Relief swept over Arivaca on Friday as the Pima County Sheriff’s Office announced three arrests in the brutal murders of a man and his 9-year-old daughter.
But along with it came despair at news that one of the suspects is a well-liked resident.
Albert Robert Gaxiola, described by friends and neighbors as “one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet,” was arrested in Tucson on Friday afternoon in connection with the May 30 murders of Raul Flores Jr. and his daughter Brisenia.
Gaxiola, 42, has relatives in Arivaca and had been working at the Rocking “A” Feed & Hardware store for about three years.
One Arivaca man, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was friends with Flores and Gaxiola. He said the quiet community that looks out for its own is shocked that Gaxiola could be involved in the crimes — especially the murder of a child.
“It’s kind of a slap in the face. Nobody would expect that,” he said. “He was a real nice guy. He loved kids.”
Still, he added, residents are relieved that someone is in custody in the face of rumors that drug cartels may have been involved, and that they could strike again.
Also in custody in connection with the incidents are Forde, 41, of Washington state, the head of a Minuteman splinter group called Minutemen American Defense, and Jason “Gunny” Bush, 34, alleged to be the trigger man and listed on the group’s Web site as “operations director.”
Sheriff’s officials said the three were looking for drugs and money to fund their efforts to keep illegal immigrants and drug runners out of the country.
All three have been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree burglary and one count of aggravated assault. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said officials are looking for other people in connection with the case.
Dupnik said Flores was “a large dealer” who likely had connections to large Mexican drug cartels and “has a history of being involved in narcotics.”
Most residents had an idea that Flores was smuggling drugs, the man said — his big car and money were a tipoff. But the real tragedy was that Brisenia had to pay the price.
Despite his flaws, Flores, known as “Junior,” was a good father, the man said; his daughters were “never dirty, always clean, well-dressed, polite, sweet little girls.”
Arivaca residents are now banding together behind their neighbors. Friday evening found a few women collecting donations to help support Flores’ wife, who was shot three times and is recovering, and his 12-year-old daughter, who was with her grandmother in Sahuarita when the shootings happened.
It was a somber scene as residents gathered at the midtown saloon. The conversations drifted from music to politics to sports, but always back to the events of May 30 as hugs and tears flowed.
Forde, the ringleader of the plot to murder and rob the Flores family, according to deputies, had sat at that bar months earlier while in town patrolling the border as part of her group, locals said.
Though they kept her at arm’s length, they said that she seemed normal, contrary to Dupnik’s assertion that she is “at best, a psychopath.”
Bush is unknown to residents.
Gaxiola, by all accounts, wasn’t involved in the Minuteman group, and his friends don’t know what could have motivated him to join Forde and Bush.
SOURCE: By Daniel Newhauser, Green Valley News