Abe Romero laid to rest, community mourns Emilia Rueda, and saving the Trost clubhouse

It's hard to overstate the impact that covering trauma like our community has experienced this week has on our reporters and on our newsroom. Abe Romero. Kim Yacone. Emilia Rueda.

While it can in no way compare to the pain felt by the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives, we certainly feel their grief and the loss we often see, first-hand, expressed by the entire community — and particularly their closest family and friends.

As our community deals with this collective grief, we aim to share the stories of those behind the headlines — who they were, what they loved, and how they were loved by those closest to them. We aim to look beyond the circumstances that led to their sad and untimely deaths; we hope to share a deeper story.

Organ Mountain High School football players carry Abraham Romero’s casket to his gravesite at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Las Cruces on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.
Organ Mountain High School football players carry Abraham Romero’s casket to his gravesite at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Las Cruces on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022.

Abe Romero laid to rest

On Saturday, Organ Mountain High School senior middle linebacker and team captain Abraham Romero, 17, was laid to rest at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Las Cruces. Abe spent the last three weeks of his life in a coma at El Paso Children's Hospital after collapsing during his team's victory over Deming on Aug. 26.

Abe died at around 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. His exact cause of death has not yet been disclosed, though it has been reported he suffered from a brain bruise. It has been reported that doctors were uncertain what specifically caused Romero to lose consciousness during the game against Deming.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima declared Sept. 22 "Abe Romero Day" during Monday's city council meeting. The chosen date was fitting. Abraham Romero wore the number 22.

On Friday night, Organ Mountain played its hardest game of the season — and not because of Centennial's talent level. Friday afternoon, some Knights players attended a viewing for Abe before his burial. Friday evening, the team played their arch rival, Centennial, for their district opener. And Saturday morning, they attended Romero's funeral. Five of Romero's teammates were pallbearers. They lost the game. But the entire football community — spanning New Mexico and El Paso — has, for weeks, rallied around Abe to show their support for OMHS, and for Abe's family and friends. After the game, OMHS Head Coach Steve Castille said, “This is probably the worst 3-4 week run of anything we’ve ever had to deal with.

Las Cruces Sun-News sports reporter Stephen Wagner, who has been following all of these developments since Aug. 26, said:

Funeral services were held for Organ Mountain senior Abraham Romero Saturday, and he was laid to rest at St. Joseph Cemetery Saturday afternoon. Romero passed away Sept. 10 following a three-week battle in a medically induced coma.

Services for Romero were held less than 12 hours after the Knights played rival Centennial in their first game since Romero passed away. Five of his teammates served as pallbearers, and head coach Steve Castille provided a eulogy at the service. He discussed Romero’s heart, toughness and goodwill, adding that he and the Knights will continue to support his family. A teammate also spoke of the impact Romero left on him.

Castille said after Friday’s game he hoped Saturday would be the final “hard day” after three-to-four consecutively hard weeks.

Preservationists seek to save historic Trost clubhouse as developers seek to tear it down

A private developer is seeking the demolition of an iconic Las Cruces building, while a coalition of opponents — consisting of historical and preservation groups, a local arts council and government staff — are seeking to build the political will to make its destruction untenable.

A partial owner of the land said owners are open to working with anyone willing invest money, time and creative energy to save it.

The clubhouse on the old site of the Las Cruces Country Club has stood on the former golf course’s land since it was built in 1929 — and has remained vacant since the golf course and country club closed in 2011. Designed by noted El Paso firm Trost & Trost Architects and Engineers, the building has been a recognizable part of the Las Cruces area for decades.

Boarded up and marked with graffiti today, the near-century-old building's continued existence is in peril, as the owners of the country club land are seeking to demolish it as part of their plans to turn the area into a mixed-use development.

Michael McDevitt wrote about the tug-of-war last week:

The preservation of the iconic Henry Trost country club building may end up being the most high-profile case before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission when the matter inevitably ends up before that board. The historic preservation ordinance, a law passed by the city council almost three years ago, was a big deal for preservationists. But it included a key compromise — the self-designation of historic structures by their property owners.

The city is not the owner of the country club land. (The exact ownership is a whole ‘nother deal). But, importantly, that means the building can not be a designated local historic building unless current owners ask for it to be.

Though Las Cruces Historic Preservation Specialist Troy Ainsworth sees a way around this. He believes that, since the clubhouse meets the definition of a cultural property by code, the commission will be tasked with reviewing its potential demolition — which could lead to its salvation.

Police identify two killed in Alamo Street apartment

Last week, New Mexico State Police identified the two people killed at an apartment complex days after the police discovered the bodies.

Emilia Rueda, 20, and Carlos Esparza, 19, were killed at the complex in what NMSP suspects to be a murder-suicide, according to NMSP spokesperson Ray Wilson. Court records indicate that Rueda and Esparza hailed from El Paso.

“The NMSP Investigations Bureau continues to gather facts related to this investigation,” Wilson said over email. “At this point, it appears likely that this is a murder-suicide. A definitive determination will be made once all facts are collected and analyzed.”

This has been a tough story to follow, as information has been slow to be released. The New Mexico State Police took the lead as the investigative bureau on the case, as they were the ones called to check up on Rueda. It was to be a standard welfare check — but it turned out to be something much worse.

Sun-News public safety reporter Justin Garcia has been chasing this story since Monday, Sept. 19, when we first learned that two bodies were found in an apartment on Alamo Street. Information from the State Police was slow to trickle out. Justin said:

Sometimes the job is sitting and waiting for information to come to you. Sometimes the job is going out and finding the information. This week, it was both. The double-homicide on Alamo Street involved a lot of shoe leather reporting, but ultimately required confirmation from official sources. 

We knew since Wednesday all of the details in this story. But, we did not have that confirmation by NMSP. Why did we wait? Because we wanted to get it right and we wanted to make sure that everyone connected to the incident was made aware before the public got their hands on the story. 

It's never an easy call. But, it's one we have to make almost every day.

Desarae McCoy creates a flower arrangement for a customer on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at Flowerland 2.
Desarae McCoy creates a flower arrangement for a customer on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at Flowerland 2.

Flowerland florist shop going strong for more than 20 years

Las Cruces’ east mesa gained a florist shop this month when the well-known Flowerland opened up a second location.

Flowerland, formerly Barb’s Flowerland, has been operating in the community for 22 years. It was first opened in 2000 by Barb Baumann in the Arroyo Plaza. But by 2022, she said it was time to retire.

“I've enjoyed it thoroughly. I worked with the best people in the world. My customers were absolutely phenomenal,” Baumann said. “We’re still in contact with some of the customers, it’s really nice … But it was a family.”

Fellow business owner Natalie Chadborn — of the former CC’s Bath Bar — said she found out about Baumann’s plans and decided she was interested in taking over the florist shop. Ownership changed hands right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced business closures and stay-at-home orders.

However, the shop was deemed an essential business and was able to continue providing arrangements to the people of the community in a time when fear of the unknown was rampant. Larger events such as weddings were canceled or postponed, but friends and neighbors exchanged flowers to let each other know they were not forgotten.

Our reporter, Leah Romero, caught up with the flower shop's new owner to discuss how the business survived the COVID-19 pandemic, how they used the opportunity to improve the services they offer, and ultimately expanded to a second location. Leah said:

As a longtime Las Crucen, I was confused when I saw that the "Barb" in Barb's Flowerland disappeared sometime during the early COVID-19 pandemic. Finding out what happened was something I've been meaning to check out. Then I saw that the business opened a Flowerland 2 off Sonoma Ranch Boulevard.

I reached out to the business and they were very willing to sit down and talk to me. Turns out Barb Baumann, the former owner, decided it was time to retire and handed off management to Natalie Chadborn. While management changed and a few upgrades were made, Flowerland is still the welcoming place it's always been. And now they're more accessible to those on the east mesa.

I also spoke with Baumann and she said she has been enjoying retirement. But she frequently returns to the florist shop to visit her "kids."

Temple Beth-El welcomes female rabbi, a first for the Las Cruces synagogue

Temple Beth-El Las Cruces welcomed a new rabbi, their first female rabbi, this summer following a two-year long search.

Rabbi Evette Lutman comes to southern New Mexico from Denver where she served the community for several years. She is originally from Akron, Ohio.

Lutman explained that she wasn’t particularly involved in the rituals of her Jewish faith growing up. For a long time she said she was a “three-time-a-year Jew” — attending services for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement and Passover.

As a young adult, she earned her juris doctorate and started practicing law. Toward the end of her law career, she was working with family court, enforcing alimony, child support and visitation orders. However, she said she started feeling the need to develop her faith.

Lutman has a fascinating story to tell. At rabbinical school, she started working at a synagogue. It was during this time she met her wife, Shari Abramowitz. Following two years of school came one year of study in Israel. The couple traveled together, then returned to the United States.

Sun-News reporter Leah Romero had a chance to sit down and get to know Rabbi Lutman. Leah said:

I sat down with Rabbi Evette Lutman, the new rabbi for Temple Beth-El in Las Cruces. The congregation has been without a permanent rabbi for about two years. Lutman comes from a synagogue in Denver where she spent several years working with the congregation.

She arrived in Las Cruces in mid-July and has been settling into her new position — getting to know the people who are part of the temple's community.

Lutman is Temple Beth-El's first female rabbi and an out lesbian rabbi. She was lovely to talk to and flipped some of the questions I asked her back on me, which was a fun change of pace.

Michael McDevitt
Michael McDevitt

The Sun-News says goodbye to Michael McDevitt

This isn't easy.

On Friday, the Las Cruces Sun-News bid farewell to city and county government watchdog reporter Michael McDevitt, who has been at the newspaper since 2019. He'll be returning to Chicago — where he attended college at Loyola Chicago — to do a similar type of reporting that he has done in Las Cruces. He recently accepted a position with The Daily Line.

He's going to do a great job in America's third-largest city.

In this week’s episode of The Reporter's Notebook Podcast, we’re speaking to Mike about the time he spent in New Mexico.

During his three years covering Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, he has seen a lot — and has shared his reporting with our community. There was the search for a new city manager, municipal elections, a historic city council election, the city’s first instance of ranked-choice voting, multiple initiatives, a few scandals and so much more.

Michael has been a relentless watchdog reporter and a true asset to the Sun-News newsroom. We’ll miss his keen reporting and his attention to detail when writing stories for Doña Ana County readers. You can listen to the podcast before it officially publishes here.

On behalf of all of us at the Sun-News, best wishes, Mike. It's been an absolute pleasure working with you!

Damien Willis is a Lead Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-541-5443, dwillis@lcsun-news.com or @DamienWillis on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Abe Romero laid to rest, community mourns Emilia Rueda, and more