New letter threatens city
By Jose L. Medina Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — An anonymous extortionist has resurfaced with another threat of violence if a large sum of money is not paid by city officials.
More than five weeks after another extortion deadline passed without incident, a letter was delivered to the Sun-News on Monday via U.S. mail. It is very similar to threatening letters received by city officials and the paper in September.
"You obviously didn't take us seriously," the letter states.
In it, the writer alludes to a recent shooting in the city and sets yet another deadline during the first week of November for a large sum of money to be paid, or else "More bodies will fall. Now they will fall in school yards. Don't believe us? Try us again."
The letter is postmarked Saturday, but police do not believe the threat is connected with Friday's shooting of a 14-year-old boy at the Field of Dreams during a football game between Las Cruces and Oñate high schools. No arrests have been made in relation to that incident.
Police said they have contacted Las Cruces Public Schools and will take "all necessary precautions" for today's Halloween holiday. They also urge residents to carry on with their daily activities and remain vigilant.
Monday's letter is addressed to the mayor, the city manager and police, but includes a message directed specifically to the editor of the paper, saying city officials know more than what has been publicized.
Las Cruces police said Monday that while the letter is addressed to city officials, they had not yet received a copy. The first time investigators saw the letter was when the Sun-News provided them with it Monday afternoon, police said.
The letter bears many of the characteristics of the letter received in September. It is hand-printed in the same unusual style. It also demands a similar amount of money as was specified in the earlier letter.
The lingering question is whether the letter should be taken seriously or is a hoax.
"Any time there's a threat to the public safety, we always take it seriously," Las Cruces Police Chief Harry Romero said.
Romero said the investigation into the earlier letter is continuing, but their leads have not resulted in any arrests.
"We have been investigating this for the last month and we ran into some dead ends," Romero said, adding that he hopes the public will come forward with information that will help this time.
The special tip line set up in the days leading up to the Sept. 22 deadline has been reactivated, and a total reward of $51,000 for the capture and prosecution of the writer or writers of the letter is still being offered, police said Monday.
Sun-News editor Jim Lawitz said the paper decided to disclose the receipt of the latest letter out of concern about what might be a credible threat.
"Just as with the September letter, we felt these threats crossed a threshold," Lawitz said. "And we believe the public's right to know outweighs other considerations."
Although random public shootings were threatened in September, the deadlines set in two letters to the city passed without incident.
The second letter set a deadline of Sept. 22 and prompted city officials to hold an emergency press conference to inform the public of the threat. What followed was a week's worth of heightened anxiety, large-scale mobilizations by local, state and federal law enforcement and hundreds of rumors and false shooting reports.
Las Cruces residents expressed mixed feelings about the September deadline which coincided with the start of the city's biggest event, The Whole Enchilada Fiesta.
Attendance at the fiesta was down this year, but officials are unsure whether the decline can be attributed to the threat.