A gathering in New Mexico, intended to celebrate the postponement of a controversial statue’s installation, turned violent when a man opened fire on the crowd. The incident occurred around midday on Thursday outside the Rio Arriba County building in Española, a town approximately 30 miles north of Santa Fe. The crowd had assembled to rejoice over the decision to delay the erection of a statue of Juan de Oñate, a Spanish conquistador who played a significant role in establishing New Mexico in the late 16th century. However, Oñate’s legacy is marred by accusations of massacring hundreds of Native Americans.
Two statues of Oñate, located in Albuquerque and Alcalde, were removed following the racial justice movement sparked by George Floyd’s murder in 2020. The statue from Alcalde was slated to be installed in front of the Rio Arriba County building on Thursday, but the plan was postponed following a vote by commissioners. Activists, pleased with the decision, gathered outside the county building with banners reading, “Do Not! Resurrect Oñate.”
The celebration was disrupted when a fight broke out between several men and a man identified as 23-year-old Ryan Martinez, who was wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat. According to eyewitness accounts, Martinez managed to break away from the scuffle, pulled out a handgun, and fired a shot, hitting Native American activist Jacob Johns in the torso. The crowd dispersed in panic following the gunshot.
Martinez fled the scene but was apprehended shortly after by the New Mexico State Police (NMSP). He is now facing charges of first-degree attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The NMSP released a photo of Martinez, with the word “arrested” superimposed over his image.
Johns, the victim, was airlifted to a hospital in Albuquerque. Reports suggest that he is in stable condition. A photographer from the Albuquerque Journal managed to capture the moment Martinez raised his handgun.
Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield had previously expressed concerns about potential safety issues related to the statue’s installation. In a press conference following the shooting, he revealed that he had sent a letter to the commissioners, urging them to delay the statue’s erection.
This incident is not the first instance of violence linked to the controversy surrounding Oñate’s statue. In 2020, a statue defender shot a protester in Albuquerque before the statue was removed.