,” APD Commander Nicholas Sanders added. He runs APD’s Scientific Evidence Division. Sanders explained the agency has actually had the NIBIN system for almost a decade; but it has recently changed how detectives approach investigations, now that it is a part of the newly created Crime Gun Intelligence Center (CGIC) run out of APD’s Crime Lab.
“My CGIC coordinator, my CGIC analysts, they look through our NIBIN lead sheet returns. They pinpoint the information, then they start doing investigatory backgrounds on those and they’ll build out case files to supply over to our investigators,” Sanders explained. He said besides high-profile cases, the NIBIN packets are in high demand from APD’s Homicide Unit and they have been instrumental in clearing cases.
“We’re finding a lot of a lot of incidents are being connected to where we’re not seeing one-offs of a single gun at one scene. We’re seeing that gun being at several different scenes,” Sanders added. That insight, he explained, allows investigators to compare the now-connected crime scenes and see what else is similar. In the investigation into who killed three Muslim men between July 26 and August 5, 2022, it was a silver car seen at each murder scene. Police tracked the car to Muhammad Syed, confiscated his guns with a search warrant, and used NIBIN to confirm he was their suspect.
“Ultimately what this does, the NIBIN system will give us some leads that will help us solve crimes that basically before we just didn’t have a clue. Or, it would take us a long time to figure out how those firearms and those casings are related,” said NMSP’s Major Randy Larcher. He oversees the agency’s NIBIN system.
NMSP currently has one machine and is about to purchase another. The agency wants police departments across the state to use the equipment to help crack their cases. Major Larcher is urging all New Mexico law enforcement agencies to submit casings they need tested. Knowing that will be a lot of work, NMSP just hired more staff to triage requests. “It’s gonna be huge for New Mexico to fight violent crime,” Larcher explained.
APD is also expecting a second machine soon. Detectives are now working to track down the firearms used in the shootings at the three other elected officials’ homes. Two search warrants were served Monday in connection to the case. APD said any guns found will be test fired. Those casings will be entered into NIBIN, in an effort to find a match from those shootings.
Follow the original story here by Ann Pierret