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Arrest made in girl's road rage killing in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Police charged a man with murder Wednesday night in the road rage killing of a 4-year-old girl who was shot in the backseat of her father's truck after he picked her up from school -- a death that horrified the public.

Tony Torrez, 32, was arrested Wednesday and also charged with a series of weapons violations in the death of Lilly Garcia.

Police said Torrez admitting to the shooting. Word of the arrest came a few hours after police said a person of interest had been taken into custody in Tuesday's shooting on an Albuquerque freeway.

Lilly was riding in the backseat with her 7-year-old brother when someone in a Toyota opened fire on the family as they traveled down the main east-west freeway in Albuquerque.

The father told authorities he was trying to exit I-40 when a car forced him out of his lane, according to a police statement.

"The two drivers exchanged words when Torrez pulled out a gun and shot," the statement continued. "Lilly was hit at least once in the head."

Tony Torrez, 32, in mug shot provided by Albuquerque police
Tony Torrez, 32, in mug shot provided by Albuquerque police Albuquerque Police Department/KRQE-TV

The father quickly pulled the truck into the median and tried to administer first aid on his daughter as a bystander called 911 to report "an adult holding an unresponsive child."

Two nurses showed up and tried save the girl's life as ambulances arrived and rushed her to the hospital, where she died, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden said.

Authorities quickly began pressing for tips, offering roughly $25,000 for information that leads to the arrest of the shooter, who was driving a newer-model maroon or dark red Toyota Corolla or Camry with a spoiler on the trunk and dark tinted windows. The car also had a University of New Mexico license plate.

Police said an anonymous caller provided the name of a possible suspect the day after the shooting.

With that information as well as tips from the community, detectives were able to find the suspect, detaining him without incident.

"This evening, Torrez confessed to investigators he was responsible for the murder," the police statement said.

Before Torrez's arrest, police released a recording of a 911 call from their investigation.

In the roughly minute-long call, a man is heard alerting an operator to a red pickup truck stopped in a median on Interstate 40 on Albuquerque's west side and saying a man appears to be holding an unresponsive child.

Earlier Thursday, Eden described the search for a suspect.

Albuquerque officers "have not stopped or slept," the police chief said. "Every officer in law enforcement in New Mexico is currently looking for the vehicle I described."

After the person of interest was taken into custody, police sought a warrant to search an Albuquerque home and a car as part of their investigation, Officer Tanner Tixier said.

It's not clear what led the incident to escalate, but the father told officers the shooting was the result of road rage.

Mayor Richard Berry said Wednesday that the slaying "cut to the core" of the community. Police worked with state transportation officials to post requests for tips on interstate billboards, Tixier said. He did not know if detectives were able to collect shell casings or other ballistic evidence.

Shortly after the shooting, a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy pulled up to a vehicle he believed was in distress and found the wounded child inside, police said. The child's father and brother were not injured.

CBS Albuquerque affiliate KRQE-TV reports people who live near the Garcia family say they are devastated.

"It just has broken our hearts," said Carmen Hernandez, who said her grandson played with Lilly. "It's just really, really sad. We're still in shock about it."

Hernandez said she recognized the neighbors' truck on the news Tuesday night, but other neighbors just learned Wednesday that the victim's family lives just a few doors down from them.

"As a mom, my daughter's three [years old], so I can't even imagine something happening to my daughter," said Amanda Zuelly. "It would break my heart. I would never be the same."

Lilly's father posted on Facebook that she was "the light of [his] life."

He wrote that "she had such a big heart for everybody ... she changed [his] world."

His little girl showed him how to truly love, regardless of what people thought about him, he wrote.

Hernandez remembered Lilly always smiling.

"Real happy, real outgoing, really beautiful girl," Hernandez told the station. "She's just so full of energy and happy child."

"When it involves kids ... it hits home, especially when you have kids [of your own]," Zuelly said.

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