Boisean Marco Romero was a 33-year-old father of two who battled drug addiction his whole life. In and out of jail, he was frustrated at his inability to get his life on track, his family said.
On the night of Nov. 8, he snapped.
After an apparently random shooting at a friend’s apartment, Romero fled. The hunt for him ended in more violence three days later, as Romero shot and injured two police officers in a Boise neighborhood before being killed.
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“I couldn’t tell you why [it happened]. I think about it every single day,” said sister Felicia Hernandez, 32, who found herself dodging bullets from a gun held by the brother she loved dearly.
One factor appears to be Romero’s long history with methamphetamine, which the Ada County coroner said his blood tested positive for at the time of his death. Throughout more than 20 criminal arrests and seven full years incarcerated, he kept returning to the drug and to other bad decisions.
“Delusions of persecution cause users to interpret normal behaviors of others as hostile and threatening,” The Meth Project’s website says in an explainer about methamphetamine and violence. Long-term effects of meth use can include psychosis, with paranoia and hallucinations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Hernandez wasn’t injured in the Nov. 8 shooting, but two of Romero’s good friends were hurt. One was paralyzed.
She said she still cries about his death every day.
“There is no pain that I have ever felt like I am feeling now,” she said.
Delusions of persecution cause users to interpret normal behaviors of others as hostile and threatening.
Meth Project Q&A on methamphetamine and violence
Romero goes ‘crazy’
In early November, Romero had a confrontation with his older sister, Jenilee Lopez, over several things, including their father’s guitar — one of their few mementos of him. The altercation got physical, and he shoved Lopez into a table hard enough to leave bruises on her back, she said.
He showed up unannounced at Hernandez’s residence on Nov. 8. He was so upset about the fight with his older sister, and a call from his mother about it, that he broke down in tears.
Hernandez said she spent the day with him, then took him over to his friend’s place to hang out and spend the night. They were all drinking and playing cards before things turned violent.
Hernandez said Romero pulled a gun out of the back of his waistband and started shooting at Melinda Salas and Paul Castaneda, both 29. He shot at Hernandez but missed.
Salas and Castaneda declined to talk with the Statesman.
One of the first officers on scene said Salas had a gunshot wound to her back. In Facebook posts over the past few months, Salas has talked about missing the use of her legs. She said she used to love to dance in a video posted on March 12.
Castaneda had gunshot wounds on his right upper thigh and shin. At the hospital, police asked Castaneda why Romero had shot him.
“[He] continuously told me he didn’t know, claiming he was sitting on the couch watching television and drinking a beer when all of the sudden his ears started ringing and he’d been shot,” Officer Dustin Moe said in his report.
Asked again later, Castaneda said only that Romero was “high as hell” and “sounding paranoid.” He insisted Romero had no grudge against him. He finally told police that mentions of the Norteno gang may have triggered Romero.
Regardless of whether Romero once belonged to a gang — he denied such involvement in parole hearing records — investigators weren’t able to conclude whether that played any part in the shooting, Meridian Police Deputy Chief Tracy Basterrechea said.
Sgt. Christopher McGilvery tried to talk to Hernandez about the shooting. He said in his report that she was hysterical.
“Each time someone would call her, she would tell them that Marco had gone ‘crazy’ and had tried to kill her and had shot two of her friends,” McGilvery wrote. “She would tell whoever she was on the phone with that they were in danger because she believed Marco was going to try to ‘settle’ the score with anyone he thought ‘had done him wrong.’ ”
She told police her brother was an IV drug user and noted that he had been acting strangely in the days leading up to the shooting, “making statements about being done with everything, proclaiming he was not going back to prison, and suggesting his various associates were ‘snakes.’ ... and he was going to make sure they get what they deserved.”
Romero made strange faces and mumbled in the minutes before he drew the handgun and began firing.
Hernandez told police that she did not believe Romero was high or intoxicated — he was delusional.
Among the evidence police collected from the shooting scene: a small baggie containing a white crystal substance, a clear glass smoking pipe with white residue, and three cellphones, including two that had broken screens.
Investigators never determined whose drugs and paraphernalia that was, Basterrechea said. No one else in the apartment was charged with any crimes.
For two days, Romero disappeared.
Carjacking: ‘He was polite.’
On Nov. 10, Romero popped up in the backseat of an elderly woman’s car as she was driving away from the fitness center at the Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village retirement community.
At nearly 90, the feisty Meridian great-grandma gardens, cooks all her meals and bakes homemade bread. She was headed home from twice-weekly pool exercises when she heard a male voice.
“Ma’am, could I get you to pull over to the curb. I need some cash,” the man said.
The voice was soft and gentle.
“It did not scare me,” the woman recalled. She turned to look at the man’s face — it was Marco Romero, whom she recognized from the newspaper the day before.
He made no aggressive actions toward her, she said, and he never touched her. But she instinctively felt that if she stayed in the car, she’d be a dead woman.
“I said to him, in a very loud voice, ‘I’m leaving. I’m not staying in this car, I’m getting out of this car,’ ” she said.
She stood outside the car, shaking from the rush of adrenaline. Romero slipped into the driver’s seat. Without prompting, he handed over her cane and water bottle.
“He was not scary to me, other than I knew what he did to someone else,” she said. “He was polite. He didn’t threaten me.”
At first, a witness in the car behind the woman’s thought she was changing seats with the man. He told police it appeared Romero was helping the elderly woman and seemed to have a friendly demeanor.
“[The witness] said the male even waved at him and smiled,” Meridian Police Det. Seth Washburn wrote in his report.
The woman asked that her identity not be published in this story due to her family’s concerns about her safety. She does not wish to have any contact with Romero’s family, but there’s something she wants them to know: “There was a nice man inside of that body. ... He got on drugs, that’s all there was to it.”
Romero ended up with the woman’s purse, which she said had only $25 and gift cards for Applebee’s and Dutch Bros.
“I fed him that night,” the woman said.
She also lost her house key, cellphone and medical alert fob. Police pinged the latter two. The cellphone was found in Boise in a fenced lot at Bramblewood and Southdale, and the alert device on the side of the road along Victory west of Five Mile.
Though the woman is convinced that Romero wasn’t in her car when she left her house that morning, police were initially concerned that he might have gained access when it was parked in her garage.
“The Meridian police immediately sent a gentleman to my house to make sure that it was safe, and they called a person to change all my locks,” she said. “By the time I got home, three hours later, the house was totally safe, the police were still here, new locks, and everything was safe.”
She believes she forgot to lock her car when she arrived at the pool, just before 9 a.m. When the car was returned to her, she found a few things inside that weren’t hers, including a meth pipe. She didn’t feel comfortable in the car, so a few weeks later the pastor at her church organized a group blessing in it.
“It was the most wonderful thing,” she said.
‘I think about him because he died here’
On Nov. 11, someone spotted the woman’s car in an area north of Orchard Street and Overland Road. They called police, who eventually found Romero walking down a street. He took off running; police cornered him in a neighborhood along Irving Street, between Wilson and Roosevelt.
The police dragnet of the neighborhood was intense, with streets blocked off, officers standing watch with guns drawn and the Special Operations Unit doing a yard-to-yard search for hours.
Vern Lenz, a tech writer, was working at home that day. His wife saw Romero run through the backyard and pull himself over their fence. The SOU team was looking for Romero from their roof.
“One of the things that made it so odd was that we were involved — and not involved,” Lenz said.
The police cordon trapped Romero along Irving. He hid behind a pair of garbage cans outside of a rental house. Cpl. Kevin Holtry, part of the SOU, went to open a gate to let a police dog through when he caught a glimpse of Romero out of the corner of his eye.
Lenz was in an online chat with a project manager from work when the gunfire erupted outside his house. Romero shot Holtry, hitting him five times. The first bullet struck Holtry in the back, and he collapsed to the ground.
Cpl. Chris Davis was hit in the leg. Romero was attacked by a police dog named Jardo, and he shot the dog. Other officers, including from the Lenzes’ roof, opened fire. Romero was pronounced dead on arrival at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center.
Lenz has followed reports of Holtry’s treatment and rehab. He has wondered about Romero, whose actions mystified him.
“I think about him because he died here,” Lenz said.
He read about Romero’s distraught family members coming to his neighborhood soon after the shooting.
“How can you not feel for them?” he said.
Hernandez said her family eventually got permission for a quick, makeshift memorial in the driveway of the rental house where Romero was hiding before he died. The family did not run an obituary, but there was a funeral. Romero’s body was so riddled with bullets that his family was not permitted to see more than his arms. They plan to bury his ashes in a family plot in Billings, Mont.
Sister Jenilee Lopez said family and friends remember Romero as a different person.
“He was still a father, son, brother and good friend to those who knew him,” she said. “He was a person who should have had an obituary like everyone else.”
The neighborhood, shocked in the moment, has in large part moved on.
“I think we felt lucky we weren’t more directly involved,” said a resident of a house near where the shootout occurred. No one from her family, including two young children, was home at the time of the shooting.
“For us, we’ve mostly forgot about it,” she said.
Coming Tuesday: Paralyzed and missing a leg after the Nov. 11 shooting, Cpl. Kevin Holtry navigates his new life in a wheelchair.
About this series
Years of drug addiction and poor decisions by Marco Romero of Boise ended in a span of four days in November 2016, bookended by two shootings — one of which killed him.
Sunday: Jailed or in prison for nearly a quarter of his life, and a drug addict starting in his teens, Romero never learned to function without the structure and supervision of incarceration.
Monday: Years of drug abuse and apparent growing paranoia end with Romero’s involvement in two shootings, one of which wounded Boise officers and killed a police dog.
Tuesday: Paralyzed and missing a leg after the Nov. 11 shooting, Cpl. Kevin Holtry navigates his new life in a wheelchair.
Romero’s last week
Nov. 8: Marco Romero shoots two friends at the Cherry Lane Apartments in Meridian, then flees.
Nov. 10: Romero carjacks an 89-year-old woman in the parking lot of Touchmark at Meadow Lake Village retirement community. The woman was not physically harmed when he stole her car, purse and keys.
Nov. 11: Romero is spotted in the stolen car in a Boise Bench neighborhood. He ditches and flees on foot. He is killed in a shootout with police, but not before wounding Boise Cpls. Kevin Holtry and Chris Davis and K-9 Jardo. The police dog died about a week later.