FARMINGTON — Brenda Martinez is still seeking justice more than two years after the murder of her son.
Martinez's 29-year-old son, Michael DeCoteau, was found in a culvert off N.M. Highway 371 approximately four miles south of Farmington on Feb. 4, 2012.
DeCoteau was shot multiple times and his body left in a culvert less than a mile south of an abandoned SUV atop a bluff near the Bureau of Land Management Dunes Recreation Area. Despite an air and land search assisted by cadaver dogs conducted for two days, the owner of the car, Irvin Rangel, 22, has yet to be found. Rangel's family discovered DeCoteau's body during an expanded search of the rugged area along the Bisti Highway, according to authorities.
Today, authorities maintain Rangel was a victim, citing a significant amount of blood evidence linked to both Rangel and DeCoteau found in the black 2001 Lincoln Navigator at the scene.
The case has frustrated San Juan County Sheriff's detectives who continue to pursue leads to locate Rangel and those responsible.
"It's just amazing no one's come forward," said County Detective Mike Farni. "Usually somebody does. Their conscience gets to them. Sometimes it's an arrest of a person who knows something that leads to information, but it's also guilt, as time goes along. Somebody's gotta talk."
Farni believes more than one person is responsible for DeCoteau's murder, adding to the likelihood that more people may know details that will help break the case.
The pain has been unbearable for Martinez who lives in Fargo, N.D.
"When you lose a child, the mourning never stops. You just have to learn to live with it," Martinez said during a Skype interview on Thursday. "I have talked with others who have lost children and that has helped me know that I'm not crazy. It's just been a long struggle for the last few years."
Martinez was living in Wenatchee, Wash., where DeCoteau grew up, when her son, a convicted felon and gang member on probation, traveled to the Farmington area to spend time with Rangel. However, according to Martinez, he felt unsafe and alone.
"The last time I talked with him over the phone, before Christmas (in 2011), he was in Farmington," Martinez said. "He told me that he was going to change his life. He told me, 'I want to be free for just a little bit and see a part of the world to see that the world's worth living in still.' My daughter sent him $200 to be able to leave and come home, but he never did."
Shortly after she learned of her son's death, Martinez resigned her position as a nurse at a care facility in Fargo and this January went on disability for severe pain in her lower back that she said keeps her confined to her house. She sends DeCoteau's son, Jesse, a weekly allowance and talks as often as she can with her grandson who lives in Washington.
"I'm confined to my home. My world has been taken from me," she said. "I can't begin to accept it or understand it. I just pray. The people who did this are 831 days closer to their creator."
Martinez, a Chippewa, said going to sweat lodges and prayer gatherings with her husband of 30 years has helped her cope with the pain of her back.
She has been encouraged by county detectives' ongoing pursuit of her son's killer. She calls them each month on the 24th, the day detectives believe DeCoteau was killed in January 2012.
"Losing a child is like losing a part of your soul. But miracles do happen," she said. "You never know. Maybe somebody who knows something will reach out and come forward to talk about what they know. Confession is good for the soul. Anybody whose conscience has been nagging at them should come forward and speak. I wish I could hate the people who did this, but I can't. I feel sorry for them, what they have to deal with. As the Bible says, it's God's job to punish, not mine. I have to carry that faith with me or I would probably go off the deep end."
Martinez and her family traveled to Farmington in October 2012, to meet with Sheriff's detectives and visit the site where her son's body was found. She left a memorial cross there and hopes to return to do the same again if their is any progress in the investigation.
"This is an active, open and ongoing investigation," Farni said. "(Sheriff's) detectives are following up on several leads. We're not done. We're not through with it."
Anyone with information on DeCoteau can call Sheriff's Detective Mike Farni at 505-334-6107 or call anonymously at San Juan County Crime Stoppers at 505-334-TIPS (8477) or 1-800-222-8477. Information can also be left on the Sheriff's office's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SJCSO.
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.