Family remembers Vanderwagen father, son

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

GALLUP, March 15, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Family and friends gather at the Piñon Hills Apartments and hold a candlelight vigil for Clifton Harper and his son Roman Harper, 15, both originally from Vanderwagen, N.M., Tuesday evening in Gallup.

F amily, friends and neighbors gathered in front of Piñon Hills Apartments here Tuesday evening to remember a father and son who were killed in one of four unrelated shooting incidents that occurred over a single night in the Gallup area.

Clifton Harper, 39, and his son Roman Harper, 15, died after they were shot Monday night.

Elton Davis, 30, of Vanderwagen, N.M., was arraigned Wednesday in McKinley County Magistrate Court on two counts of first-degree murder. He remains in the McKinley County Adult Detention facility under a $200,000 cash-only bond.

As members of the Harper family comforted each other, friends and neighbors lit candles and stood in silence.

A man wearing a green baseball cap held a large painting of Jesus and as the air grew chilly people continued to gather.

Robert Galaviz was Clifton Harper's brother-in-law.

"He always had this smile on his face even if you got mad at him or you said something to each other. Ten minutes later he's making you laugh and you guys were friends again," Galaviz said. "You couldn't stay mad at him. He was a very good person."

Talking about Roman, Galaviz fought his tears to describe the "beautiful boy" who loved his younger brother, Matthew, and cousins.

"He loved to draw. He was a great artist," Galaviz said. "He drew flowers, crosses, pictures of scary faces for his brothers. Whatever they wanted, he drew."

Galaviz said he lives in the apartment complex where the Harper family stayed over the weekend.

It was common for the family to stay with Galaviz during the winter when muddy roads made it difficult to reach their home in Vanderwagen.

A community gathering to support the family and to collect donations for funeral expenses is scheduled today at 7 p.m. at Jefferson Elementary School (300 Mollica Drive) in Gallup.

The dignified mood of the candlelight vigil contrasted starkly with Monday night's mayhem, extreme even by Gallup standards.

According to Gallup Deputy Police Chief John Allen, both Harpers were shot at about 7:30 p.m. near the apartment complex on Dairy Drive in east Gallup.

They were transported to Gallup Indian Medical Center with life-threatening injuries and Clifton was flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

Allen said Davis fled the scene shortly after the shooting but was later arrested while driving south of Gallup on State Route 602.

As police were arresting Davis, his 15-year-old passenger climbed into the driver's seat and drove off. The juvenile was quickly apprehended and taken into custody by New Mexico State Police, and was transferred to Navajo Nation Police custody since the arrest was made on tribal lands.

He remains in custody at the Youth Detention Center in Tohatchi, N.M.

Navajo Nation Chief Prosecutor Bernadine Martin declined to say if an affidavit had been filed seeking the juvenile's extradition to face charges in Gallup, as is required under tribal law.

"Anytime public safety is at issue, I'll do what I have to do to ensure the Navajo public is safe," she said.

The apartment shooting was followed by a second shooting at about 8:15 p.m. in the northwest parking lot of GIMC.

Byrum Begay, 23, of Sundance, N.M., called Gallup police to report that he was shot in the upper torso during an altercation.

Begay was treated at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services for non-life threatening injuries and no arrests have been made.

About an hour after that shooting, Travis Luchka, 28, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was fueling his vehicle at the Shell gas station on the east side when a man attempted to steal the vehicle.

When Luchka resisted, he was shot several times in the face with a BB gun.

While Gallup police were responding to the Shell incident, Navajo Nation Police notified Gallup metro dispatch about an attempted robbery in the parking lot of Fire Rock Navajo Casino near Church Rock, N.M.

According to the Navajo police report, the victim said a man walked up to him and asked for money. When he refused, the man shot him in the face with a BB gun. Then the victim ran to his vehicle and shielded his wife as the suspect shot the driver side window.

No arrests were cited in the police report and Division of Public Safety Director John Billison told the Navajo Nation Council's Naabikiyati Committee Wednesday that the case has been handed over to the FBI for further investigation.

Bob Winter, CEO of the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, said security was informed about the Gallup shootings by Navajo police and, in response, stopped allowing people inside the casino.

"Navajo police didn't want people coming into the casino because we didn't know if they were carrying weapons," Winter said.

The casino closed Tuesday at about 1 a.m. and reopened at 8 a.m. with Navajo police continuing to patrol the parking lots, he said.

On Tuesday, President Ben Shelly issued a statement about the Gallup shootings and the incident at Fire Rock.

"We are going to work together to assure the safety of our people," Shelly said. "The Navajo Nation's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these crimes and we will do our part to make sure these criminal are held responsible for their actions."

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