Police in Albuquerque, N.M., are asking for the public’s assistance in identifying a suspect who shot and killed a four-year-old girl on a local freeway in what police say is a road rage incident.
“We have absolutely no suspect information at this time,” Police Chief Gordon Eden said at an evening news conference, the Associated Press reports. “We need the community's help. You had to have seen something. Please call us.”
The shooting occurred about an hour before evening rush hour on Interstate 40, making the freeway heavy with traffic when the shooter opened fire, he said.
He also confirmed the girl’s death, calling the shooting “unexplainable.”
"This should have never happened,” Chief Eden said, according to local station KOB. “This is a complete disrespect of human life. We're starting to see this throughout our nation, and this is something that should not be happening in Albuquerque, New Mexico – let alone anywhere else in the United States.”
The girl’s name wasn’t immediately released, and it was unclear what led the incident to turn fatal, the AP reports. “It's 100 percent preventable. It did not have to happen. We need to rise up as a community and say enough is enough,” Chief Eden added.
The incident stemmed from some type of road rage, the girl’s father told the police. They originally learned of the shooting after a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s department car pulled up alongside the family’s car and discovered the girl had been shot.
The two cars were traveling westbound on Interstate 40 when a vehicle swerved and began firing into the family’s car, police spokesman Simon Drobik said. The girl’s mother and father were in the car at the time but were not injured, he added.
Urging witnesses to come forward, Chief Eden said people who delivered statements so far had provided conflicting accounts of how the incident escalated. It was unclear about the color of the shooter’s vehicle, and even whether it had two doors or four doors.
Jonelle Tafoya, a local woman who was driving with her daughter when the shooting occurred, told KOB the assailant’s car may have been a red pickup truck. At the time, the freeway was nearly deserted, she said.
“We were actually behind the two vehicles that were in the middle of the road rage incident: red truck, red sedan," Ms. Tafoya told the station. “The red truck was not allowing the red car to pass [and] kept swerving from lane to lane to keep the vehicle behind them.”
Concerned that something was going to happen, she got off the interstate at Coors Road and dropped her daughter off at home. Then she discovered what had happened next.
“I got the notification that something had occurred on my phone that a child had been shot in the head at Unser [Boulevard] and I-40, and all I could think was, ‘Oh my God. That was it exactly. That was probably the road rage incident we had seen.’ ”
A red pickup with a bullet hole in its back windshield could be seen where the shooting occurred, KOB reports, but it was unclear who had been driving the truck.
The shooting comes about a month after another road rage shooting where police say a man fired at another driver in self-defense. Local prosecutors are investigating the Sept. 9th shooting that wounded Jacoby Johnson, the AP reports.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that between 1990 and 1996 road rage contributed to 218 deaths and 12,610 injuries. The study analyzed 10,037 police reports and newspaper stories about traffic accidents that led to violence. What's more, AAA found that road rage incidents increased nearly 7 percent each year within that six-year period. Some experts blame the increase on longer commutes, according to an article on the American Psychological Association.
Research by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Auto Vantage auto club shows that 66 percent of traffic fatalities are caused by aggressive driving (which includes speeding), and 37 percent of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm.
This report contains material from the Associated Press.