Friends, family grieve for ‘mighty’ and ‘fearless’ Brett Rosenau

Teen killed in house fire during SWAT raid described as charismatic and funny

By: - July 18, 2022 1:13 pm

Brett Rosenau’s loved ones brought his lighter to the vigil on Friday night, they said, to add his flame to candles. The 15-year-old died after a SWAT standoff in Albuquerque in early July. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

When the sun set in downtown Albuquerque, a light breeze cooled the streets, causing some people to cup their hands around the candles they just lit for Brett Rosenau on Friday.

Friends, family, community members and advocates pushing for justice shared one feeling — Brett should be alive enjoying another Albuquerque summer night breeze.

Officers drive past the vigil for 15-year-old Brett Rosenau at Fourth Street and Tijeras, a block away from the police station. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

Rosenau, 15, died in a house fire on July 7 during a SWAT incident involving the Albuquerque Police Department, who fired three types of projectile munitions into the home in the city’s International District. Police were trying to arrest Qiaunt Kelley, who at the time was wanted on a parole violation.

During the SWAT raid, police fired tear gas canisters, pepper spray and flash-bang devices that are now under investigation for starting the fire, filling the home with smoke and killing Roseneau. The Office of the Medical Investigator says preliminary reports show that he died from smoke inhalation.

Kelley is not facing any charges related to Rosenau’s death and it’s still unclear why the teen was at the house on July 7. Last week, Kelley was charged with the murder of a local photographer in June.

If the police ignited the fire that killed Brett, it follows a tragic family history. His father, who the teen is named after, was killed by a BCSO deputy in 2006.

While all these details were on the minds and in conversations of the people huddled at Tijeras and Fourth Street, the candlelight vigil for Brett Rosenau was a place to share collective grief. A person holding a sign with the words “Jail Killer Cops” in bold black ink received honks in support from passing cars, lowered the sign only to wipe away tears. “We shouldn’t have to be here,” she said.

People want the Albuquerque Police Department to be held accountable for 15-year-old Brett Rosenau’s death. An investigation has been launched into whether munitions SWAT used ignited the blaze at the home where Rosenau died of smoke inhalation. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

But the people were there — Brett’s friend’s, some relatives he hadn’t seen in weeks and people he never met.

Crystal Carmichael grew up with Brett’s mother and knew the teenager since he was a baby.

“I took care of him when he was little. His nickname is Bubba. We called him Bubba all the time,” she said.

Carmichael glowed as she spoke about Brett’s humorous approach to life, and mentioned his nickname because it came when he was young, and it later turned into him being the guy giving everyone a nickname.

“He was always a very small kid and when he was really little, he was very chunky. And so it was just it was just one of those names just stuck since he was a baby,” she said. “He was Bubba.”

Crystal Carmichael is given flowers by a young family on Friday, July 15, 2022. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

His charismatic personality was fueled by his energy, which was often released through whatever sport he could join, Carmichael said.

“Nonstop sports, every weekend, he practices football. My kids and him and his brother were running cross country together. So we’d see him every weekend at either cross country or his football practice and it was just always sports related,” she said.

His smaller stature didn’t dampen his position on the field or in a race. “He was very mighty. He was very fearless. He was very strong and courageous. He wasn’t scared of anything. He was very outgoing and fun to be around,” Carmichael said.

She said the COVID pandemic stopped many of his sports activities and even how often she would see Brett. He took some of his energy into bicycle repair, gathering used parts to make bikes for him and his friends.

When the moon crested over the Sandia Mountains, many took their grief back home, leaving their candles in Brett’s honor a block away from the Albuquerque Police station.

Candles at the vigil for Brett Rosenau on Friday, July 15, 2022. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

People leaving a mariachi event inside Civic Plaza stopped to read more about Brett and leave their condolences.

The impression Brett is making on the city is something that would’ve fit with his personality.

“He spent his whole life trying to be bigger than and prove his strength and who he was,” Carmichael said. “He had to make sure that everybody knew who he was. And so he made sure to make a scene.”

Sue Joiner, senior minister at First Congregational United Church of Christ, speaks at the vigil on Friday, July 15. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

Candles are lit at a vigil for 15-year-old Brett Rosenau, who was killed in a house fire in early July. He’s remembered by family and friends for his athleticism and humor. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

Family, friends, anti-police violence advocates and more gather on Friday, July 15, for a candlelight vigil to honor Brett Rosenau in Albuquerque. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)

People are calling for the Albuquerque Police Department to be held accountable after a SWAT standoff that started on Wednesday, July 6, and ended in a house fire and the death of 15-year-old Brett Rosenau. An investigation is underway into whether munitions police fired at the home ignited the blaze. (Photo by Bright Quashie for Source NM)


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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.