Human Target

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"Do you mean to tell me that these highly trained men couldn't subdue him? They told me the incident lasted for a couple of minutes. Why did the officer get so close to him? Was there no other option than to kill him? This is a kid I raised for nearly 21 years. He was very intellectual, very brilliant. I can't believe that overnight he became a wild man."

Burgueno saw his son three days before he was killed. "He was here Thursday night, excited about learning French. He was at the stage of his life when he wanted to explore things."

Was his behavior normal on Thursday? "Yes." He pauses. "I'm not bitter or angry against the police officer. But I think it was irrational, a lack of judgment, and they don't want to admit it."

What about the machete?
He smiles sadly. "The machete was left to him by his grandfather. That's why he had it in his apartment. . . . I want witnesses to come forward. Anybody who saw what happened. I think the police are being evasive. You're talking about a young man's life here. The police told me he'd been banging neighbors' doors with the machete. Then why was there no damage to doors? They said he'd trashed his apartment. My son wasn't strong enough to do some of the damage that was done."

Abdiel was the eldest of his kids. He has three others. Naomi is 18, Joanne is 17, and Abraham is 14.

"I love all my kids," says the father. "But Abdielito was the closest to me. For years, I would visit prisons to preach, and he'd go with me. He carried my Bible and my guitar. My little shadow. I feel honored by God to have had him as a son."

This could be dismissed as the sentimentality of a bereaved father. But, in the days that follow, I will meet scores of people who knew Abdiel Burgueno. And they will all say similar things.

This is what is known about the last night of Abdiel Burgueno's life:
He was alone in the apartment. His roommate, Chris Collins, had gone to Las Vegas for a computer convention. Collins' girlfriend, Jen Manning, was having a party, and she expected Burgueno to be there.

He called her at 3:30 a.m. and said he wasn't going to come, because he'd been drinking and didn't want to drive. "He said he'd probably see me the next day," she says. How did he sound? "He sounded pretty happy. Quite intoxicated."

About 20 minutes before he was killed, he talked to his friend Steven Serrano on the phone. "He wanted to go out and have breakfast or something," Serrano remembers. "I said no, I had to work in the morning. We were just talking, like we normally talk. It was a five-minute conversation."

And that is as much as we know. We are expected to believe that, in the 20 minutes following a mellow conversation with a friend, Burgueno trashed his apartment and became a machete-wielding maniac.

We don't know why he went out without his glasses or contact lenses ("He was blind without them," one friend says), or why he put on mismatched shoes which he apparently kicked off while chasing or being chased by a couple of teenagers. All we have from the police is a press release describing the incident, as I have already presented it from Popp's point of view. Popp himself isn't talking. The police report is not yet complete, and it will be weeks before the results of a toxicology report are known.

All we know amounts to this: Abdiel Burgueno was killed as an outcome of something sudden and bad that happened at the end of an ordinary night.

Although his parents and siblings are adamant that there was nothing unusual about Abdiel Burgueno's mental state, this might normally be taken with a grain of salt. Everybody has a secret life his family doesn't know about and isn't privy to. Could Burgueno have been slowly going postal without his parents' knowledge? Possibly. But could it have happened without his friends knowing? Not likely.

Some people are reclusive, spending a lot of time alone and seeing their friends sparingly. Abdiel Burgueno was not one of those people.

Some of his closest friends were very different from he. Burgueno was technophobic. Rather than use a computer, he collected old typewriters and used them for his writing. But his friends were computer geeks. Some of them talk fondly about how tolerant he'd be when they'd "geek out" and talk about computers around him.

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Barry Graham