There was at least one more person at Cheyenne’s Lincoln Park before police arrived the night a drive-by shooter allegedly shot and killed a 15-year-old girl.
Joey Carabajal Jr., 18, was with the girl and other teens playing basketball at the park as midnight approached Apri 29. But he wasn’t there when police arrived 23 minutes after midnight, court documents indicate.
In those minutes, a vehicle rolled past the court with a hooded figure silhouetted in its open window, Carabajal later told a Cheyenne Police Department detective. A gun barrel sparked in the night. Carabajal’s 15-year-old cousin screamed, and he ran to her.
She struggled to breathe and bled from her face as she lay on the ground, he said.
Carabajal checked the girl’s body for other wounds, stroked her head and told her he loved her, according to his police interview.
Then he stood up and took off running, court documents say.
Officers arrived and performed life-saving efforts on the girl. They interviewed other teens who were still at the park.
The girl died the next morning, May 1.
The Laramie County District Attorney’s Office charged Johnny Muñoz, 17, and Julian Espinoza, 16, with first-degree murder variations relating to the girl’s death eight days later. Both prosecutions are ongoing.
Out On Bond
Detective Mike Fernandez went to Cheyenne Regional Medical Center the evening of April 30 as the girl fought for her life.
There he encountered members of the Carabjal family, according to court documents. A source not identified in the documents said Carabajal was hiding from police in the waiting room.
Carabajal later countered, saying he was avoiding Fernandez because he doesn’t like Fernandez.
Fernandez in 2021 interviewed Carabajal in connection with a murder case from that year — in which Carabajal’s friend was the suspect — and questioned Carabajal about gang activity and affiliations in Cheyenne.
More recently, Carabajal was out of jail on bond pending trial for a second-degree murder case from last year in which he is accused of stabbing a man in the chest. He was 17 at the time of his May 6, 2022, arrest on that charge.
Meant For Me Instead
Fernandez asked Detective Allison Baca to interview Carabajal, and she did May 2.
Carabajal told her the teens had walked over to Lincoln Park at about midnight April 29 after hanging out at a barbecue together.
A car rolled past. They thought it might be a cop.
Carabajal told everyone not to worry, the cops wouldn’t bother them because they were all “of age” to be out at that hour.
The car stopped, Carabajal told Baca. The window rolled down.
Carabajal started “walking up” to the car, but the front passenger produced a gun and turned it sideways.
“They started shooting,” he said.
That was when his cousin screamed.
The bullet that killed her was meant for Carabajal because of his pending attempted-murder case, he told Baca.
But he refused to tell the detective who was out to get him.
Carabajal told Baca no one in his party had a weapon, but this contradicts a 17-year-old boy’s statement to police. The teen, identified in court documents as J.O., told police he was with the others at the park and shot back at the drive-by shooters with a 9 mm pistol.
Investigators found 9 mm shell casings imbedded in the grass. They also found .380 casings from the alleged killer along the street behind the basketball court, court documents state.
An Alleged Vendetta
Carabajal is now back in jail on the testimony of two anonymous sources who told Fernandez on May 5 that Carabajal had a handgun when his cousin was shot. He’s not allowed to have weapons under his bond conditions.
One source said Carabajal wanted to shoot his cousin’s killer then kill himself.
He’s been out on a $20,000 surety bond since last July and has gotten his GED during that time. He is now scheduled to attend a May 30 bond revocation hearing regarding his alleged handgun possession.
The Cheyenne Police Department sent a SWAT team to Carabajal’s home May 12. They called out to Carabajal to exit – repeatedly. When no one responded, they launched tear gas into the house.
Carabjal turned himself in to police five days later, Wednesday, after hugging his family members goodbye on the steps of the courthouse.
The Bounty Hunter
The bounty hunter who arranged for Carabajal to turn himself in has different ideas from law enforcement, about the nature of Carabajal’s recent days.
Carabjal’s bond agent, James Pulver, of Freedom Fighter Bail Bonds, told Cowboy State Daily he was surprised to hear of the teen’s warrant and the SWAT deployment, since Carabajal had so recently been in touch with law enforcement regarding his cousin’s alleged murder.
Pulver is responsible for tracking down Carabajal and other defendants if they miss court or violate their bond terms, since his agency puts up the surety bond amounts guaranteeing these defendants will stick around.
“I just never had problems with him,” Pulver said.
For the 10 months Carabajal spent out on bond, “all he was doing was going to college (for GED courses), then he was going to fast food places. Never anywhere crazy,” Pulver said, adding that the teen was on a tracking ankle monitor for the first several months of his bond release.
Pulver learned of Carabajal’s arrest warrant through the news. This puzzled him, he said, since other jurisdictions will call the surety bond agent when a defendant goes rogue.
“I reached out to my sources and my people to get ahold of Joey, and within a couple hours, he was reaching back out to me, and he was like, begging me to pick him up and turn him in to the jail,” Pulver told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday phone interview.
By then, Pulver said, Carabajal was worried that if he made a wrong move while turning himself in things could get violent.
“Police (had) shot … tear gas into his house and no one was even there,” said Pulver, adding that he could still smell the tear gas in Carabajal’s home when he dropped by Wednesday. “They poisoned the hell out of his kitten.”
The Cheyenne Police Department’s spokeswoman said the department called SWAT “due to Carabjal Jr.’s violent history.”
Prosecutors have video footage and a witness statement of Carabajal’s alleged stabbing from last year. His trial is scheduled for next month.
But First, Lunch
Pulver had a heart-to-heart with Carabjal while the teen was in hiding. He said the sooner Carabajal turned himself in, the better off he’d be.
“Because they’re hunting you right now,” Pulver remembered saying.
Carabajal said he was ready to turn himself in.
Pulver drove down to Cheyenne from Casper, picked up Carabajal and bought him lunch. They ate, then they headed to the Laramie County Detention Center.
Heckling The Press
A news van sat outside the courthouse.
Pulver heckled the press.
“I tried to get the reporter to come video (Carabajal) walking himself in, because they’re painting him as this big monster,” he said.
“They only like bad stories!” shouted Pulver as he videoed Carabajal hugging his loved ones goodbye.
Pulver said he hoped the reporters would shoot their own footage of Carabajal walking into the jail with no handcuffs on.
“He walked in and politely honored his warrant,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s pretty crazy that it was that easy.”
Pulver said the manhunt for Carabajal was unnecessary.
“He was in the police department that morning being interviewed by the detective, and they could have taken him into custody if they’d wanted,” he said.
The police department declined to respond to this claim, saying it can’t divulge all the interview times in an ongoing investigation.
Stabbing At The High School
Pulver theorized that the April 30 shooting was in retaliation for a January stabbing at Cheyenne South High School.
Some believe Carabajal stabbed someone at a basketball game.
“Well, that rumor got squashed right away because I was able to pull up the (ankle monitor tracking) data then,” said Pulver. “He was across town during that stabbing.”
Cheyenne Police Department said Carabajal is not charged in the school stabbing.
Reach Clair McFarland at: Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com