Three and a half years before Marco Romero’s fatal shootout with police on the Boise Bench, a 4th District judge warned him that he was on a path toward destruction.
Judge Deborah Bail’s admonition foreshadowed what may be remembered as one of the Treasure Valley’s most violent crime sprees.
“Addiction is a major part of your life, and it leads to all sorts of problems for others and you,” Bail told Romero during his sentencing in May 2013 for felony leaving the scene of an accident.
“You’re very out of control when you’re using. It’s hard to see that you have changed directions — it’s not clear to me because, really, your history is so bad.”
Bail gave Romero up to five years in prison. He served about three before he was released in late January 2016. Then from late July to October, he was jailed on a parole violation.
A month later, he unraveled.
Romero shot four people and a police dog in two separate incidents. He paralyzed two victims: Boise Police Cpl. Kevin Holtry, who also lost a leg, and Melinda Salas, one of his longtime friends. Between the shootings, he carjacked an 89-year-old motorist.
The violent four days followed years of drug addiction and poor decisions by the 33-year-old father of two. But no one expected how Bail’s warning would actually play out.
Holtry is now back in Boise after more than two months of grueling rehabilitation work at a Colorado hospital. He said he doesn’t wonder about Romero’s past or what brought him to his last desperate moments on the Boise Bench.
“The guy is a meth user. He’s a gang member. He’s a criminal. He victimizes people. Plain and simple,” Holtry told the Statesman. “I guess if you’re a psychologist, you could look at it and go long term and say, ‘He didn’t get enough hugs when he was a kid.’
“Whatever it is, that’s his life. That’s what he does.”
His job is to commit crimes. Our job is to stop him from doing that. And that’s what happened on that day.
Cpl. Kevin Holtry on Marco Romero
Romero started drinking alcohol at 11 and became a daily drinker, according to parole records. He then tried marijuana, LSD, mushrooms, cocaine and meth, using the latter daily by the time he was 13.
“He struggled with addiction his whole life,” said Michelle Amber Hill, the mother of his two children.
Romero’s family lived in Billings, Mont., during his early childhood, said younger sister Felicia Hernandez, now 32. Their parents eventually split up, and their mother took the three kids to live near family in Boise.
Their father died before they were teenagers.
Romero, a skateboarder who once dreamed of being a pro skater, was in and out of juvenile detention throughout his childhood. Topping out at 5-foot-4, he was a tiny man with an outsized personality.
“It started with him rebelling against his mom. He would turn to the streets,” said Hill, who first met Romero when they were both 14, at a Downtown Boise dance club called Bogie’s. “His mom was pretty strict.”
Arrests in his court record date back to 1996. As a teen, he was charged with marijuana possession, tobacco possession, alcohol consumption and providing false information to an officer.
Hernandez, who also described herself as a troubled kid, said their hardworking mother did the best she could under difficult circumstances.
Romero went to Fort Boise Mid High, an alternative junior high that has since closed. He was in the school’s “Work and Learn Program” from 1997 to 2000, according to school district records.
He dropped out in February 2000, before finishing 10th grade, and indicated in court documents that he later earned a GED. He trained to be a welder in Job Corps, Hernandez said.
Romero spent so much of his youth and young adulthood in jail or prison that he never really learned how to function without the structure and supervision, his two sisters said. He became increasingly demoralized, felt like a failure and lost hope, they said.
They said he told authorities that he didn’t want to be released from jail last fall.
“He told them he was not ready,” said Jenilee Lopez, 34, his older sister.
In and out of prison
Romero’s two children are now 11 and 9, and they are struggling, their mother said. They found out about their father’s shootout and death through a TV report, when they saw one of their aunts sobbing at the scene on Irving Street.
“It destroyed my kids,” Hill said. “One of the newspeople got their pictures on Facebook. Kids tease them about what happened with their dad.”
The children had already gone without seeing their father during his longest stint in jail and prison, from October 2012 to January 2016.
“The last time he went to prison ... I had just had enough,” Hill said. “He still called and talked to his kids. That’s how they communicated.”
In all, Romero spent at least seven years incarcerated. He struggled with rules while he was in prison and had trouble staying clean when he was out.
His voluminous criminal record includes more than 20 arrests. He was convicted of possession of a controlled substance, driving without a valid license, reckless driving, and possession of a concealed weapon.
In a 2012 case, he was charged with four felonies and three misdemeanors, including robbery, grand theft and an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon. That case was consolidated with another, and all but one charge was dismissed in a plea deal; he pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance.
Two people were injured, one seriously, in the hit-and-run crash Bail sentenced Romero for in 2013. He was absconding from parole at the time.
“Your honor, due to my selfishness, I put a couple of people’s lives in danger,” said Romero.
At a parole hearing in April 2015, Hernandez told the hearing board that she had been out of her brother’s life because she didn’t approve of his lifestyle.
“If released, they have a job for him and a place to live but he has to make the decision to change,” the minutes from that meeting read.
On release in early 2016, Romero spent time with his family. He posted photos and video of his kids on Facebook, including one of his son shaving his head.
In a June post, he talked about a trip home with his mother to see family in Billings — the first time in almost a decade, he said. He wrote of “feeling right at home” and said he couldn’t “wait to get to the picnic and see some family itll be real nice.”
Romero’s last public Facebook post was on July 24. He said he had to go see his probation officer.
“I really have not done one thing I was supposed since I got back from Montana. I guess I’m ready to face the reality of heading back [to prison],” he wrote. His concluding comment about the need for sober friends to hit him up if he got out brought positive responses from about 10 people, some of whom encouraged him to contact them.
Hill was arrested on drug charges Feb. 15, about two weeks after speaking with the Statesman for this story. She was pulled over while driving in Nampa; she told the officer that she was wanted on a warrant related to a petit theft case from 2016, the probable cause affidavit says.
Investigators said they found a meth pipe in Hill’s purse, as well as a plastic bag with white crystal residue and a container with “a leafy green substance” in bags. The contents of those items tested presumptive positive for meth and marijuana. Hill told police that she’s been using meth since she moved to Nampa two years ago, officers said in the affidavit.
Hernandez says Hill and Romero’s children are currently being cared for by their grandmother. Hill, who bonded out of jail, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, online court records show.
‘Don’t make mistakes like me’
Romero is remembered by two of his friends as a caring, charming person with a good sense of humor. They chalk up his actions to drug-induced psychosis from methamphetamine and/or other drugs. (They didn’t want to be named publicly because of his crimes and their own checkered pasts.)
“I knew him when he wasn’t on drugs. He was a really good guy,” said one friend, a 32-year-old Boise State student who is two years sober after battling her own heroin/meth addiction. “He made jokes about everything ... He would go out of his way to help someone.”
Romero told the presentence investigator in the 2012 crash case that he was afraid drugs would kill him. While battling his own demons, he tried to help others, his friends said.
“There were times I wanted to give up on everything,” said a 28-year-old Boise man who knew Romero both in and out of prison. “He just told me, ‘You’ve got kids. Don’t make mistakes like me.’ ”
That longtime friend lives and works on the Bench. He heard the gunshots that killed Romero on Nov. 11. He said he did not attend Romero’s funeral for several reasons.
“He shot cops. I can’t condone that,” said the friend, a married father of two who noted that he has been sober about a decade. “He ruined people’s lives.”
Good employee, but odd behavior at work
Romero worked different construction jobs over the years. His last job was as a polisher on the 2-10:30 p.m. shift at Advanced Marble & Granite Inc. in Meridian.
He worked there from early February to early June. He quit because he had failed a drug test, leading to one of his stints in jail.
“To be honest with you, he was a good employee,” said Don Massey, owner of Advanced Marble, who described Romero as generally punctual, productive and quiet. “He seemed to come in and do his work. I didn’t hear a lot of complaints.”
After the shooting, a couple of Advanced Marble employees talked about some odd behavior.
“I think toward the end, he thought a couple of his immediate supervisors were working for the FBI, trying to frame him,” Massey said. “He went a little off the wall on us.”
Massey said he heard Romero wrote a letter of apology to his coworkers from jail. Some were too afraid to come to work when he was on the lam, Massey said.
“They were worried that he was going to come after them for some reason,” Massey said. “There was definitely people who knew him and liked him but were scared of him. When he wasn’t on drugs, he was cool and kind, and a normal person. But I think it was on meth that he would change.”
Hernandez said Romero kept saying he believed he was being followed by federal agents. She asked him why they’d be following him, and he said he didn’t know. She told him not to worry about it.
Massey said he didn’t know Romero had a substance abuse problem. He said he has hired people in the jail/prison work release program for about a decade.
“We like to think that we’re giving them a second chance,” he said.
Coming 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.
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.
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.