GPD suspect war vet killed mother; search suspended - The Gilroy Dispatch: Crime Fire Courts

GPD suspect war vet killed mother; search suspended

Murder-suicide by veteran upends community; police suspend search for mother

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Monday, March 19, 2012 6:07 pm | Updated: 6:31 pm, Mon Mar 26, 2012.

Gilroy police have suspended the search for the body of Martha Gutierrez, 52, who they believe was shot and killed inside a car by her son Abel Gutierrez, 27. She was last seen Tuesday, the day before her 11-year-old daughter Lucero Luna-Gutierrez was murdered by Abel in their apartment off Kern Avenue in northwest Gilroy. Abel, an Iraq war veteran who apparently was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, then shot and killed himself.

After using Martha’s cell phone records to narrow down her whereabouts, police searched all over the South County area and Santa Cruz mountains with multiple teams and search dogs to locate her body through Sunday, but found nothing, said Gilroy Police Sgt. Chad Gallacinao. At this time, no GPD officers continue to search for Martha.

“We’ve exhausted everything,” Gallacinao said.

Two firearms were used in the murders and Abel’s suicide, police said, and four firearms were found at the two-bedroom rental at the Redwood Apartment complex where Abel, Martha and Lucero were living with two other adult roommates, though Gallacinao did not give details about what types of firearms were used and who they were registered to.

On Thursday, Gilroy police recovered and impounded Abel’s 2000 green Ford Mustang, and inside officers discovered evidence - including blood, according to Gallacinao.

"There was significant physical evidence found within the car to indicate a violent assault occurred, a firearm was discharged and somebody was shot within the car," he said.  

Police believe Martha was killed somewhere in a 24-hour window between when she was last seen Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., and Wednesday evening, Gallicinao said.

Abel, who family members describe as suicidal after he returned home from his tour in Iraq about five months ago, was not the same person he was before the war. Abel would talk to the wall, sleep with his guns and wake up from night terrors, shouting expletives at the Pakistanis and Iraqis out of a dead sleep, said Martha’s brother Faustino Gutierrez at a vigil for Lucero Thursday night at the Redwood Apartments.

“I always wondered if he would kill himself, but never Lucero,” Faustino said.

Real dangers of PTSD

The murder-suicide follows on the heels of a widely publicized mass-shooting of Afghanistan civilians by an American solider, leaving people shocked and asking how something that terrible could have happened.

In the wake of this community tragedy, people in Gilroy are asking the same question.

Dr. Josef Ruzek, Director of Training at the National Center for PTSD, said that anger, irritability, hyperarousal, panic and intrusive memories are common symptoms in those who suffer from PTSD.

“But it is rare for that anger to lead to a murder,” Ruzek said.

About 10-15 percent of Iraq war veterans have significant PTSD symptoms, he said.

Ruzek said that Abel could have been suffering from what he described as the “perfect storm” of factors that triggered his violent behavior.

The symptoms of PTSD, if left untreated, he said, can lead to a multitude of other problems – relationship troubles, drug problems, anxiety problems, issues at work and more.

Kerri Childress, spokeswoman for the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs, said that nobody goes to conflict and comes back unchanged. But Childress said tragedies like these paint an extreme picture of PTSD – that it is a violent and dangerous disorder, and might dissuade other veterans from seeking help.

“Vets see news like this and think, ‘That’s not me,’ or become embarrassed to ask for help,” she said.

Childress also said that because of this “horribly tragic” incident, and others like it, a stigma will fall on Iraq war veterans at large. She said that thousands of other veterans who seek counsel are successfully adjusting to their lives in the U.S., despite battling with PTSD and other mental disorders.

“Don’t let this terrible incident put a shadow on the service of other vets,” she said. “I guarantee – I mean, I know – that Gilroy has some very proud veterans, and it is important that they can walk through their town with their heads high.”

Roommates find Abel, Lucero dead

Police responded to the murder-suicide about 9 p.m. Wednesday inside apartment 201 at Redwood Apartments near Mantelli Drive in northwest Gilroy, according to Gallacinao. The incident was reported by two adult roommates who rented a room in the Gutierrez’s household.

The roommates, who neighbors said were between the ages of 30 and 40, came home sometime Wednesday evening. According to neighbors, about a half hour later, they noticed the bathroom door was slightly ajar and pushed it open all the way. That’s when they discovered the bodies of Abel and Lucero. Once medical personnel were called to the scene, they confirmed that Lucero and Abel were dead.

Gallacinao said GPD officers were called to the Gutierrez’s apartment on Feb. 29 because his family was concerned about his mental health. Police had coordinated with Veterans Affairs to get Gutierrez help, Gallacinao said.

"There was an argument during that day," Gallacinao said. "(Abel's family) indicated that he was more aggressive than usual."

The GPD officer on scene and the family determined that Abel was not at risk of physically harming himself or others, Gallacinao said.

"At the end of the call the family specifically indicated that they were not in fear of being physically harmed," Gallacinao said. "The family primarily wanted (Abel) to get some help because he was not the same person who came back to them after the war."

Community bands together in wake of tragedy

In the midst of Wednesday's shocking tragedy, more than 200 people gathered Thursday evening at the Redwood Apartments to light candles and bring stuffed animals, flowers and balloons in honor of 11-year-old South Valley Middle School student Lucero Luna–Gutierrez.

“We have to walk this together, unified,” said GPD Police Chaplain Greg Quirke, who led the crowd in prayers and moments of silence for Lucero. Prayers were also said for Martha Gutierrez, the missing mother of Lucero and Abel.

Loved ones pored over a display of Lucero’s toys and bike and tearfully slipped letters in handmade boxes.

After speaking to the crowd, Quirke and GPD Police Chaplain Bill Hawkins led the crowd in a somber chorus of "Amazing Grace." People lit candles and marched to the entryway of the Gutierrez family's apartment, where loved ones shared memories of Lucero in both English and Spanish.

Abel Gutierrez was a “loving brother,” according to some at the vigil.

Faustino said that Abel was like a son to him and recalled how Abel began to smoke a lot of marijuana after the war. Abel had “lost his will to live,” and had a rocky relationship with his mother, according to Faustino.

When asked what kind of brother Abel was to Lucero, however, Faustino softened his voice and choked up.

“Perfecto,” he said. “He was perfect.”

A Redwood Apartment resident and close friend of Lucero's – a girl named Jannine, 13 – said that Lucero adored Abel and would brag to her friends that she was written into his will. Jannine said that Abel took Lucero to the park and Disneyland, and that Abel was like a father figure to Lucero. Neighbors say Lucero's real father was completely out of the picture.

“She really looked up to him,” Jannine said. “He was a hero to her.”

Meanwhile as the vigil continued, Superintendent Debbie Flores led attendees in a moment of silence for Lucero at the Gilroy Unified School Board meeting Thursday night.

"What a sad day this has been for our school district," she said, addressing audience members from the podium. "It's at times like this that we all really reflect on what's important in life. What matters is our family, our health and our times that we have in our lives to enjoy each other."

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of the vehicle or Abel Gutierrez prior to Wednesday's incident is urged to contact Detective Michael Bolton at (408) 846-0350.

Parties wishing to remain anonymous may call We-Tip at 1-800-782-7463 (800-78-Crime).

  • Discuss

Rules of Conduct

  • 1 Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
  • 2 Don't Threaten or Abuse. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated. AND PLEASE TURN OFF CAPS LOCK.
  • 3 Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
  • 4 Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
  • 5 Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
  • 6 Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Welcome to the discussion.


  • beckadegilas posted at 2:26 pm on Thu, Mar 22, 2012.

    beckadegilas Posts: 4

    i think that the communication between the police dept and the community was the problem. although the search wasn't suspended completely, only for that area, the community believed that it was, and was, rightfully, outraged. The GPD information officer and community liaison left a lot to be desired in this situation, and need to make a greater effort to help the community understand the facts, how they can help, and ultimately, along in the process to healing. By the way "v10letus" grammar encompasses spelling, smartypants!

  • Peacer posted at 3:23 pm on Wed, Mar 21, 2012.

    Peacer Posts: 67

    Come on GPD" ???? You can do better than that..[sad]

  • Peacer posted at 3:22 pm on Wed, Mar 21, 2012.

    Peacer Posts: 67

    Come on GPD" ???? You can do better than that..[sad]

  • JHM posted at 7:39 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    JHM Posts: 1

    I am not a family member nor am I a family friend I am a concerned citizen of Gilroy, i have seen a few family members leave to irag and afghanistan never to be the same as when they left although it has not been as bad as Abel Guiterrez, thier lives will never be the same as when they left. We as a community need to ban together and find Martha Guiterrez her son was in the United States Army they are the ones that fight for our freedom. what he did was very tragic. i have seen communities ban together when someone goes missing along with police dept and they don't give up within a week. we as a community must not give up lets continue to search for this missing mother i went out to the apartment complex for a vigil and only seen a few people mostly neighbors, family and close friends where is our community

  • mrc posted at 6:49 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    mrc Posts: 2

    I can careless on what my grammer looks like.its ignorant people like v10letas who don't understand or care about issues going on in our community. Your the only one on here that looks like a child.grow the f up clown.

  • Mr Brooks posted at 6:36 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    Mr Brooks Posts: 72

    I'm sure the ones making the negative comments about the police are family and/or friends and I feel your pain. Realize there are no more places to look unless you expect them to hold hands and search every square inche of 5 counties. I'm sure they looked in areas that had evidence to point them there, like cell phone calls or receipts from certain areas. And by the way they called off the search after 5 days and not 2, count the days in accordance with newspaper articles.

    If there is anyone who you should be upset with it should be these "family" members and neighbors who said they have seen him sitting in a car with a gun to his head. Why didn't they call the police? If he was such a danger why didn't they come forward and say something? The police can't just haul someone away just because, he must have a legal reason. From what I have read about the contact with him on Febuary 29th not one person came forward to say "I saw him do this, I heard him say that". If they had they could of had him evaluated but it also sounds like his PTSD was already known by the VA.

    This is a very big world with a bunch of open space. At this point your GUESS of where she is, is as good as anyone's.

  • Iris Martinez posted at 1:44 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    IM90 Posts: 2

    Who cares about the grammar as long as they tell the truth. I agree with mrc the gilroy police dept need to help the community more. Its dissapointing to know that they are no longer looking for Martha Gutierrez and that the community are the ones doing their job.

  • Alex Vega-Urias posted at 1:06 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    v10letus Posts: 4

    Hey mrc, maybe you should go back to school and learn some grammar. Yeah... and your spelling is a bit off as well. Just saying!

  • mrc posted at 12:23 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    mrc Posts: 2

    Our police in gilroy need to go back to school and get some real training. I feel its our fault as a community that let things like this slide on by.we need to speak up and say we wont except the half as police work anymore. They waist our money and time by not doing there job call off the search only two days into it wrong.I would never let it happen if it was' my family.i know there is a lot of politics involved here but gilroys police Dept isn't helping the community at all.if anything its opening peoples eyes on how unperpaired they are.and people are going to loose faith in our police Dept.its takes two sides to make it work gpd doing there job right an us as a community to back them up.which I don't see happening

  • Rafer Zorin posted at 12:01 pm on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    Rafer Zorin Posts: 1

    well Brock, I see you wrote what most other readers would also like to know. But if you re-read their comments and count the spelling errors, it all makes sense.

  • Brock_Sampson posted at 11:02 am on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    Brock_Sampson Posts: 16

    When GPD says they've exhausted all leads, what do you brilliant people want them to do? Instead of being so critical, perhaps pose some suggestions since you seem to know the situation so well, or at least talk like you do.

    So, Peacer, timekeeper, raul95020, let's hear your bright ideas on where in this great big tri-county area you would search for a missing person when all clues have been exhausted. We're listening...

  • timekeeper posted at 10:17 am on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    timekeeper Posts: 2

    I am truely disgusted by the actions of our police here in town. It is sick to know that GPD just gives up a search for a missing person. It is more than the just a body, the family needs closure. Searching for two days is not enough! how can they even dare to say they have exhausted all leads....they are really missing someting here. Maybe GPD is too busy catching people on the road for use of cell phones (since we have the highest ticket rate for cell phone use) shows where the priorities are right?

  • Rahul Mrtnz posted at 9:03 am on Tue, Mar 20, 2012.

    raul95020 Posts: 1

    I'm not surprised about the police we have, I mean sure for a police fundraise they will send multiple units to del Bono to collect but when they are needed to help find a missing mother they give up after what great attempt to even look for her? Don't lose you kids they might. Don't lose you mother, I don't feel police will look for her after few days.

  • Peacer posted at 9:02 pm on Mon, Mar 19, 2012.

    Peacer Posts: 67


  • Peacer posted at 8:52 pm on Mon, Mar 19, 2012.

    Peacer Posts: 67

    So just like that They gona suspend, No more search for the mother Martha.. Wow.. A Dead body out there but I guest its okay just leave the body out There Right...