Reporter’s note: Further information from the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office has been added.
A man who had been previously cited for trespassing within the Berrendo Riverbed was found Thursday morning at a makeshift camp in north Roswell, outside of city limits.
Paul R. Parks, 54, was found shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday near Relief Route and Clovis Highway, according to the Roswell Police Department’s public information officer, Todd Wildermuth.
The unattended death was handled by the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Britt Snyder said while there were no obvious signs of foul play, the department is looking into other possibilities.
“The individual didn’t show up for work this morning is what I understand,” Snyder said. “They apparently went and checked on him and found him, and I’m assuming, called for an ambulance.
“The fire department determined pretty quickly that he was beyond help.”
Jeneva Martinez, a board member of the Roswell Homeless Coalition, said Parks was a dear friend.
“I’ve been working close with Paul for the last five years or six years,” Martinez said. “He’s like family to me.”
Martinez explained Parks was one of the four homeless people who was issued a citation from the city of Roswell for illegally camping in the Berrendo Riverbed as a result of the Nov. 17 trespassing notice.
“He was given a citation from the city,” Martinez said. “He was afraid to go back down there, so he moved north, out into the county, north of the truck stop.”
Parks’ camp was set up within a culvert, roughly 2 miles north of the Berrendo Riverbed.
In addition to the citation, Parks had been charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia in 2016. The charges were dismissed September 2017.
Snyder told the Daily Record later Friday afternoon that drugs suspected as methamphetamine were found at the scene.
“Continued drug use is a strong possibility of adding to the health problems,” he said. “We too often see meth toxicity listed as the cause of death on OMI reports.”
Martinez said she knew Parks had his struggles.
“He was a hard worker,” Martinez said. “When we would deliver food every Wednesday, we would deliver it to Paul, because Paul was the one that would make sure everybody down there would get their food. He was very reliable — he was a good person.”
Martinez said it’s important to humanize the homeless population, not see them as a problem.
“I want people to know that he was a son, he has a twin brother in Albuquerque,” she said. “He’s a brother to somebody. He’s a son to somebody — he was my friend.”
Martinez, noting she had celebrated Christmas with him, said Parks had just had his 54th birthday Tuesday.
“I wonder how last night would have been if he was still in his little hut that he built in the Berrendo River?” she questioned. “If we had something available to him last night, would he still be here? I don’t know.”
Roswell city manager Joe Neeb said while he is not sure as to what actually happened with Parks, there was one thing he was certain of.
“Loss of a life is very serious. Any life,” Neeb said. “I think it serves as a great reminder that we need to find a solution to this. As far as how to move it any faster, I don’t know if that triggers anything else other than loss of life is not good. Period.”
Neeb said he still wouldn’t say the city has been doing a great job.
“Because the issue still remains,” he said, “I think what we have found through all of this discovery is that one size doesn’t fit all.
“We can build the best place to put everybody, and not all of them are going to go because it doesn’t fit what their needs or situation is.”
Even though Parks had settled outside city limits with his campsite, Neeb said the conditions didn’t really change.
“Until we’re able to get them into some type of structure — that assistance, then — it’s very difficult to help until that happens. And that’s where the challenge will always be with that.
“With what the city has tried to tackle, and tried to help find the areas as well for these people to go, we’ve run into the resistance of the other side of the issue as well, too.
“The loss of life at all is senseless. It shouldn’t happen. I just don’t know what those conditions were as to what all triggered that, and that’s the hard part. I’m assuming it had something to do with the exposure, but that would be my assumption.”
Snyder said, based on his detective sergeant’s findings, it appears Parks had died from something other than exposure.
“I believe this individual, just from the description, has been living as a homeless person for some time,” Snyder said. “The weather here in the last few days has not been near as cold as it was.
“Obviously, exposure could play a part, but I think there’s probably some underlying medical issues that may be identified at the autopsy.”
Snyder said it appears that the victim had been alone.
“There was nobody else there,” he said. “There was no indication there had been anybody else, so it appears he was living by himself in a homeless fashion — I don’t know how else to describe that. It’s amazing how much somebody can accumulate.
“We have to assume the worst. Until we find out otherwise, there was just nothing at the scene to indicate foul play at all. That’s kind of where we are.”
Parks’ body was taken by the Office of Medical Investigator for further examination.
“Hopefully an autopsy will show what the cause of death was,” Martinez said. “Nobody should die of homelessness. Nobody should die cold and alone, and that’s what he did. No matter what the cause of death was, he was cold and alone last night when he died.
“If that doesn’t shake the boots, I don’t know what will.”
In previous reports, Rodney A. Lara, of Artesia, a homeless man living in the Berrendo Riverbed, had mentioned Parks in an Oct. 27 interview.
Lara said Parks had offered him help.
“I met Paul when I was out here behind the McDonald’s,” Lara said. “He invited me to come down into the Wash (Berrendo Riverbed). I got to know these people. Me and Paul have spent two or three winters out here — and it is hard.”
Martinez, reflecting on the issue, said the community needs to remember those like Parks are people too.
“This is a city problem,” she said. “A community problem. It’s a crisis right now — I’ve been saying it’s a crisis.
“I really just want people to know Paul as the person. I don’t want anybody else to end up like this.”
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.