Shooting victim’s widow recalls memories of husband

Courtesy photo Rey Ornelas, his wife Shirley Ornelas and their son Rey jr. were a close family and enjoyed spending time together on the farm where Rey worked. Rey Ornelas was shot and killed May 30, 1993.

Sharna Johnson

Her son has grown from a boy to a man. Her home has aged and seems smaller. She has aged too. But despite all the changes that 17 years has brought, Shirley Ornelas has not wavered in her commitment to her husband.

She was widowed May 30, 1993, in Portales when a bullet fired from Arnoldo Navarette’s gun ended her husband Rey Ornelas’ life.

“I’ve never remarried … I would have had 31 years with him,” she said tearfully. “I’ll never do that. I’ll be (an) Ornelas the rest of my life.”

Thursday, a Roosevelt County jury convicted Navarette of first-degree murder and aggravated battery in the years-old case.

Navarette was arrested in Odessa, Texas, in June 2009 after 16 years on the run.

The years of waiting were difficult, Ornelas said, explaining several people saw Navarette shoot her husband while Rey Ornelas stood near his then 12-year-old son at a Memorial Day cookout.

“We knew it was him,” she said, explaining there had been a dispute between Navarette, her husband and some of her husband’s family members.

And knowing Navarette was on the run plagued her all those years.

“Everybody saw him shoot, so, everybody knew he was running for 17 years. I was afraid because they knew I lived by myself and they knew I’d get old,” she said. “I was so happy he’s finally paying. My husband’s life has been taken away (and) it hurts; it hurts to be without my husband.”

Police said Navarette shot a small-caliber handgun from the passenger window of a car being driven by his brother-in-law, according to Freedom New Mexico archives.

Rey Ornelas was struck in the chest and died while his son and other family watched. His brother, Danny Ornelas, was wounded by a shot to the arm and back.

A warrant was issued for Navarette’s arrest immediately following the shooting, but police said Ornelas fled and evaded capture until last year.

As high school sweethearts, the two were too young to be married in New Mexico, so they went to Muleshoe and were married by a judge.

Had he lived, next Wednesday (Oct. 13) would have been their 31st anniversary, she said.

“We didn’t want to separate,” she said, beginning to sob. “And I still feel so separated from him. I just loved him so much and I do miss him; I do.”

Ornelas was injured last year when she fell from a horse, with the effects of the trauma still lingering. Doctors advised her against attending Navarette’s trial out of concern for the effect the stress and emotion might have on her.

The effects of the injury still challenge her, Ornelas said, particularly when it comes to memories.

But she hasn’t forgotten that Monday she would probably have been making her husband’s favorite food, tacos, for his birthday.

And her own pending birthday on Oct. 31 brought a tearful giggle as she remembered how Rey fussed over her and brought her pumpkins.

“He called me a little witch,” she said.

She recalled times when she and her son would go to the farm where he worked on Saturdays and spend the afternoon riding the tractor with him. The family also shared his enthusiasm for motorcycles and racing cars.

So much changed the day he died, yet she has tried to keep familiarity.

“People told me to leave this house, it’s old and it’s small, but I say ‘No, he bought this house,’” she said. “He bought this house for me and I’m still here.”

His clothes still hang in her closet and she always has Tabasco sauce in the cupboard because he ate it on everything.