Crime

Multiple Tragedies Behind the Murder of Neomi Tafoya

Two portraits of the late Neomi Tafoya.
Two portraits of the late Neomi Tafoya. Family photos
There have been so many deaths by gun violence in Colorado in 2021 that many of the victims have received little more than brief mentions in blurbs or police blotters. But stories of love and loss lurk behind every passing — though few are as heart-rending as the one involving the late Neomi Tafoya.

In late August, Westword featured the 41-year-old Tafoya in a story about the state reaching 100 deaths by gunfire for the year in record time, and her fatal shooting in July spawned another one: Earlier this month, 52-year-old Lisa Garcia, the chief suspect in her slaying, was killed in a confrontation with Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office deputies that is currently under investigation.

"My daughter left seven kids between twelve and 26, plus grandkids," says Larry Guerra, Tafoya's father. "And so did Lisa. She left kids and grandkids behind. Two lives wasted, and for what? Nothing."

Tafoya's death is only the latest tragedy to strike the family, he adds: "She's the third daughter we've lost in fifteen months. Two of my daughters died from fentanyl [overdoses]. And then Neomi was murdered by someone who was supposed to be her friend."

Law enforcement agencies released only the most basic information about the shooting of Tafoya. At 9:39 p.m. on July 24, the Denver Police Department tweeted: "DPD Officers on scene in the 4700 block of N Vine St, on a shooting. An adult female was transported to a local hospital and declared deceased." Three days later, the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner identified the victim as Tafoya and the place of her death as Denver Health. "An autopsy was completed and the cause of death was from a gunshot wound," the OME noted. "The manner of death is homicide."

The specifics of the incident offered by Guerra underscore the contrast between the ordinary events that preceded the shooting and the aftermath of the attack. "Neomi's mom, Karen, knew she'd gone to Lisa's house [the Vine Street address]," he relates. "Neomi said, 'Come over and get me in ten minutes,' because they were going to a baby shower. When they got there, Lisa came out real fast and was shaking. Karen asked, 'Why are you shaking?' And Lisa said, 'Your daughter left.' But she was lying to them. All that time, Neomi was on the other side of the door, dying."

A short time later, Guerra's son Larry and Tafoya's eldest, Johnnie, gained access to the home and found Tafoya clinging to life. "Johnnie thought she'd been beaten and strangled because her eyes were out of her head," Guerra says. "But she'd been shot in the head." A police officer who held Tafoya's hand in the ambulance to Denver Health told him that Neomi fought to survive, but the damage was too extensive.

Garcia immediately became the top person of interest in the shooting, but Guerra is uncertain about a possible motive. He's heard speculation about a disagreement over $300 or jealousy regarding a man with whom Neomi had been speaking. But Garcia isn't around to clear up the confusion. At 5:01 p.m. on September 3, the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office tweeted, "Deputies on scene in the 7500 block of E. Harvard Ave. working an OIS [officer-involved shooting].... Further information will follow."

ACSO representatives later said that members of a task force had arrived at the Ivy Crossing apartment complex near South Quebec Street and East Harvard Avenue when Garcia emerged at around 4:15 p.m. She's reported to have aimed a handgun at deputies, but she didn't fire. The law enforcers did, though. On September 7, the Arapahoe County Coroner's Office revealed that Garcia died of "multiple gunshot wounds."

To Guerra, the circumstances of the shooting suggest "suicide by cop. She was on the run for more than thirty days, and they had her under surveillance for two weeks. I think the real reason she left that apartment was because she didn't want them to get her children and grandchildren."

Tafoya's death precipitated a financial crisis for her family. A GoFundMe page soliciting contributions for her funeral services only raised $400 — not nearly enough to pay for everything. A fundraiser at a local bar was more successful, and Guerra says that Crown Hill Cemetery and Romero Family Funeral Home donated thousands of dollars in services. But Guerra still had to use his house payment to cover all the costs. A new fundraiser to put a headstone on Tafoya's grave and to get counseling for Johnnie, who continues to grapple with the traumatic experience, is in the planning stages.

Despite what happened, Guerra takes no satisfaction from Garcia's death. "We didn't want the police to kill anybody," he says. "My grandkids are devastated by this, and I'm sure her kids and grandkids are devastated by this, too. There are no winners here."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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