Marine veteran Matthew Gurule survived two tours of duty — one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan — only to come home to his father’s hometown to be killed.
“Here in your town, a place he wanted to call his hometown,” said his mother, Sandra Miller, through tears during a press conference Saturday morning.
“I don’t want his death to be in vain. There needs to be changes in this community. In my heart of hearts, I know God is a just God and justice will prevail.”
Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil said the body of a man was found along a ditchbank west of N.M. 304, south of Rio Communities Friday, Aug. 16. The Office of the Medical Investigator positively identified the body as Gurule, 32, on Saturday, Aug. 17.
Gurule was last seen at Isleta Casino on Saturday, July 27. He called Miller, who lives in Texas, at about 12:30 a.m., saying he was being asked to leave the casino. That was the last time anyone heard from him.
An arrest warrant was issued for Francisco Gomez, 37, of Los Lunas, who is in custody at the Valencia County Detention Center on a no-bond hold.
According to the criminal complaint filed on Monday, Gomez is charged with an open count of murder, armed robbery, second-degree felony; and two third-degree felonies — tampering with evidence and arson.
Gomez, along with his girlfriend of four years, Jeannine Willard, 45, of Adelino, were arrested and booked into VCDC on Aug. 9 for using Gurule’s credit card at several stores in Belen on July 27.
Willard was released on her own recognizance on Saturday, Aug. 17, and ordered to report to pretrial services by the following Monday.
Gurule’s car was found on fire shortly after noon on July 27, east of Belen off Manzano Expressway. When questioned by police, Gomez said he found the credit card on the side of the road in the same area.
At this time, Willard has not been charged in connection to Gurule’s death or the burning of his car. She is facing fraud charges related to her use of the veteran’s credit card, as well as possession charges for attempting to bring methamphetamine into the jail.
According to the criminal complaint, Willard, told Valencia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. James Harris she called Gomez in the early morning hours of Saturday, July 27, asking him to pick her up at the Love’s Travel Center in Belen.
Gomez picked her up on a motorcycle and the couple rode west on Camino del Llano, near where Gurule lived on Paseo Arbolado with his cousin.
As they were riding, Gomez noticed a car parked on a small dirt pull-out near the water tank at the top of the mesa, which was Gurule in his Honda Accord.
“According to Jeannie, Francisco told her to get off his motorcycle a ways off from where Matthew was parked in his car and stated to her that he intended to rob the person in the parked vehicle ...” the complaint reads.
Willard said she began walking back toward the two men and saw them arguing and heard Gomez telling Gurule he was being robbed, so “he better start running.”
“When he did not, Francisco shot Matthew multiple times, killing him,” the complaint reads.
Willard estimated Gomez shot Gurule six times with a large revolver handgun.
The preliminary OMI findings lists Gurule’s cause of death as multiple gun shot wounds to the head.
Gomez put Gurule’s body in the trunk of the car and the couple drove to a drainage ditch south of Rio Communities, near the Rio Grande Stables, where they discarded Gurule’s body in the ditch.
They cleaned the interior of the car, taking some of Gurule’s possessions, then took it to an area off Manzano Expressway, where they set the car on fire.
Willard said Gomez threatened to kill her if she said anything. When the couple returned to their home on Vallejos Road in Adelino, they burned their clothes.
Harris and Valencia County Sheriff Denise Vigil took Willard to the ditch where Gomez had left Gurule’s body last week, where Harris found him floating in the water.
According to the criminal complaint, Gurule and Gomez had no known ties, other than meeting on the night Gurule was killed.
During the search of Willard and Gomez’s home, several .22 caliber rounds were found, as well as a .22 caliber revolver handgun, burnt .38 special caliber spent casings and two large burn sites that contained burnt clothing.
When the couple was arrested earlier this month, more than two dozen .22 caliber rounds as well as a .22 caliber handgun were found in the Chevrolet Colorado pickup Gomez was driving.
In a separate case, third-degree felony charges of aggravated assault with intent to commit a violent felony and aggravated battery were also filed against Gomez on Monday.
According to the affidavit filed for his arrest warrant, Gomez is accused of shooting a man several times in the legs and buttocks at a home on La Entrada Road last December. The man survived and a .22 caliber handgun allegedly belonging to Gomez was found at the scene.
During the press conference on Saturday, Miller thanked all the departments who assisted in the investigation and the people who put boots on the ground to search for her son.
In the weeks following his disappearance, volunteer groups of family and friends, community members and Gurule’s fellow Marines scoured the area where his car was found and beyond in the hopes of finding him alive.
“I also want to thank the media, who made this story real and heartfelt and true,” Miller said. “This is not fake. This is real life. We have to do something to fix this. We hope to get justice soon.”
She wept when asked what her last words were for her son.
“You’re in Heaven now. You’re free, flying with the angels. I love you.”