2012 July 13,Albuquerque

After James Holmes gunned down moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, a friend of mine asked me if I ever woke up to the news of a mass shooting and expected to know the shooter from our past lives as homeschooled conservative Christians. Given the isolation and the violence we sometimes saw, part of her was always waiting to recognize a gunman’s name.

Maybe that’s why I had a bad feeling when I heard that a 15-year-old boy in New Mexico, my home state, had murdered his mother, father, and siblings. And why the feeling got worse when I heard he was the son of an ex-pastor of the very church that hosted our statewide homeschool conventions. By the time I found out Nehemiah Griego was homeschooled, I was somehow not surprised.

The evangelical homeschool community was built to shelter its children from the darkness of the outside world. My own family was well-adjusted, happy and peaceful, but there was an undercurrent of violence, isolation and darkness running through the family lives of others we knew. My experience is only my experience, and one I hope is atypical of other homeschooled communities. But what we saw was unsettling.

New Mexico itself is a violent place. I now live in New York, the city where middle American moms and dads still fear to send their kids. But New Mexico is one of the most dangerous states in the nation, and Albuquerque’s per-capita rate of violent crime is nearly twice the national average. The violence there can sometimes be an especially crazy and senseless violence fueled by a despair that seems to be driven by poverty, alcoholism, drug abuse. I remember a recent example that I still haven’t been able to forget, of a paraplegic man who started partying with two strangers who dumped him out of their pickup truck when he wouldn’t share his liquor. They left him to crawl on his belly through the New Mexico desert near my hometown for three days—starving, dehydrated, and cold. The gun culture is just as deep in New Mexico as it is the Southern states, a state where good Christians own guns and use them. Greg Griego, a born-again, former gang member, owned the assault rifle his son reportedly used to kill him.

During my time growing up in a tiny church of 10 or so homeschooled families, I saw emotional, sexual, and physical violence again and again. A stepfather went to prison for raping his stepdaughter, a landlord was arrested for child pornography, and more than one wife fled her husband in terror. I’ve seen the homeschool community draw a type of family that craves isolation and doesn’t want the authorities intruding into their lives. They would prefer not to have a watchful school official notice a bruise and would rather deal with a troubled child in secret instead of under the scrutiny of the state. This type of community can especially draw violent and abusive men who quote scriptures about wives obeying their husbands and take those scriptures as a license to abuse.

The homeschooled community can exert a pressure to pretend that everything is fine, so I saw violence explode from the families who looked the happiest on the outside. In a community that emphasizes tight-knit families and idealizes loving and harmonious homes, a violent father or a troubled child can hide in plain sight.

The isolation of that community can be amplified by New Mexico’s own empty spaces—miles of desert swept with sand, dotted with pinon trees and scattered with houses that might be hundreds of miles apart. Life as a homeschooled Christian kid—at least when I was a child—could be lonely sometimes. Some of the friends I considered close lived three and a half hours away.

I didn’t know the Griego family, although there is a good chance that my family and theirs had mutual friends. It would be wrong to assume that anyone else in the Griego family was also troubled, like Nehemiah was, or that anyone but the shooter himself was responsible for a tragic and senseless act. The family’s father, Greg Griego, was a well-loved man who had put his own violent past behind him to help others. He was coming home from his work at a homeless shelter the night his life ended, and there are no allegations he abused his son.

According to those who knew him, Nehemiah Griego was a quiet kid who wore camo, played drums in the youth group and seemed to spend a lot of time by himself. I can picture Nehemiah Griego’s daily life because it seems a lot like mine: church, classes taught by mom, a bevy of younger siblings, few friends, and even quiet walks down rural roads. I knew kids like him, and most of them were great kids, which is what the church security guard called Nehemiah Griego. But I can also echo what the guard said: “No idea what demons are in the closet.”

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About The Author

Alisa Harris

28 Responses to The Violence in New Mexico

  1. Steve says:

    Wait, I don’t get the crux of your article. Are you blaming “sheltering” in the method of homeschooling for being the reason for this kid to go off and do this horrendous act? BTW, I knew the family when they lived in Southern California before they moved to New Mexico.

  2. Sarah says:

    I think it’s important to note that isolated families like this often reject mainstream healthcare, including mental health care. With no teachers or school social workers around to notice warning signs, and with no regular dr visits, it is easy to see how a personality disorder could escape the parent’s notice. Isolation is very dangerous for children. No parent can be EVERYTHING to thier child.

  3. Ian says:

    I know that Patrol trades in personal experiences, but this one suffers from confirmation bias more than most.

  4. Gary Horsman says:

    I don’t think Alisa wants to conclusively attribute gun violence to forms of isolation like rural life or homeschooling, but it may give cause to a reader to contemplate the role isolation plays in these kinds of tragedies.

    Most perpetrators of gun violence tend to be loners, people who are socially cut off or who dwell within very tiny groups.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if isolation was found to be a major contributing factor in most or all of these crimes. There seems to be preventative effect in having stable, supportive relationships that guards against gun violence.

    Food for thought.

  5. AC says:

    You guys are propaganda…. It’s reaching comical proportions…. You guys won, you have the culture, you have the youth, you have the president, you have the people…..find a hobby already, talk about redundancy….

    Promote refraining from fornication as a the God given means to prevent the greater unthinkable tragedy of abortion…. I say this in love, you guys are becoming a joke, your bias is really showing!

  6. AC says:

    When will you guys realize this is a human nature problem

    Not an evil Christian conservatism thing…

    Sorry Alicia, good article but Sessions & his crew need to freakin grow up already

    I don’t believe Christian conservatism = heaven on earth, stop pretending liberal Christianity has all the answers

    • David Sessions says:

      AC, I’ve about had enough of your spam comments on every post. If you want to contribute to our discussions, or disagree in a constructive way, we’d love to have you do so. But your excessive and non-sequitur comments are inappropriate for our site and a nuisance to our readers. If you keep it up, I’ll have to block you.

  7. AC says:

    Sessions, I’m your Luke Skywalker….I still believe there is some good in you….Im gonna wear you down, it’ll cost you everything but by Gods mercy you will be saved, go ahead & block me…. My words will not die

    • Dude, take it from a fellow conservative Christian: your posts usually don’t make any sense, are poorly written, and are embarrassing to those of us who might otherwise agree with you. Go take a few online seminary classes (RTS has a lot of free stuff on iTunes!), read some Foucault, and come back when you’re ready to engage in substantial debate. Please.

      • AC says:

        Whatever Matt, yeah only scholars can have an opinion……God Bless, stop by my blog, lots of entries are on the fly, others are more thought out..I’m not worried about style points, my message is clear….if you want you can critique each entry,

        don’t worry I’m sure you scored points with the elites over here

        Thanks for the seminary offer, but I know my stuff….still love ya bro, but I had to get my shots in….hope my sentiments didn’t make you blush

      • Patrick Sawyer says:


        Just wanted to comment on your advice to AC.

        I echo your comment that RTS has lots of free courses on iTunes. I am amazed at the amount of quality stuff that is available to anyone for free from RTS. Yea RTS.

        On Foucault, yes read Foucault and understand where he is coming from, but I wouldn’t bath my mind in him. 🙂 (I realize you are not quite suggesting that). There are just too many other secular theorists that are onto something when it comes to analysis around the human condition. Foucault is certainly a go-to guy for the secular humanities, particularly at the graduate level, but I might suggest George Herbert Mead and Martin Buber, two heavyweights in secular communication/inter-personal relations theory, for AC to peruse if he hasn’t already.

        Mead’s notion of “participation in the other” is compelling, and while not distinctly Christian, in the main it is not at odds with Christian thought, and moreover, is beautiful in its attempt to connect human beings to one another in deeper, more profound ways. My time in secular graduate school was enriched by spending time in the thoughts of Mead.

        In a different direction, if we must stay with French theorists, I suggest not only AC but all of us Patrol readers, if we haven’t already, to get acquainted with Frederic Bastiat. Cheers.

  8. Disclaimer: I Was raised in a homeschool family and turned out okay. I’m pretty happy with my upbringing.

    While I was not always privy to the details of what happened to other homeschool families in my church, I did become aware of various abusive situations that were covered up. However, covering up is what happens in just about every abusive family and is by no means unique to homeschool families or Christian families. On that note, I would like to point out there is zero data about abuse being more prevalent among homeschooled kids. As a person whose job involves calling Child Protective Services from time to time, I can assure you that public school is no shining vanguard against abuse. I also talk to plenty of public-schooled kids who live in urban areas who have every service imaginable available to them who are still bored, lonely, and sad.

    The author seems to be painting a picture of NM as a brutal, violent place where people ignorantly cling to guns and religion– on the basis of one horrific account of substance abusers mistreating someone else as well as a handful of personal recollections within the community she grew up in. There is no data in this story actually attempting to deal with NM’s gun laws and their effect on crime, trying to compare Albuquerque to other cities in other states (say, the more liberal paradise of Baltimore), or even trying to assess how domestic violence and child abuse are dealt with in tight-knit communities. I certainly understand that it’s a personal reflection, but the halfhearted attempts at throwing around data to justify her position (someone mentioned confirmation bias above) are quite disconcerting for someone whose job involves looking at data and trying to make decisions about it.

    Again, Patrol’s otherwise noteworthy attempts at good writing about religion are overwhelmed by the clamor of axe-grinding.

    • Ron Bruno says:

      I didn’t get the sense that Alisa was axe-grinding at all. She seems to be genuinely troubled by the Griego murders and correlated home-schooling and isolation as very relevant risk factors. Please recall that Adam Lanza’s mother home-schooled him with no apparent religious agenda but in a clear case of extreme isolationism. Abuse takes many forms. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse are a great national tragedy that ignore class and religious boundaries but all too often occur in isolation. Alisa seems to be identifying isolation as the culprit here, not necessarily home-schooling or evangelical Christianity. Isn’t she a Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian anyway? There has been disagreement since the crucifixion. Remove the timber from your own eye…

      • Ron, if you read the linked articles it’s fairly clear that the murderer was not particularly “isolated” but was pretty active in the choir and the wrestling team.

        In your comment, you at first say that “homeschooling and isolation” are “very relevant risk factors,” then you say “Alisa seems to be identifying isolation as the culprit here, not necessarily home-schooling or evangelical Christianity.” It is hard to read this reflection and not see it as at least accusing homeschooling as the facilitator for abuse and isolation.

        I have no idea where you’re going with your last few comments because I am not aware of any logs in my eyes. Although now that I think about it, I did misuse statistics and hotlinks in support of my points back when I was writing blog posts regularly. ; )

  9. Ron Bruno says:

    Thanks for your response, Matt. Alisa seems to be identifying isolation as a collateral risk of home-schooling, online video gaming, geographic remoteness, etc. I am also suspicious of media accounts of these mass murders. They are filled with speculation and false rumors. I am actually a proponent of home-schooling and believe that public education is a relic of the Industrial Revolution. Digital technology is rapidly changing the way we educate ourselves and I believe home-schooling will continue to increase as public education fails to “reform” itself.

    We are usually not aware of the log in our eye. Please feel free to remove any in mine:)


  10. Patrick Sawyer says:


    You said, “During my time growing up in a tiny church of 10 or so homeschooled families, I saw emotional, sexual, and physical violence again and again. A stepfather went to prison for raping his stepdaughter, a landlord was arrested for child pornography, and more than one wife fled her husband in terror”.

    Alisa, with sincere respect, what you are describing is NOT an authentically Christian context. Please understand, I do not doubt the veracity of what you are saying relative to your experience. I take you at your word (and do so comfortably). But no matter what a “church” or “christian group” may claim, to see the behavior you described, particulary with the frequency of “again and again”, is to see a situation where God is not. God hates what you described. Not to sound over the top or hyperbolic, my heart goes out to you that part of your early connection to Christianity was evidently to something so spurious and fraudulent.

    And just too add, my wife and I are Evangelicals who homeschooled our 3 children through 6th grade. And BECAUSE of Christian principles we did not allow them to become isolated. Thankfully, in spite of the failings of their parents, and because of God’s grace, they seem to be well adjusted, perhaps even thriving – one in college at Cornell and two in public high school.

    • Lee says:

      This is basically a “No True Scotsman” argument. No matter how you define an “authentically Christian context”, obviously these are people who define it differently from you, and you have no authority to call your definition the One True Way.

      Like it or not, these people represent Christianity as much as you do. If you want to change that, you and other Christians who believe as you do are going to have to reach out directly to them and show them the error of their ways. Which will be interesting, because they will be trying to show you the error of yours at the same time.

      • Patrick Sawyer says:


        By your reasoning there can be no accurate assessment between the true and the false when it comes to Christianity. You do not have that luxury. The Bible is full of warnings against false prophets, false prophecies, false teachers, false teaching, false faith, false gospels, etc. Even a casual reading of the Scriptures demonstrates this. This reality expressly indicates that there is Christianity that is false and there is Christianity that is true (authentic). And how do we judge between the true and the false? Several ways. One of which speaks directly to what Alisa experienced. It centers around repeated sinful behavior.

        Jesus warned of those who claimed to be His but in fact were NOT His. It was their repeated lawlessness that exposed this reality (Matt 7:21-23).

        In addition, a central theme of the book of 1 John is that a lifestyle of sin and a lack of love betray one to be a false brother. This is basic to John’s first episitle.

        Also, several places in Scripture give examples of serious sin (not unlike what Alisa experienced) and then conclude with “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21).

        Finally, I don’t have a definition of my own that speaks to what constitutes authentic Christianity. I don’t need one. I just need to agree with how God defines authentic Christianity in His word. Which I do.

  11. Ron Bruno says:

    I am still not convinced that Alisa’s post is intended to cast aspersion on home-schooling. She even offers a disclaimer that she is offering personal experiences that may not necessarily portray wider truths. The key modus operandi for abuse is isolation, and not necessarily geographic isolation. Here is a relevant link from the NewYorker:


  12. I found this a very balanced article, in which the author went out of her way not to generalize–in fact, she reaches no conclusions but is engaged instead in asking fair questions about home schooling. I agree with the direction taken, because home schooling can be abused just as public education can. The big problem is the relative isolation in which the educational process occurs, which is a set-up for predatory or abusive men.
    A co-worker of mine home-schools her children because she is concerned about the violence in the local school-system, but the kids get a lot of contact with peers in her urban and mainly African-American church.
    One problem with home-schooling is that children are denied the maturation process involved in interacting with kids from all kinds of backgrounds, and learning to identify and overcome certain kinds of temptations. Yes, guns and drugs are a problem, but if the kids don’t come in contact with the situations in which these toxic realities arise, how well will they deal wit them later? This problem also arises among kids going to private schools, which is one reason I didn’t want my daughter going to one.
    Her mother and I agreed on one or two special SAT prep classes a week, but kept her in a public high school. It was a great experience, our high school being located in a town with struggling families, mainly intact, that weren’t too rich or too poor. Our daughter went to advanced classes in everything,and also picked up a concern for social justice, perhaps the thing that is most frightening to a great many of the people making comments here.
    She got a scholarship to an Ivy League school and is currently on a Fulbright. The best thing about it, however, was learning about people who are unlike her, and learning to care about democratic institutions and practices. And yes, that is a victory for progressive (“liberal”) values.
    The three denominations that have their own school systems (Catholic, Lutheran and Seventh-Day Adventist) also suffer from creeping insularity. I taught at an Adventist college for eight years, and can say that although technically the debate was always between preparing youth for the world and protecting them from it, the protection approach won hands down. By the time they reached college, the Adventist students were at a very low level of cultural literacy, having been “protected” from almost all major literary, social and political thought by the Adventist academies they attended.
    The gracious lady who was head of the English Department told me the following story: When she went to college, she had never read a novel by a modern author. She was assigned CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, and suffered a complete mental and emotional breakdown, and had to go home to recover after the first semester. Perhaps that seems extreme, but I got in trouble for teaching CATCHER IN THE RYE,a book that is routinely assigned to ninth-graders in the public schools. The point is, if the world is so dangerous that it will destroy faith, maybe evangelicals should re-examine their faith. I don’t mean trendiness, I mean the willingness to confront evil in the world and the bravery to act out an alternative. Is evangelical Christianity capable of doing that? Given its current drift to the obscurantist right in American politics, one has to wonder.
    Again, this was a very balanced article, which manages to suggest rather than blame, and to ask relevant questions rather than indict.

    • Lawrence,

      You make a number of good points. I would add, of course, that especially with the way that school districts are carved up, there’s no guarantee that public school will expose your child to a diverse environment (or, having been exposed to kids of other backgrounds, whether or not middle-class kids will become friends with them or reject them.) Homeschooling is not necessarily insular, either. Most of the homeschoolers in my area started taking community college classes for high school credit as they got to be 14-16 years old and had plenty of exposure to “the world”– beyond the exposure to homeschool kids of different classes in our co-op.

      As far as the argument from temptation goes, I have found quite strongly from experience that there is no amount of isolation that will keep a teenager from being tempted to sin. For every temptation to cuss/drink/fornicate a homeschooled teen “misses out on,” they have opportunities to be proud, obnoxious, judgmental, etc.

      From your story and mine, I suspect that the best conclusion to draw is that if you want a child to have a well-rounded education, a concern for social justice, and a balanced group of friends, then the constant involvement and care of the parents is required. : )

      Clearly you and I drew different conclusions about the article, but that probably has more to do with our preconceptions about homeschooling than anything else.

  13. […] Alisa Harris: “The Violence in New Mexico” […]

  14. TB says:

    Sad that you think they were isolated because you were. His church of 15,000 people, and his family was active in many large groups not just church….not exactly what you can call isolation….but I guess if you want to stereo type people you will!

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