Chaos unfolded during a protest in Espanola, New Mexico, as a gunshot was fired amidst demonstrations against the planned installation of a statue honoring Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate. The event had been postponed due to anticipated tensions. One individual was injured and taken to the hospital, while the suspected shooter, 23-year-old Ryan Martinez, was apprehended by Rio Arriba County sheriff’s officials. Authorities have stated that no other suspects are being sought in connection with the shooting.
Juan de Oñate has long been a controversial figure in New Mexico’s history, with activists opposing statues and other representations of him due to his oppressive treatment of Native Americans during the Spanish conquest of the region. Some Hispanics view the statue as a symbol of their heritage. Despite the county’s decision to postpone the installation, protesters had gathered, pitching tents and leaving offerings around the empty pedestal.
Video footage captured the moment when the shooter engaged in arguments with protesters before being instructed by law enforcement to leave. He subsequently jumped a wall and headed towards the crowd, prompting others to restrain him. However, he managed to break free, pulled out a gun, and fired a single shot before fleeing the scene. The injured individual, whose identity has not been disclosed, sustained an upper torso gunshot wound and is receiving treatment at a local hospital.
Authorities have yet to determine the motive behind the shooting. Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield expressed his concerns about safety to county commissioners regarding the statue’s reinstallation and commended their decision to refrain from erecting it. The New Mexico State Police are leading the investigation.
Jennifer Marley, an organizer for Native American rights group The Red Nation, described the shooting as occurring within view of the county sheriff’s department building, but without any officers present to intervene. She emphasized the peaceful nature of the protest and criticized the ongoing violence.
The incident coincided with the release of a report by the New Mexico Department of Health on gunshot victims treated in the state’s hospitals. The report highlighted an increase in firearm-related injuries and deaths among certain populations.
Tony Ortega, a retired technician, expressed his anticipation of trouble surrounding the statue’s installation, acknowledging the opposition from Native Americans who view Oñate as a negative historical figure.