This child had no one

At vigil for slain teen, Nambé community members face troubling questions and call for action

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NAMBÉ – Dozens gathered under the bright winter stars here on Wednesday night, holding candles and balloons in memory of Jeremiah Valencia, a 13-year-old who authorities say died in the community in late November after torture and abuse by his mother's boyfriend.

Lights from votive candles surrounded pictures on a makeshift altar, staged in front of playground equipment at the Nambé community center.

Just down the street, lights of a different sort flashed in front of the house where police say Jeremiah died: Santa Fe County sheriff's investigators executing a warrant to search the property on N.M. 503 where they believe Jeremiah was beaten to death. His mother, Tracy Ann Peña, her boyfriend, Thomas Ferguson, and his adult son, Jordan Anthony Nuñez, have been charged with child abuse and tampering with evidence in connection with the crime.

Officers searched the property for hours, scouring the garage and carrying evidence bags to a crime scene truck from 1:30 p.m. until well after dark, spokesman Juan Ríos said.

He declined to specify what they were looking for.

Just about a mile away, members of the community grieved -- and voiced their frustration.

This was the third violent death of a community member in recent years, one woman said to the 60 or so people at the gathering. She challenged the community to do better.

"This child had no one. We need to recognize that. We also need to recognize that we all had some kind of responsibility in it," the woman told the crowd. She said she drove by the house frequently and never realized what was happening. After the boy's death, which investigators believe was in November, nobody reported he was missing, prosecutors said Tuesday. And his death wasn't discovered by police officials until last week.

"How do we change it?" the woman said. "Go back and think about this. ... Go back and ask yourself why? And why? And why?"

Andrew Valdez spoke about his son, Leland, who died in a child abuse incident in January 2011. He was 3, Valdez said.

"That little boy had so much life to live," Valdez told The New Mexican. "I just hope our laws get stronger."

Valdez's mother, Sandra Valdez, was irate through her tears.

"What is it going to take?" Valdez said. "These kids are our future. If the law isn't going to do anything, how can we?"

Others recounted what they knew of Jeremiah's family. One woman who said she grew up with the boy's mother told the crowd that Peña had called her and asked for help getting out of her violent relationship with Ferguson.

"She was afraid of this man," the woman said.

Bert Gonzales said Peña had reached out to his eldest daughter as well, who used to go to school with Peña.

"She didn't know it was that bad," he said. "But then again, who knew?"

A younger daughter of Gonzales', who asked that her name not be used, said that she used to baby-sit Jeremiah when he was just an infant.

"I remember seeing a Bible in his diaper bag, and I thought everything was going to be OK," she said.

Since then, she said, her family had seen Peña on the streets of Santa Fe. She wonders how Peña, whose children were once removed from her home temporarily by the state Children, Youth and Families Department, had custody of her two children.

"We didn't know she was capable of having custody," Gonzales' younger daughter said.

Katarina Hernandez, a stay-at-home mom who organized Wednesday's vigil, said everyone in the community is feeling guilty that they didn't know enough to help prevent Jeremiah's death.

"We're a small community. When we see problems, we want to help," Hernandez told The New Mexican. "This guilt is felt throughout the community right now. What could we have done to help?"

Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or sedge@sfnewmexican.c­om.

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