Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
On Friday – the third day of the school year – students at Washington Middle School took their lunch break a little after noon, many gathering outside.
Amari Asbury, 13, was playing basketball when he heard the sound of gunfire.
“I heard boom, boom, boom, boom, boom five times,” said Asbury, speaking with the Journal as he was picked up from school by his mother. “Me and my friend, we thought it came from the park … Then his best friend came over crying and everything. What happened? He just got shot.”
Police say a boy, around 13, was taken to the hospital, where he died. The suspected shooter – another boy, also around 13 – was taken into custody.
In a statement released Friday night, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina called the boy who died a “hero” who lost his life because “a classmate brought a gun to school.”
“He stood up for a friend and tried to de-escalate a violent confrontation between classmates,” Medina said. “This incident is a tragedy that has shaken our community.”
Neither teen has been publicly identified, and charging documents weren’t immediately available.
In a news conference at the scene at about 3:30 p.m., Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock of the Albuquerque Police Department described the incident as an “isolated shooting.” He said officers were called to the school around 12:45 p.m.
“We don’t think there are any other shooters outstanding right now, or any other victims,” Hartsock said. “Most of the students were let home, some of the students are still here as we conduct our investigation. As far as we can tell, almost all the parents have been notified at this point, including the parents of both our shooter and the victim who passed away.”
Hartsock said police were still investigating how the student got a gun, whether he had brought it into the school and what prompted the violence.
The shooting is the 82nd suspected homicide in the city, surpassing the highest number of homicides the city has seen in one year. In 2019, there were 81 homicides.
It is also the second deadly shooting in less than 24 hours. Thursday night, a man was killed and three others injured during a fight at an Uptown sports bar.
Shots, shelter in place
In the moments after gunshots rang out, students were told to shelter in place. The school on Park SW, near 13th Street, was put on lockdown.
Then parents were asked to come pick up their children.
Hundreds arrived, parking just outside the crime scene tape and forming a long, snaking line down the sidewalk while waiting for their middle schoolers. Students and parents stood in the middle of the road, hugging each other tightly and crying and shaking.
Claudia De La Cruz said she rushed to the school to pick up her 13-year-old niece, who was in tears. She said her daughter had also gone to Washington Middle School, as did many of her neighbors.
“It’s really hard. They just started school,” De La Cruz said. “I’m not afraid of COVID, I’m more afraid of all this violence and crime.”
Sequaria Asbury, the mother of sixth grader Amari Asbury, said she had been happy when her sons started attending Washington Middle School because it seemed like people couldn’t walk from the street on to the grounds due to fencing.
“I was like, they’re safe, I felt like they are safe, and now…” her voice trailed off.
Classes will be canceled at the middle school Monday, and Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder said counselors and therapists will be available in the morning and for students when they return. The school has 440 students and its boundaries stretch from south of Bridge SW to Interstate 40 and from the Rio Grande to either the railroad tracks or Interstate 25.
“It’s just a terrible day for APS and a terrible day for this community,” Elder said. “I want to send out my thoughts, prayers to all of our students, all of our families that are impacted by this horrible event.”
He said one of the first people on scene was a school resource officer “who ran towards the event and tried to help, de-escalated the situation and tried to provide assistance to the victim.”
Hartsock said an APS police officer was outside the school and also was able to rush in right away to help.
“We will be providing more officers in the area when the children return back from school,” said Scott Norris, commander for the Valley Area Command. “Not only to give them a sense of security, but also in the event that they just want to reach out to an officer and speak to the officer one-on-one.”
The department encouraged anyone, including students, who witnessed anything or had any information to come forward.
‘They’re still little kids’
Washington Middle School sits just west of Downtown, south of Central. As parents rushed to the scene, neighbors peered out of their houses or wandered down the street to see what was happening.
Sophie Bentham-Grey, who lives across the street, said she is used to the sounds of kids playing and the nostalgic ringing of bells.
But on Friday, she said she was listening to music when she heard a different sound: the crack of five gunshots.
“From inside my house, I heard the shots and then I heard the kids screaming,” Bentham-Grey said.
She said she went outside and saw kids running away from a field on the east side of the school.
A young boy lay motionless in the grass field and another boy stood nearby with his hands cuffed.
Bentham-Grey said it wasn’t long before an ambulance took the boy to a hospital and parents began to show up.
“It’s, I mean, hard no matter what, but definitely hard because there were kids involved – they’re not old, they’re still little kids,” she said. “That’s what hurt my heart the most.”