ESPAÑOLA – The 16-year-old who was shot to death by police here Sunday morning was a budding dancer and gymnast who had been accepted by the New Mexico School for the Arts for admission in the fall.
Directors, mentors and friends of Victor Villalpando at the Moving Arts Española dance organization were in tears on Monday and at a total loss to explain how he was killed by an officer’s bullet.
“It’s been really, really hard to swallow,” said Roger Montoya, artistic director and founder of Moving Arts. “The loss is tragic. Anytime you lose anyone, particularly a youth of such promise and leadership potential. … It was unbelievable for us to hear what happened.”
Villalpando, of El Rito, was pronounced dead at a local hospital after he was shot next to a strip mall at Riverside Drive and Corlett Road about 10 a.m. Sunday. Two officers dining at Big Dawg’s Restaurant in the mall had responded to a call of a suspicious person and said he pointed a handgun at them.
Jonah Shure, brother by adoption of Villalpando, said Villalpando spent the night with a friend near the site of the shooting and had called his mother for a ride home Sunday morning before the shooting.
Shure, like several others who knew the boy, was in disbelief over the report that Villalpando was armed. “I am going to need to see some proof before I believe it,” he said.
Española Police Chief Eric Garcia – recently selected to become the new chief in Santa Fe – said the two responding officers tried to talk Villalpando into putting down the gun. One of them fired a single shot that killed the teen, according to State Police.
KOAT reported that investigators have learned that Villalpando was telling his friends he wanted to commit “suicide by cop” and had recently run away from home, but no one called police.
His brother hadn’t heard about any suicide comments. “He had some issues, normal teenage rebellion stuff,” said Shure, adding that his brother “had been looking for his identity.”
Facebook postings by Villalpando in recent months include several on everyday topics like pop music, many postings on Christian teachings or with other religious themes and some that are darker.
One of his final postings, on Friday, says: “HONESTLY I WISH PEOPLE DIDNT CARE ABOUT ME AS MUCH AS THEY DO IM TIRED OF PEOPLE CARING ABOUT ME IM TIRED OF PEOPLE TRYING TO MAKE ME HAPPY UNLESS ITS MY GF BUT THATS DIFFERENT just ugh stop caring so much your SQUISHING ME SERIOULSY.”
In April, he posted about his excitement about being accepted at the School for the Arts in Santa Fe. But earlier in the month, he wrote, “I know I’m not alone or on my own ppl (people) reach out but I say no cuz they don’t understand where I come from. this world has forgotten the way there is nothing left for me to say but goodbye see ya later cuz il (i’ll) be in (on) my way so have a nice day.”
KOB-TV reported that a friend told the news station that Villalpando was the person who made threats that resulted in the closure of McCurdy Charter School in Española in January.
Montoya of Moving Arts said, “All of the allegations from that were disproved by the police.” On April 20, Villalpando posted on Facebook: “you know what screw mccurdy after the PRINCIPLE TOLD EVERYONE I WANTED TO SHOOT UP THE SCHOOL I STILL LOVE THE KIDS THERE THO.”
The State Police wouldn’t comment on any connection between Villalpando and the McCurdy incident. Montoya said Villalpando was being home-schooled and asked that the news media “not tie that story (the McCurdy case) into this one.”
His mentors at Moving Arts said Villalpando was born with high levels of alcohol and marijuana in his system and his biological mother committed suicide. His obituary notice said his birth mother was dead and his parents were Mary Shoemaker and Patty Shure of El Rito.
Montoya said Shure, director of child and family services for Las Cumbres Community Services in Española, “did everything right.”
“There’s this odd disconnect that we can’t quite wrap our heads around because we know Victor,” Montoya said. The teen was “brilliantly gifted as a kinetic, human artist, unbelievable,” he added.
“He was a gifted child,” said Salvador Ruiz, Moving Arts’ executive director. “There are always two sides of every coin.”
Edwardo Maes, who said he was Villalpando’s best friend, said at Moving Arts that he didn’t know that Villalpando was troubled by anything. “He was really outgoing and funny,” Maes said. “He would get along with a lot of people.”
Serena Rascón tearfully recalled how she had taught the boy, whose photos adorn the Moving Arts’ walls. “I was his teacher, I was his mentor, his sister,” she said. “Victor and I had similar backgrounds. I was also adopted. … He was artistic, he was creative, he was loving.”
On Facebook, Villalpando posted what appears to be a rap, in rhyme, about dancing. It ends: “Dance is one thing they can never take away.”
State Police Sgt. Damyon Brown, whose agency is investigating the shooting, said he was awaiting autopsy results before he could say where Villalpando was struck by the single shot.
Jason Salazar, manager of the 420 Gear – a skateboard and smoking accessory store in the strip mall next to the shooting scene – said his security camera caught “a bird’s-eye view” of the shooting and footage has been turned over to State Police. He wouldn’t comment on what it shows. He did say, “I would have drawn too if I was a police officer.”
People have placed flowers and lighted candles to create a shrine to Villalpando next to a small brick wall that borders the shooting scene.
“In loving memory, a life lost too soon,” is written on one candle holder.