Another protest over another statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate ended in a shooting Thursday afternoon in Española.
Indigenous activist organization Three Sisters Collective posted a video of the shooting on Instagram shortly after it occurred mid-day—more than 45 minutes into a rally that featured speakers assembled in front of a Rio Arriba County building, amplified by a public address system and carrying signs that read “Not Today Oñate” and “Do Not resurrect Oñate.”
The event—held a day after county officials decided not to immediately re-erect a statue on the spot—was slated to begin at 10 am and got going around 11 am. Less than an hour later, the shot rang out.
“We expected it to be a celebratory kind of deal because the Indigenous activists had successfully...blocked this statue from going up at this moment,” documentarian Warren Langford, who was at the rally making video footage, tells SFR. “It was joyous, but, hey they are still fighting against something not to celebrate and they were fired up.”
But another crowd had also come to the county complex, several of whom wore red hats bearing the Trump-era slogan “Make America Great,” Langford says, and entered into conversations with rally attendees during the event.
Langford estimates he was approximately 40 feet away when people started pointing in the direction of “like a kerfuffle,” he says, “a second later, I heard the shot.”
The Albuquerque Journal published a photograph of the alleged shooter with a gun in hand, noting he identified himself to the newspaper as Ryan Martinez prior to the incident. Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s officials reportedly subsequently confirmed the alleged shooter’s name and State Police confirmed the suspect had been taken into custody as of about 1:30 pm. The Santa Fe New Mexican and other outlets reported Pojoaque Pueblo police had arrested Martinez near the event.
“There was one young man who was…trying to really position himself to be in conversation and in camera shots. There was lot of press there. When the speeches started, he started to really get into arguments with people and discussions,” and eventually shot another man from behind a short wall, Langford says.
The video posted by the collective shows the hour-long event and captures some audio from the audience.
Just before the shooting, Palestinian poet Mohammed El-Kurd got up to speak.
“I am so disgusted by the people who have nothing better to do but celebrate the legacy of a murderous life,” El-Kurd said. “Life could be some much better. You could wash your hands of this blood and yet you decide to do this, but all land must be given back.”
(The extended video embedded above features the entire event. The shooting happens at the end of the video.)
Next, Pueblo activist Jennifer Marley took the mic.
“We are all colonized people in this valley, every single one of us—except for the new white transplants,” said Marley, a member of the Red Nation group who gained notoriety in Santa Fe in 2018 when police arrested her during a protest over the Plaza Entrada. “This is not about a statue, this is not about symbols, this is not about representations. I want to see funding to prevent [Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women]. I want to see our Pueblos be able to have adequate infrastructure for themselves. I want to see us have access to clean water and soils so we can plant. I want to see our hunting grounds returned to us.”
A few minutes into her speech, a fellow organizer ushered children in front of the camera just seconds before the viewpoint swings around to the sidewalk near the pedestal where the statue was to be installed, where a scuffle between a small group of people briefly appears. “Let him go,” one person yells just before a gunshot followed by screams.
Langford says seven to 10 children were present during the event.
Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield held a brief news conference at 4:30 pm in which he refused to name the suspected shooter and told reporters he approved of a decision from Rio Arriba County commissioners to halt the planned erection of the statue.
“On Thursday, I submitted a letter to all three commissioners advising them of my concerns, also addressing that I disagreed with them moving the statue at the current time, more importantly just to prevent any kind of safety issues or concerns which we knew we were going to have, and obviously we have a situation as of today,” he said.
New Mexico State Police is leading the shooting investigation and Merrifield referred questions to that agency.
First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement that her office’s prosecutors and personnel were “shocked and saddened by the shooting” and noted her office with “work in lock step as this investigation continues and facts develops.”
“It is disheartening to see ongoing cultural tensions in our state boil over and result in violence,” reads the statement. “At this time, the FJDA hopes New Mexicans in our judicial district and beyond can reflect on today’s act of violence and recognize the damage that ongoing cultural tensions in our communities can cause. The unique array of cultures present in New Mexico is part of what makes our home an enduring and beautiful place to live, and we urge New Mexicans to continue discussing important cultural differences and advocating for their beliefs without resorting to violence.”
Attorney General Raul Torrez also issued a statement about the shooting:
“I strongly condemn the cowardly act of violence that we witnessed today in Rio Arriba County and stand ready to assist local law enforcement in whatever way possible,” it read. “There is no excuse and no place for political violence in America. Regardless of our diverse political views we must remain committed to the rule of law and the right of every citizen to express themselves without fear.”
Evan Chandler contributed reporting.