Shooting victim remembered as thoughtful, caring

Courtesy photo Melissa Ward was shot and killed while traveling in a van last week in Clovis.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Despite living a hard life, shooting victim Melissa Ward had a big heart, according to residents in the Lubbock neighborhood where she lived.

Ward, who was shot and killed while traveling in a van last week in Clovis, is being remembered as a caring and thoughtful woman who took care of people in her Lubbock neighborhood.

Her alleged killer remains at large.

Guadalupe Gonzales, 86, said Ward, 36, lived with he and his wife for about seven years. She just came into their lives one day and became like family, he said.

“She didn’t have nobody. We never knew any relatives,” Gonzales said, explaining Ward never really talked about her past.

“She was really nice. She was just like a daughter. I really miss her. I just cry for her.”

Police said they have not been able to locate Ward’s family since her death.

Her mother was killed years ago, she was estranged from her father, and no other relatives have come forward, Clovis Police Capt. Patrick Whitney said.

Her last known address was Gonzales’ residence in Lubbock, police records show.

Ward left the house around 3 p.m. (CDT) last Thursday, Gonzales said.

“She just told me, ‘Dad I’ll be back in a little while,’ but never came back,” he said tearfully.

When Clovis police came to his door the next day to notify him of her death he was shocked.

Lupe Gonzales, Guadalupe’s wife of 57 years, met Ward one day and the two started talking. When it began to rain, his wife invited Ward home and the trio forged a bond, Guadalupe Gonzales said.

His wife died four years ago, he said, and Ward stayed on to care for him. He said he is hopeful Ward’s remains will be released to him and he plans to bury her next to his wife.

Gary Payne, 52, and Ward were each shot once in the head while traveling in a van near Clovis’ Charlotte Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, according to police.

A warrant for the arrest of Anthony Ray Casillas, 21, of Clovis on an open charge of murder was issued Saturday. Police believe Casillas fled to West Texas or Chaves County.

Police believe Casillas was in the van at the time of the shooting. The van was registered to Payne’s wife.

Tommy Crawford, a friend and neighbor of Gonzales, said Ward was known as a helper throughout the central Lubbock neighborhood, which he described as a rough, low-income rental community with a high number of disabled and elderly residents.

“She had an empty place in herself that she was trying to fill. She couldn’t find no way to fill it other than taking care of other people. She needed to feel like she was needed,” Crawford said.

Crawford, who’s disabled, said Ward would clean his house and help him with laundry, dishes or cook for him.

And she also read mail for a blind man in the neighborhood, would push another resident to the grocery store in his wheel chair so he could shop, and helped many with cleaning and chores, Crawford said.

Gonzales and Crawford said Ward struggled with drug addiction and several times they tried to take her for treatment.

“She had a problem. That old devil would keep pullin’ her back. We talked to her about it and at times you’d think she did (want to get clean), but it seems like she’d fall off the wagon,” Crawford said.

“She could never make that next step. (Lupe and Guadalupe Gonzales) took care of her and tried to lead her away from that dope and stuff but it just had too strong a hold on her.”

Crawford said the week before Ward left for Clovis, she told Crawford that Payne had offered to help her find work covering silage in the Clovis area. She was looking at it as a fresh start, he said.

“She’d try anything. As little as she was, she was stout as a mule,” he said. She ran down to meet Payne’s van the day she died, Crawford said, and that was the last anyone saw of her.