One Shot At New Mexico Protest Over Statue Of Spanish Conquistador

Protesters demonstrated against installing a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate.
SANTA FE, NM - JULY 4, 2018: A police officer keeps an eye on the crowd at a Fourth of July holiday event in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Robert Alexander/Getty Images

One person was shot and injured Thursday in northern New Mexico at a protest over a statue of a Spanish conquistador.

A man was rushed to the hospital after gunfire broke out in the city of Española at a protest against installing a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate. Española is about 25 miles north of Santa Fe.

Authorities took the suspected shooter, Ryan Martinez, 23, into custody and said they are not looking for any other suspects in connection with the shooting.

The shooting happened just before 12:30 p.m. local time outside the county’s offices, Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield said.

The suspect had reportedly been told to leave by police after getting into a verbal altercation with protesters and using obscene language.

In cell phone video footage of the moments leading up to the shooting, the suspect is seen returning to the protest and jumping over a short wall as several protesters try to grab him.

“Hey, hey, hey. Let him go!” one person shouts.

The suspect breaks free and jumps over the wall one more time, then pulls out a handgun and fires one shot into the group of people.


Afterwards, the suspect can be seen in the video running away across a parking lot as several people chase him. Screaming can be heard in the background.

The victim was shot in the upper torso, and his condition was unknown as of Thursday, the sheriff’s spokesperson said.

“Once again, the saddest part about this is we have another incident of gun violence,” Merrifield said at a news briefing on the incident.

The previous day, county officials had postponed installing the statue over concerns it would cause backlash that could lead to safety concerns, but protesters still showed up. Merrifield said he had written to county commissioners last week warning them about his safety concerns with erecting the statue outside the county building.

“I’m very grateful for that, and they made the decision to not do it, with all the safety concerns that have risen from this,” the sheriff said.

The New Mexico State Police is heading the investigation into the shooting.

Oñate is a controversial figure in New Mexico’s history. He is known for founding early Spanish settlements in the late 1500s, but he is also notorious for the Acoma Massacre, Oñate’s brutal retaliation against the men, women, and children of a Native American tribe that had killed 13 Spaniards including Oñate’s nephew. He was later convicted of excessive cruelty to both natives and colonists.

In 1997, protesters sawed off the right foot on a bronze statue of Oñate in New Mexico, a reference to Oñate’s order that Acoma men have their right foot amputated. In June, 2020, a similar incident occurred in Albuquerque when a man was shot as protesters tried to tear down a bronze statue of Oñate outside the Albuquerque Museum. After that shooting, the city said the statue would be removed until officials figure out next steps.

In recent years, statues of other historical figures with a range of legacies have been targeted with vandalism including Christopher Columbus, Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and Saint Junipero Serra.

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