ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A man confessed to fatally shooting a 4-year-old girl while arguing with her father as the two men drove down a freeway in separate vehicles, police said, without offering more details on what led to the apparent road-rage slaying.
Tony Torrez, 32, was arrested Wednesday and admitted shooting Lilly Garcia while she was riding in the backseat of her father’s pickup truck with her 7-year-old brother, police said. He has been charged with murder, assault, child abuse and other crimes.
The children’s father had picked them up from school Tuesday when someone in another vehicle opened fire on the family as they travelled on Interstate 40, Albuquerque’s main east-west freeway.
The father told authorities that he was trying to exit the freeway when a car forced him out of his lane, a police statement said.
“The two drivers exchanged words when Torrez pulled out a gun and shot at the red truck driven by Lilly’s father,” the statement continued. “Lilly was hit at least once in the head.”
The father pulled over and tried to give his daughter first aid as a bystander called 911.
The little girl’s grandfather said the attack left the family deep in mourning.
“They really have to do something about this. It’s a problem,” Jose Garcia said Thursday, referring to gun violence.
He spoke to The Associated Press in Spanish as he stood outside the family home, which is just south of the highway where the shooting occurred in a newly developed area of west Albuquerque near a park.
Television crews were also outside the home that appeared crowded with visitors seeking interviews with the mother and father.
After the shooting, a man alerted a dispatcher to a truck stopped on an I-40 median with “an adult holding an unresponsive child,” according to a roughly minute-long call released by police.
Two nurses showed up and tried to save the girl’s life before an ambulance rushed her to the hospital, where she died, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said.
Authorities quickly began pressing the public for tips, offering about $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of the shooter, who was driving a newer-model maroon or dark red Toyota Corolla or Camry with a spoiler on the trunk and dark tinted windows. The car also had a University of New Mexico license plate.
With help from an anonymous caller and other tips from the community, detectives found Torrez, who “confessed to investigators he was responsible for the murder,” police said. He was being held on a $650,000 cash-only bond.
It was not clear exactly what led the incident to escalate, but the father told officers the shooting was the result of road rage.
The young girl’s death spawned an outpouring of sympathy nationwide. A GoFundMe account for funeral services and other expenses generated more than $64,000 since it was posted Tuesday. The hashtag .JusticeForLilly began showing up on social media.
Torrez has been tied to violent crimes in New Mexico dating back a decade, but all of those cases were dropped.
The only crime for which he’s been prosecuted was a misdemeanour speeding violation. He pleaded guilty to going 16 to 20 mph over the speed limit in April 2013, according to court records.
Around that time, charges including abandonment or abuse of a child and aggravated battery of a household member were dismissed after the victim died. Prosecutors also were not able to proceed with 2006 domestic violence charges.
At a news conference, the police chief released details of Torrez’s arrest and information about an unrelated shooting that evening that left an officer critically wounded. A man was later arrested in that case.
“For me, this is a terrible day,” Eden said.