Santa Fe police on Friday were still trying to determine what led 34-year-old Jessie Saucedo to fatally shoot his wife, Ernestine Saucedo, just after noon Thursday (July 11) in an SUV parked outside a downtown state office building where she worked.
The tragedy came a day after the 32nd birthday of Ernestine – a popular local Tejano singer-songwriter who performed under her maiden name, Ernestine Romero – and four days after the couple's second anniversary. Although they remained married, the Saucedos had not been living together for several weeks, police said in a news release announcing the deaths had been classified as a murder-suicide. "This tragic, heartbreaking incident has shaken our community and personally affected many," police said in the statement. "We ask the community to keep the families, friends and co-workers affected in mind as we collectively process yesterday's loss and begin the journey towards healing from this senseless tragedy."
Romero was scheduled to headline entertainment for the Gran Baile de Las Fiestas in Taos Saturday night (July 20).
Santa Fe police Deputy Chief Ben Valdez said after reviewing autopsies and an assessment of the crime scene, detectives determined Jessie Saucedo had shot his wife twice in the upper chest with a semi-automatic pistol as she sat in the front passenger seat of the SUV. Jessie Saucedo, in the driver's seat, had a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. The firearm was found inside the vehicle.
Ernestine Saucedo's grief-stricken co-workers at the state Public Education Department were sent home Thursday as officers investigated the scene for hours. The building remained largely empty Friday. A memorial of candles, flowers and balloons grew outside the building as friends, family members and others stopped by to share memories and offer silent prayers for her.
Hugo Lopez, a former classmate at Pojoaque Valley High School, rode up to the memorial on a bike. "She was very close with me and my family," Lopez said wistfully of the woman he knew as Ernestine Romero. "Just her smile and hearing her sing – I haven't seen her in years, but when I heard about this, I had to come pay my respects."
Miranda Garcia, human resources director at the education department, recalled a vibrant young woman known at the office as always having an ibuprofen for your headache and a birthday present for your child. "She had this glow to her," Garcia said. "She always had that smile."
Friends and neighbors also spoke fondly of her husband, who worked for his family's plumbing company, according to online business listings. "He was always respectful, diligent," said one neighbor living near the couple's home on Mutt Nelson Road south of Santa Fe. She declined to give her name. "He did a lot of work for us."
Jessie Saucedo's father, Victor Saucedo, declined to comment in a brief phone interview. "Just continue to pray for both families," he said.
Ernestine Saucedo's family could not be reached for comment. Her mother, Olivia Romero, said in a Facebook post Friday: "Ernestine enjoyed getting a crowd going and often involved the audience by inviting them to sing along and dance with her on stage. While her talents always shined brightly, it was Ernestine's ability to make each fan feel special and create a truly unique interaction with each person she encountered."
Her daughter's last live performance was earlier this month at the Las Vegas, N.M., fiesta, she said. Ernestine also performed June 30 at the San Ignacio Church Fiesta in Albuquerque.
Jessie and Ernestine Saucedo were married in 2017 at a Mexican beach resort after a 10-year relationship, according to the website Tejano Nation. But court records show their troubles began even before the wedding. A 2015 criminal complaint against Ernestine Romero, charging her with criminal damage to property and assault on a household member, said Jessie Saucedo called police to report she was trying to break into his home.
She apparently had moved out of their mobile home on Mutt Nelson Road and was living in Albuquerque. Romero left before police arrived, the complaint said. Saucedo accused Romero of being romantically involved with another man and told an officer he had informed her the day before that their relationship was over, and that she should pick up her things from his house. She came to the home to speak with him, he said, according to the complaint, and when he ignored her, she began kicking the front door, "acting belligerent and aggressive," and causing damage to the door hinges and frame.
The case was dismissed in 2016 due to insufficient evidence and lack of cooperation by Jessie Saucedo, court records show. In February, the couple completed a 15-hour handgun training course together to obtain concealed carry permits. Jessie Saucedo posted a photo of a certificate on his Facebook page. Another post showed a collection of handguns. But he never received his permit.
Herman Lovato, a spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said Ernestine Saucedo received her concealed carry permit, but her husband's was denied because he had been convicted of drunken driving within the past five years. The 2017 conviction was his second DWI; the first came in 2006, court records show. A former co-worker of Ernestine recalled that his drinking might have caused problems for the couple. But the neighbor said she had never seen Jessie Saucedo abuse alcohol or drugs. "It's just a terrible tragedy," the woman said.
A man who lived next door to the Saucedos described Jessie as a good, longtime neighbor. "It's sad," the man said. "He's just a nice guy. ... They've just been married a short time. We'd wave, and that's how it'd go."
Garcia, the human resources director at the education department, declined to comment on the Saucedos' relationship. "Never would she show us that she was not feeling well or that she was upset or that she was mad," Garcia said of Ernestine.
Public Education Department employees had an optional day off Friday; still, most of the staff was on-site by 8 a.m. for a grief gathering.
Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo spoke at the meeting, saying, "When we met this morning, it was clear that we really are a family who shares feelings for one another. We are all deeply, deeply affected."
Garcia said Ernestine Saucedo was due for a promotion in the coming weeks. She started her career in state government with the Public Education Department and then worked for the state Human Services Department before returning to the education agency in 2015 – around the same time Garcia's daughter was born. "I have a 4-year-old that had a relationship with her," Garcia said. "She would be so excited to hear Ernestine sing on the radio or physically give her a hug and be that fan for her.
"When I told my little one [about Ernestine's death], she was devastated," Garcia added. "She didn't understand. Ernestine had such a positive influence on her."
She first met Ernestine as a teenager, Garcia said, recalling that the singer always invited kids onstage.
According to interviews with The New Mexican, Ernestine's first gig, as an 8-year-old, was a Valentine's Day dance at Pojoaque Elementary School. Her passion for music came from her father, Willie Romero, she said, who played drums in a band that had practiced at her home when she was growing up.
She recorded the first of her 10 albums when she was 11, while the last one, Mi Tesoro, was released in March. Georgia Garcia, 34, of Santa Fe, who visited the impromptu memorial Friday outside the state building where Ernestine was slain, said she first heard a 13-year-old Romero sing at Genoveva Chavez Community Center on Rodeo Road and immediately knew her voice was special. The girls met for the first time about a year later, she said, and they discovered they were related –possibly third cousins. They exchanged phone numbers and quickly became friends.
Georgia Garcia's family would gather in their home before bedtime and call Romero on the telephone, she said. "We would call her every night and we would have her sing to us on the phone," Garcia said. Typically, it was Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine" – but a version in Romero's style –or the classic "Angel Baby" from the 1960s. "I'm gonna miss that," Garcia said. The two girls stayed in touch as they got older.
"She used to call me prima," Garcia said. "She was the queen of Tejano. She was kind of the next Selena."
A candlelight vigil for Ernestine Saucedo, a popular local Tejano singer-songwriter who performed under her maiden name, Ernestine Romero, is planned for 9 p.m. Sunday outside the western entrance to the state Capitol on Don Gaspar Avenue.