It's only a few days into the new school year, but New Mexico’s largest district is reeling from a shooting that left one student dead and another in custody after, according to police, the victim tried to protect another boy who was being bullied.
The gunfire at Washington Middle School during the lunch hour Friday marked the second shooting in Albuquerque in less than 24 hours. With the city on pace to shatter its homicide record this year, top state officials said they were heartbroken by what they described as a scourge.
“These tragedies should never occur. That they do tells us there is more work to be done,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.
The boy who was killed, identified by police on Saturday as 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove, was a hero, Police Chief Harold Medina said Friday night in a brief statement.
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“He stood up for a friend and tried to deescalate a violent confrontation between classmates,” Medina said. He said the incident was “a tragedy that has shaken our community.”
A probable-cause statement released Saturday said the 13 year-old boy was charged with one count each of open murder and unlawfully carrying a deadly weapon on school premises. The Associated Press does not generally juvenile crime suspects.
A witness, a third 13-year-old boy, told detectives after the shooting that the shooting occurred after Hargrove approached the suspect to tell him to stop bullying and punching a smaller boy.
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The witness said the suspect held a gun behind his leg so Hargrove couldn't see it when he approached and the suspect then chambered a round and shot at Hargrove multiple times, according to the probable-cause statement.
A police officer assigned to the school heard the shooting, ran over to the boys and handcuffed the suspect to a fence before radioing for help and tending to the injured boy until medical personnel arrived, the statement said.
Police later learned that the suspect’s father right before the shooting had discovered that his gun was missing and went to the school, where he arrived to see his son in handcuffs, the statement said.
The 13-year-old witness also told police that the suspect had been a nice boy but recently picked on other boys and acted as if he was a gang member, the statement said.
It wasn't immediately known whether the suspect has a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.
Friday marked the third day of classes for Albuquerque's public school district. While students won't return until Tuesday, Superintendent Scott Elder said the staff will be making preparations to ensure students have access to counseling and any other support services they need.
“Of course it's extremely difficult," he said of something like this happening so early in the school year. “There's a lot of pressure in the community. People are nervous. It was a terrible incident that happened between two people. It should have never happened. ... This shouldn't happen in the community. It certainly shouldn't happen at a school.”
Police said more officers will be present when students return, hoping to provide a sense of security and in case students have any more information about the shooting they want to share.
Gunfire also rang out Thursday night at a sports bar and restaurant near a busy Albuquerque shopping district. Police said one person was killed and three were injured after someone pulled out a gun during a fight.
No arrests have been made in that case. Investigators were reviewing surveillance video and interviewing witnesses.
Authorities identified the man who was killed as Lawrence Anzures, a 30-year old boxer from Albuquerque.
A makeshift memorial of flowers and candles grew Friday outside the restaurant, providing more evidence of the frustration that families having been feeling.
The shootings come as Mayor Tim Keller convened his latest session with other officials to talk about curbing violence and crime in the city. His administration is hoping to come up with recommendations for improving the criminal justice system and addressing the problem of repeat offenders. The mayor’s office noted that for most Albuquerque homicides this year, more than 45% of charged offenders and nearly 60% of suspects have criminal records.
“For low-level offenders, we need to bolster diversion programs and real access to resources to change their lives,” Keller said in a statement. “But for violent offenders, we have to stop the revolving door.”
Davenport reported from Phoenix.