WILD SOUTH WEST
Inside the Motel Shootout Between an Ex-CNN Anchor’s Military Husband and a Robber
Tomorio Walton died trying to rip off a couple, and his ex-fiancée says the alleged mastermind of the stickup threatened Walton’s girlfriend. Now she’s missing.
The getaway driver during a botched robbery of an ex-journalist and ex-serviceman that left his stick-up man dead may be charged for masterminding it, prosecutors told The Daily Beast.
Skyy Barrs, a 30-year-old ex-con, is said to have been waiting inside a black Chevy Malibu when he witnessed his pal Tomorio Walton, 27, dying on the asphalt of an Albuquerque motel parking lot after being shot multiple times during a shootout with Lynne Russell and her husband Charles de Caro.
Days after the June 30, 2015, gun battle, Barrs was busted for illegal firearm possession and riding in a stolen car. He’s been serving time at the Guadalupe County Correctional Facility in New Mexico and won’t be released until next summer, according to a state prison spokeswoman. Investigators initially charged Barrs for conspiring to “hit a lick” (street parlance for committing a robbery) at the motel, according to an affidavit that was prepared after Walton passed away. The case was dismissed without prejudice for lack of evidence, according to the prosecutor’s office, who added the case against Barrs may be reopened.
“This is an open case and the investigation is ongoing,” said Michael Patrick, spokesman for Bernalillo County District Attorney, of Barrs. “If there is enough evidence to proceed this case would go forward.”
Meanwhile, Walton’s girlfriend, who was supposedly threatened by Barrs to coerce her boyfriend to commit the robbery, hasn’t been seen for weeks.
The missing girlfriend, multiple sources confirmed, was in the parked Chevy by the a dumpster on the opposite side of the Motel 6, along with another woman as Walton died committing the armed robbery.
And last week, detectives caught a break another source said, after they tracked down a third woman in the car. They’re now trying to determine if Barrs was the one calling the shots that night.
Russell and de Caro were driving cross country via Route 66 from their home in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to California where de Caro was set to give a speech to the state’s National Guard. (De Caro did work for the Pentagon, Russell told cops.)
The couple had already been in Albuquerque the day before, and stayed at another Motel 6 based in the less seedy midtown Albuquerque.
“That was the night we expected to stay there,” she said, adding the second night wasn’t planned.
The second day in town Russell visited her old high school and reunited with a friend for dinner, she said. Then after they set out to leave Albuquerque for good, Russell claimed they were fatigued and the roads were “pitch black.”
“We thought, ‘You know we had a lovely day and had some wine and we felt comfortable; and you can’t see in the dark anyway so let’s just, you know, look up and see what we can find to get some sleep and then we’ll get an early start.’”
They decided on the Motel 6 not only because of the AARP discount but because of the convenience it afforded to their 13-year-old Weimaraner Oliver.
“We had learned that if it’s a nice, renovated place that it could meet our needs,” Russell said. “Plus this one had a security guard, so when I went out to the car to get the dog food I figured, ‘This is the safest place to get dog food I’ve ever seen.’”
She’s now “heartbroken” today that they made a grave decision to crash there.
“There have been over 1,000 police calls to that facility in the preceding five years,” she said, referring to her lawsuit. “The assailant knew it, the motel knew it, the security company knew it. We didn’t know it.
“If we wanted to be in some lawless place where we would be at the mercy of anybody who happened to come by we would have just pulled over to the side of the road, you know?”
Russell doesn’t want to remember those seven excruciating minutes in Room 126 when she and her husband were held hostage.
And Russell maintains she was “stalked” that night by both Barrs and Walton. In a civil lawsuit filed on Oct. 13, 2015 against Motel 6, Russell and de Caro say that Barrs and Walton “targeted” them as “potential victims for an armed robbery” while they were checking into their room around 11:35 p.m.
As de Caro showered, Russell made two trips to fetch towels and later dog food.
All the while, surveillance footage captured a “dark colored Chevy… backed into a parking space near a dumpster” where three people are seated, the criminal complaint states.
When Russell left Room 126 for the towels she encountered Walton, sporting a neon green T-shirt, white newsboy cap, and shorts.
Walton asked Russell, the complaint states, for a cigarette but she didn’t have any to offer.
Leaning on the surveillance video footage, investigators then say Walton made another approach, this time “briefly speaking” to Russell and drawing a “smile” from her as he walks on.
Russell would leave the room again for Oliver’s dog food.
Walton paced back and forth in the breezeway, chatting to somebody on his cellphone.
At one point as he bends over to tie his shoe, according to surveillance footage, “a firearm is visible in his right waistband,” the complaint reads.
As Russell returned, she set the dog food down on the ground by the door and with her key card unlocks and opens the door.
In a flash Walton pocketed his mobile phone and draws his “large caliber pistol” to come up from behind Russell.
She again tried to tell him, “I don’t have any cigarettes.”
“[Walton] comes from around the corner, grabs [Russell] and pushes her into the room, onto the bed and then closes the door behind him,” the complaint details.
The now 70-year-old former CNN anchor was tossed onto a motel bed by the gun-toting bandit.
Once inside the room, Walton apparently made an emotional plea: “My girlfriend’s kidnapped and I need mo, I need something, man, I need money, I need goods, I need something. Um, so, give me something and I’ll go away,” he is alleged to have told Russell, who relayed it in her police interview.
Meanwhile, de Caro had emerged from the shower, naked and dripping wet. He entered the room and saw Walton pointing his gun “back and forth” between him and his wife. A quick-thinking Russell started rifling for belongings to offer Walton, quoting, “Let me see what I can get you.”
She offered whatever was in her wallet and a pain-relief cream worth $200.00 that Walton chided, allegedly saying, “You know I gotta give them something. I gotta give them something.”
Before giving de Caro her purse, Russell “discreetly” loaded it with one of their two .380 pistols resting on the nightstand without Walton noticing, according to the complaint.
The couple were licensed to pack, each bearing conceal carry permits for the short pistols the authorities would learn later.
“Do you see this?” Russell asked de Caro as she handed him the purse with one of the guns in it.
Her husband understood and held the gun in the purse while Russell kept moving around the room offering things to make Walton leave.
“We were dizzy telling him, ‘Take whatever you want,’” Russell told The Daily Beast. “The guy was so high on amphetamines that he couldn’t stand still and he was bouncing around with his gun, doing his gangsta thing.”
Then the bandit took interest in de Caro’s briefcase but he was told by de Caro his whole life was in it and that it was “government property.”
She claims Walton insisted on de Caro’s briefcase (which de Caro’s wife later claimed to police contained “anti-ISIS” documents).
“[Walton] finally decides what he wants and grabs it and heads to the door, we’re grateful to see his back,” Russell said.
The standoff ended when Walton, clutching the stolen briefcase in one hand and his silver-plated Cobra FS .380 gun in the other, tried leaving the room; but not before stopping and squeezing the trigger, striking de Caro.
“He turned around and opened fire on my husband,” Russell said, remembering how she dove for cover. Hit multiple times in the gut and upper leg, de Caro was still able to unload his weapon and fatally shoot Walton, the complaint notes.
In the exchange, de Caro shot six rounds emptying his magazine and killing Walton.
Walton appeared on surveillance camera footage released by Albuquerque police spilling out of Room 126, moving quickly in and out of the frame of the camera and collapsing to his death on the Motel 6 parking lot concrete.
Russell called 911 and popped out of the room, the complaint states, “holding a gun down by her right side.”
Inside the now blood-splattered crime scene, de Caro pressed a towel over his bleeding stomach and told a first responder he had been in the special forces and “did not want to go out like this.”
De Caro underwent multiple surgeries at the University of New Mexico Hospital. Walton was transferred to the same hospital and was pronounced dead.
“There are devastating consequences to being a hero,” Russell’s attorney Randi McGinn stressed. “This has destroyed this man. He did the right thing. He saved his life and saved his wife’s life. But he was shot three times in a way that has crippled him permanently.”
And Russell too says she’s suffering and was diagnosed with PTSD.
“I’ve been having terrible flashbacks and see my husband taking bullets with no clothes on and he’s starting to bleed and it just does a number on you,” Russell said.
Tomorio Walton was engaged.
The Memphis native served prison time for various priors including robbing gardening equipment from different mom and pop stores, assaulting his ex-girlfriend at a Church’s Chicken restaurant, and in 2013, court records show, Walton was sentenced and served time for aggravated criminal trespassing at a Memphis-based Motel 6.
In the case Walton (who had been accused of stealing from the motel before) was caught on video lurking around “on the second floor pushing on several doors,” according to an affidavit.
He fled Memphis and apparently broke terms of his parole to relocate in Albuquerque to be with his sweetheart. (Attempts to reach Walton’s public defender were unsuccessful.)
Walton’s once-future wife is a 44-year-old woman still living in Albuquerque.
The fiancée, who requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast that a couple years back life was good.
“When he first got here he met all my children,” she said as she began crying. “And they all feel in love with him. In fact, some of my nephews got real close with him and they would go and do little raps—and make rap songs. My oldest son looked up to him.”
She said the man she knew and hoped to start a life with fell deep into drugs.
“It was crack cocaine,” she said. “He was trying to get over it. We were trying to get over it together.”
Then in the spring of 2015 Walton had slipped away for a long spell.
“Just one day he disappeared,” she said. “He had met another girl.”
The woman said it was this new fling who turned Walton onto crystal methamphetamine.
“And she’s the one that introduced Tomorio to Skyy.”
After his death, his fiancée spoke with Walton’s other girlfriend (who The Daily Beast is also not naming).
In that chat she learned that Barrs kept Walton loyal to him by using crack as bait.
“Skyy was running him and [she] told me that Skyy would give him free drugs.”
This kind of power was evident when a source came forward to Albuquerque cops claiming Barrs and Walton went to the Motel 6 to “hit a lick”—a slang term that meant to commit a robbery.
The same source claimed it was Barrs driving the Chevy Malibu that belonged to his girlfriend and he personally armed Walton with “his large chrome handgun… to commit a robbery.”
Detectives discovered that Barrs and Walton had chatted on the phone three times on the night of the Motel 6 shootout. And they found a text message sent three days before in which Barrs apparently told Walton, “We about to hit [sic] some licks.”
Walton’s fiancée said Barrs made explicit threats that he would harm Walton’s girlfriend.
So on the night in question the homicidal man seen pulling a gun on Russell and shooting de Caro inside the motel room may have been motivated by Walton trying to avert a threat to his girlfriend.
“[She] told me Skyy made threats to her,” his fiancée said. “She told me, ‘If Tomorio didn’t do this I was in danger.’”
Multiple attempts by The Daily Beast to reach Walton’s other girlfriend were unsuccessful.
According to the criminal complaint and Walton’s fiancée, she was one of two women seated in the Chevy that Barrs parked by the Motel 6 dumpster on the night of the shooting.
She hasn’t been heard from since March 21, The Daily Beast has learned.
“I don’t know where my granddaughter’s at and I don’t feel her either,” the grandmother of Walton’s girlfriend told The Daily Beast, adding she was going to file a missing persons report with police. “She always tries to stay in touch with me because I’m all she actually has. She’s in such bad shape.”
The attacked couple are suing Motel 6 and its security company G4S Secure Solutions, claiming the armed guard posted on the premises that evening was blabbing on his cellphone during their brush with death and that nobody monitored surveillance cameras or intervened until it was too late.
Their lawsuit suggests the Motel 6 is “a target for extensive criminal activity” summoning Albuquerque cops “at least 821 times” to investigate crimes ranging from burglaries of guests’ bedrooms, auto-thefts, and thefts of property. In 2014, the lawsuit states, local police “conducted at least three tactical raids to arrest individuals staying at Motel 6.”
Albuquerque PD incident reports reviewed by The Daily Beast reveal that calls to the same Motel 6 over five years leading up to the deadly standoff range from suicides, aggravated assaults, narcotics, and shootings.
In an emailed response, a spokeswoman for G6 Hospitality (Motel 6’s corporate parent company) declined to discuss the case stating, “We do not believe it would be appropriate to discuss an open or pending litigation.”
In the couples’ civil suit, the armed guard from that evening allegedly admitted he was on his cellphone when shots rang out.
“We’ve now deposed him and gotten his phone records and he was talking on the phone for 18 minutes,” their attorney McGinn, who brought the lawsuit, said. “He wasn’t doing his job.”
During the moments after the shooting, Russell was heard on a recorded 911 phone call pleading:
“My husband has been shot by somebody. He’s been shot bad in the abdomen and he’s losing a lot of...”
At the front desk, a clerk chatting with a 911 dispatcher at one point says, “I have a guest I need to check into the hotel.”
“I understand, but I need some help first ’cause I kind of want nobody else to get shot,” said the operator.
McGinn accused Motel 6 and its security for remaining asleep at the switch even after this tragedy.
“They haven’t upped security in any way,” she said. “They are doing the same thing they did at the time Lynne and Charlie checked in and they’re still having the same kind of crime problems and nobody traveling around Albuquerque knows that it’s happening.”