It wasn’t until Renzo Giromini got to the part about his dog being deliberately hit by a truck that the crowd, gathered to hear his story in a cramped elementary school teachers lounge, gasped.
They twisted in their seats and shook their heads in disbelief at such an event happening in their Southeast Heights neighborhood park nearly a month ago.
Sure, kids had driven their cars before through Hyder Park at the corner of Pershing Avenue and Wellesley Drive Southeast.
There was nothing new about neatly parallel, dead-grass scars cutting across the ground in long loops – tracks that barely hinted at the terror felt that night. Kids do stupid things in the name of fun.
But this was different.
This was an attack, and Giromini’s sheep dog, Pearl, wasn’t the only target.
“We’ve all seen kids that will drive through the park, but they’re not trying to run people down,” Giromini said. “They’re being kids and tearing up the ground, and they shouldn’t, but at least they’re not being aggressive toward other people with their vehicle.”
The dark-colored truck raced within feet of park visitors hiding behind trees and huddling atop a concrete table, Giromini said. Someone could have been killed or seriously hurt, just as his dog was, with the truck’s three passes.
Giromini said the whole attack took minutes.
Like any living thing under assault, the community struck back. Not with weapons, but with the cooperation, communication and unification familiar to residents of a neighborhood accustomed to banding together when threats arise.
Community members gathered Nov. 21 at Bandelier Elementary, located within a block of Hyder Park. In the crowd of about 20 people, there were longtime residents and brand-new ones. They were white, black, young and old.
They were diverse in their backgrounds, but unified in their goal: to keep their park and neighborhood the safe, comfortable place they knew it to be.
“This is the start of something that we need to stop,” said Mary Jane Willis, one of the meeting’s organizers and a board member of the Southeast Heights Neighborhood Association. “We need to work as a community to stop it.”
Yes, there have been sporadic incidents in the past, she said, but nothing like this.
There was the time a car struck a woman and her dog while they walked around the park, but that was an accident. Giromini recalled someone firing a gun at someone else in the park about seven years ago. One longtime resident was injured after being tackled in a scuffle over his dog. A couple of residents have seen cars turned into rocking hotel rooms on the park’s perimeter.
This was different.
“I have never heard of an incident where somebody drives through the park to maliciously run down people or dogs,” Willis said. “I’ve never had problems like that.”
A problem like that creates questions. A lot of them. Neighborhood residents lobbed them at two Albuquerque Police Department officers who came to the meeting. When should they call 911? When to call 242-COPS? How long will it take the police to get there? What can they do?
They got their answers. From there, the conversation grew. One woman proposed posting signs in the park with emergency phone numbers and explanations for when to call each one.
Later, in a telephone interview, Willis floated another idea she had heard after the meeting: a neighborhood watch group, but with a twist.
It would be made up of people who use the park, not just area residents. She said it could help deter those looking to commit crimes.
It might work like another deterrent discussed at the meeting: an electronic display sign measuring drivers’ speed.
Several residents complained about cars racing through the curving streets around the park. One of them, Art DePoi, was so eager to see something done, he gave his address to one of the officers when the question arose as to where the sign might go.
DePoi is 75 years old. For 16 years, he has lived across the street from the park.
On one hand, he said it hasn’t changed. He knows it as a good place, a place grandchildren can go for a walk. On the other, he admitted it has problems.
“With anything, there’s benefits to it and there’s obstacles to it,” he said. “It’s about the same.”
But not totally the same.
A truck nearly hitting park visitors? That was different.
Giromini’s dog suffering injuries already costing $4,000? That was different.
“The troubles have changed,” DePoi said. “Like this . . . driver. That’s uncalled for.”
But he doesn’t plan to leave. Not one resident mentioned moving out. They’re ready to fight, just as in the past.
Willis remembered when neighborhood residents came together to oppose turning the park into a dog park. There was the time they saved the trees from getting cut down, she recalled.
“When people want to go in there and change the park, the neighbors do pull together and shut it down,” she said. “Now we’re in a situation where . . . it’s an unknown occurrence. Can we pull together to help to keep these things from reoccurring? I don’t see why not.”
Several residents called the act of violence an anomaly they’ll do everything they can to stop from happening again. Running away isn’t an option. Willis is happy to call the area home, now and in the future.
“I feel very safe,” she said. “I plan to live here another 20 years.”