‘He just wanted to make peace’

Destynie Aranda visits a memorial at Washington Middle School on Saturday, August 14, 2021, for boy who was shot and killed there on Friday. Aranda’s daughter attends the school. (Robert Browman/Albuquerque Journal

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Juan Saucedo Sr. noticed his handgun was missing around noon Friday. The 41-year-old called his wife, who said she hadn’t taken the gun, and then drove by his son’s school – Washington Middle School.

Saucedo Sr. came upon police and Fire Rescue and saw officers putting handcuffs on his son after the boy allegedly shot and killed a classmate with his father’s gun.

Those were among the details released after Juan Saucedo Jr., 13, was formally charged late Friday with an open count of murder and unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises in the death of Bennie Hargrove, also 13.

Bennie Hargrove (Courtesy of Vanessa Sawyer)

Investigators said Hargrove was trying to stop Saucedo from bullying his friends when Saucedo pulled a gun and shot him multiple times.

A classmate who knew both boys said she heard gunshots and turned to see Hargrove fall to the ground.

“Ever since then, it hurts. Seeing somebody die like that, right in front of you, it’s just painful,” the eighth grader said. “He just wanted to make peace, but Juan didn’t want to. He just wanted to shoot him, I guess.”

Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta said it is the only fatal school shooting ever recorded in the district.

The suspect’s father, Saucedo Sr., was banned from Highland High School after he shot and injured another parent during a fight in the student pick-up lane in 2018.

Saucedo Sr. was never arrested and the District Attorney’s Office declined to charge either man after determining both men had “valid defense claims.”

“Given the father’s history, our detectives are looking at every factor that may have contributed to Friday’s tragic shooting,” Police Chief Harold Medina said in a statement to the Journal. “It is not acceptable that a child had access to a gun and took it to school.”

The Saucedo family declined to comment when reached by phone Saturday.

‘Stark reminder’

Mayor Tim Keller said Hargrove showed “courage” in the face of bullying at a time when dozens of children were in the area.

“It’s very likely that his actions might also have actually prevented something worse from happening,” he said, pleading with parents to make sure their guns are secure, saying the incident serves as an “urgent and stark reminder” of the importance of keeping guns from children.

“(Friday) was a dark and tragic day for our community that, unfortunately, we have not witnessed before,” he said. “(It) is something that we never, ever want to see, and it’s something that, unfortunately, is going to be part of our history and part of our community’s trauma for decades to come.”

According to a criminal complaint filed in Children’s Court:

Officers responded to the shooting at Washington Middle School, 1101 Park SW, around 12:40 p.m. and found Hargrove with multiple gunshot wounds on the east side of school. He died at a hospital.

APS Officer Joanne Urbanic took Saucedo into custody at the scene.

A 13-year-old classmate told police that earlier that day, Saucedo had shown multiple children a gun he had brought in his backpack.

The teen said they saw Saucedo place the gun behind his leg as Hargrove approached so Hargrove “could not see” the gun. Hargrove told Saucedo to “stop bullying his friends” and that he “didn’t want to fight” with Saucedo but wanted him to “leave his friends alone.”

The teen told police Saucedo then pointed the gun at Hargrove and fired, striking him multiple times.

When Saucedo was taken to the main police station, he told officers “tell my mom I’m sorry” and, when they offered him food, said, “I don’t deserve to eat.”

Saucedo’s father told a case manager from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department that he noticed his gun missing at noon Friday. He said he called his wife, who told him she had not taken the gun, and went to the school to see his son being handcuffed.

‘Why him?’

Vanessa Sawyer, Hargrove’s grandmother, said the boy couldn’t wait to get back to school after the pandemic.

“He was overly excited, he had me shopping – ‘I have to have this, I have to have that’ – had to look just right,” she said.

But on Thursday, Hargrove told her another eighth grader was picking on a sixth grader “and he wasn’t going to let that go.”

“I had asked him to stay out of it because things could happen and escalate into something more – and apparently it did,” Sawyer said, wondering aloud where a 13-year-old gets a gun.

She said she had been trying to take photo of her grandson all week and finally, on Friday morning, he relented.

“He never liked to take pictures, and then he finally said, ‘Go ahead, go ahead, you only get one, though, Grandma,’ ” she said, laughing.

Hours later, Sawyer was told Hargrove had been shot during the lunch break and, eventually, that he was dead.

Sawyer said she helped raise Hargrove and his seven siblings, mostly girls, in Albuquerque. She said he didn’t get the best grades but loved basketball and wanted to play for the NBA someday. Sawyer said he had a “winning smile” and a kind heart.

And she thought he would have made a “perfect lawyer.”

“He was argumentative. I’m going to miss that more than anything in the world,” she said. “I could not say or do anything without him arguing with me – about anything – the color of a rock, anything.”

Sawyer said that above all, he was a protector.

“We don’t feel safe when he’s not home … so I don’t know what we are going to do or how we’re going to feel safe again without him here,” she said.

By Saturday morning, a cluster of candles, flowers and handwritten messages could be seen at the front of Washington Middle School, west of Downtown. Relatives, neighbors, classmates and strangers came by to pray and leave flowers. Some wore shirts with Hargrove’s picture and the words “In loving memory.”

Three cousins of Hargrove came by and held one another, tears streaking down their faces, for a few minutes in front of the memorial. A cousin said the family was already reeling from the loss of 19-year-old Trevonte Robbins, a cousin of Hargrove’s, who was shot and killed July 10 in Downtown.

Classmates and their parents gathered at the memorial hours later.

Some spoke of Hargrove’s beautiful eyes and reputation as “a protector” for those close to him. Others talked about Saucedo Jr., who had “changed over time” into something of a bully. He would brag about going shooting with his father.

But no one expected this.

“Right when I heard it was Juan, I was, like, ‘Why him? Why would he do that to Bennie?'” one girl questioned. “Bennie didn’t deserve it; he deserved so much better.”

Deanna Parra said Saucedo had tried to fight Hargrove on Thursday. Saucedo, she said, told others he was going to bring a gun to school Friday.

“Nobody thought anything of it, then I found out he actually killed him,” Parra said.

Sandra McCloud paused at the memorial as she pushed her grandson Tomas down the sidewalk in a car-shaped stroller. The 71-year-old said she watched the event unfold on Friday with her sister.

She remembered attending the school in the 1960s, when it was Washington Junior High. McCloud said there were no fences back then and school shootings were never a concern.

“It was very personal. … It’s not going to be the same when I walk through here,” she said, her voice shaking. “… My son, he says, ‘Everything is so different.’ I say, ‘You have no idea.’ ”

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