When police were called early Wednesday (US time) to an apartment complex in Albuquerque, they thought they were responding to a battery call.
Instead, they found 10-year-old Victoria Martens. She had been killed hours before her 10th birthday party.
The girl's mother, Michelle Martens, 35; Martens's boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, 31; and Gonzales's cousin, Jessica Kelley, 31, have been charged in connection with her death.
"This homicide is the most gruesome act of evil I have ever seen in my career," Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden Jr. said in a statement. "A complete disregard of human life and betrayal by a mother."
Police said the girl had been drugged with methamphetamine, sexually assaulted and stabbed.
Police were called to the Arroyo Villas Apartments in northwest Albuquerque about 4.30am Wednesday. The call was about an aggravated battery.
A woman, later identified as Martens, told police after they arrived that "someone killed her daughter" and that she's still inside the second-floor apartment.
Gonzales, who was wearing bloodstained shorts, told police that he was "cleaning" himself up before officers got there, according to the complaint.
When the officers tried to get inside the apartment, another woman, later identified as Kelley, slammed the door shut and locked it with a chain. She then jumped from the apartment's balcony, the complaint says, but was later arrested.
Meanwhile, the fire alarm inside the apartment went off. Officers went inside the smoke-filled unit to try to look for the child, the complaint says, and found her body in the bathroom. They also found bloodstains on the carpet of the girl's bedroom.
Trio facing several charges
Martens, Gonzales and Kelley are facing several charges, including child abuse resulting in death, kidnapping, tampering with evidence and conspiracy, according to online jail records.
Gonzales also is charged with criminal sexual penetration of a minor.
Gonzales denied any involvement in the child's death and pinned the alleged crimes on Kelley.
"Jessica Kelley did it," he told reporters as he was being arrested Thursday morning.
Tanner Tixier, spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department, told reporters that what Gonzales said isn't a lie.
"Not the whole truth," Tixier said, "but it's not a lie."
Martens, who has a cut between her eyes, was followed by reporters as she was being arrested. Tixier said she showed no remorse when talking to detectives, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Kelley remained at a hospital Wednesday night.
"This is a horrific tragedy for our community. When something like this happens to our community, it has an effect on each and every one of us," Eden, the police chief, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "I want to assure the public that we will pursue justice, and we will make sure that we exhaust every resource into this investigation."
He said there are no other suspects in the case.
Methamphetamine, much of it provided by Mexican drug-trafficking organisations, is the foremost drug threat in New Mexico, according to a 2011 report by the Justice Department.
Methamphetamine represented about 25 percent of all drug reports in Albuquerque during the first half of 2013, according to a 2014 report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That's a higher number than for drug reports involving cocaine and heroin and a bit lower than marijuana reports.
Death shakes community
Victoria Martens's death has rattled the northwest Albuquerque community where she lived.
Laura Bobbs, a minister and close friend of the family, was sobbing and yelling when she arrived at the Arroyo Villas Apartments, which had been cordoned off with crime-scene tape, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
"No, no, no, say it ain't so," Bobbs said, according to the paper. "Who does this to a little child? Oh, Jesus. Oh, that evil. What is happening to this world, that they would kill a little child?"
She had planned a birthday party for the girl, who wanted manicures and pedicures instead of toys, Bobbs told the paper. She also bought her lip gloss and a necklace with the words "From Aunti Laura" engraved on the back, Bobbs said.
A neighbor, Paulina Quintana, said that the day before Victoria was killed, she seemed excited about her upcoming party.
"My stomach has been hurting. I'm crying off and on," Quintana told the paper. "I think we're all freaking out."
By Thursday morning, a memorial of flowers, teddy bears, candles, butterflies and balloons had been set up outside the apartment.
A bouquet of yellow flowers sat by a tree outside Petroglyph Elementary School, where Victoria was a student.
"We cherish and protect our students and, like the rest of Albuquerque, are having a hard time wrapping our heads around the fact that someone could treat one of them so horrifically," said a brief message on the school's website.
In a statement, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) called the manner in which Victoria was killed "atrocious."
"What happened to this little girl is unspeakable," she said, according to media reports, "and justice should come down like a hammer on the monster who committed this murder."