People hug after a shooting in Española during a prayer event to oppose the reinstallation of a statue of conquistador and war criminal Juan de Oñate. (Photo by Anna Padilla for Source NM)
Editor’s note: This article depicts gun violence
ESPAÑOLA — A young man wearing a pro-Trump hat shot someone attending a peaceful gathering on Thursday in Española.
Native American activists held the event to celebrate Rio Arriba County’s postponement of putting back a statue of the war criminal and Spanish colonizer Juan de Oñate that officials removed in 2020.
After an hourslong prayer circle Thursday morning, dozens milled around outside the Rio Arriba County building, which officials closed on Thursday, eating food or watching over their children.
Tents and blankets sat empty near the base of the statue-less slab where people had been sleeping for days.
People dedicated their cause to ensuring that the statue never comes back. They also called for Oñate Street in Española to be renamed to Tewa Valley Road.
Speakers reiterated the peaceful intent of Thursday’s gathering multiple times.
As the event continued into the afternoon, more people in opposition trickled in.
According to Source NM reporters, about a dozen or so showed up, sometimes speaking or shouting at the same time as the speakers against the sculpture spoke.
Those people that seemingly supported the Oñate statue stood near the back, by the entrance to the plaza where the monument was supposed to be erected, in front of the parking lot.
Organizers and supporters eventually lined up in front of them to prevent further disruption.
Around an hour into the news conference, about six opposers who had been standing in the back walked around the side to another entrance to the plaza, closer to where the concrete statue-less slab stood.
The organizers had set up an altar at the concrete slab.
Squashes, candles and flowers sat on the base instead of a statue of the war criminal.
Before the news conference started, organizers asked attendees who could to stand in guard of the altar, protecting it from anyone who might want to alter it.
When one or two of the opposing men tried to enter the area with the slab, the people trying to protect the altar blocked them, holding up their arms so they couldn’t get into the space.
One young man continued his efforts to enter the area, and it quickly escalated into a scuffle. One of the people protecting the altar seemingly backed the young man against a wall to prevent him from moving forward.
The news conference was completely halted at this point. People shouted for those in the scuffle to remove their hands and stop touching each other.
That’s when the shooter pulled a gun out of his waistband, and shot the person blocking him from moving toward the slab. The man, who identified himself as Ryan Martinez to the Albuquerque Journal, ran immediately after, according to sources at the scene.
He was later taken into custody, the Rio Arriba Sheriff’s County Office confirmed.
The plaza in Española was chaotic, with people running and shouting for their loved ones.
Parents screamed for their children, many of whom were gathered in the center of the plaza. When the scuffle started breaking out, an organizer called for all the children and elders to gather there for safety.
Paramedics arrived about ten minutes after the shooting. They treated the man who was shot as he laid on the ground until medics came in with a stretcher about another 10 minutes later.
A Rio Arriba County sergeant said the man who was shot, who attendees identified as Jacob Johns, was stable in the emergency room shortly after the shooting. A climate activist, he was in New Mexico from out-of-state for an environmental conference happening nearby.
Local police arrived on scene immediately after the shooting. New Mexico State police eventually arrived as well.
No officers were present during the actual event.
Rio Arriba County police came out in the morning before the news conference to check out smoke coming from the morning prayer circle but didn’t stay at the place where the shooting occurred.
Around then, a local sheriff’s deputy discouraged the man who later was accused of firing the shot.
The young man, accused of the shooting, was filming different people, despite requests from them for him to stop. One of the organizers went to their car to change while he continued to film from a distance.
Shortly after the shooting, state police didn’t let people leave the crime scene, setting up a blockade in front of the exit for around half an hour.
‘Don’t let this escalate like the last one’
Denise Williams is the mother of Scott Williams, the person who was shot at a protest in 2020 also over an Oñate statue. She arrived with her husband on the scene shortly after the shooting.
Shaking with tears in her eyes, she said this triggered all of her memories from three years ago.
Before Thursday’s event, she said, she tried to call legislators and the governor’s office asking them to prevent another shooting.
“I told them, ‘Please don’t let this escalate like the last one did. Don’t let this happen. Please don’t let this happen,’” she said. “Three and a half years later, we’re still traumatized by it.”
During the news conference, Celina Montoya-Garcia (Ohkay Owingeh) asked for her wife to stand with her at the front so she could feel safe.
“I shouldn’t have to feel unsafe,” she said. “My children shouldn’t have to feel unsafe.”
One of the organizers introduced as Mateo said Oñate represents male patriarchal violence. He referenced Montoya-Garcia needing people to stand with her as she spoke before the crowd.
“They weren’t worried about her getting arrested because that’s just a thing you deal with,” he said. “They were worried about male violence.”
Half an hour later, a man pulled out his gun.
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