In a shocking turn of events in northern New Mexico, a man was shot amongst protesters rallying against the proposal to place a contentious statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate in the city of Española. Concerns over public safety had initially prompted officials to retract their plans.
According to Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield, the suspect, identified as 23-year-old Ryan Martinez, is believed to have discharged his firearm during a fracas that arose amidst the protest. He was promptly arrested and detained. The victim, while unidentified, was urgently airlifted to a medical facility in Albuquerque, with his condition still unknown at the time.
Local law enforcement, the New Mexico State Police, have launched an investigation into this intriguing incident.
This particular statue of Oñate, who established the colony of New Mexico over four centuries ago, was originally erected in the adjacent city of Alcalde. In the wake of nationwide demonstrations advocating for the removal of controversial historical figures — which include slaveowners, Confederate leaders, and colonizers — the statue was dismantled in 2020. Oñate, notorious for the merciless massacre of 800 to 1,000 indigenous people and subsequently selling some of the survivors into slavery, is still a divisive figure in New Mexico.
The county commissioners of Rio Arriba County had resolved to rehouse the statue at a new site in front of a county edifice in Española. However, safety concerns led them to defer the statue’s proposed rededication.
Despite the delay, a group of persistent demonstrators emerged at the site to voice their disapproval of the reinstating of the statue. A bystander’s video recording reveals a scuffle breaking out before escalating into gunfire. The sequence of events that precipitated this conflict remains unknown.
Eyewitness Ray Naranjo disclosed to media that the shooter made a hasty retreat in a car, pursued by another individual at the scene.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Merrifield confessed to having written to the county commissioners advising against relocating the statue at this juncture due to potential safety issues. Unveiling the letter during a press conference, the sheriff ruefully observed, “Obviously we have a situation as of today.” He also expressed his gratitude to the two commissioners who decided to halt the statue’s installation.