Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
In 2018, Juan Saucedo Jr., then 9, sat in his mother’s car as his father shot a man twice during a fight in the student pickup lane of Highland High School.
On Friday, authorities say, Saucedo Jr. used his father’s gun to fatally shoot another eighth grader during lunch break at Washington Middle School.
The District Attorney’s Office did not charge Saucedo Sr. in the 2018 incident, ruling it a self-defense shooting, but may now pursue charges against him and his wife in the school shooting that left 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove dead.
Saucedo Jr., also 13, is charged with an open count of murder and unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises in Hargrove’s death. Authorities say Hargrove was trying to stop Saucedo from bullying his friends when Saucedo shot him multiple times in front of numerous classmates.
Saucedo is being tried as a juvenile since he is under 14. When reached by phone Tuesday, the Saucedo family declined to comment.
On Tuesday afternoon Saucedo’s father – accompanied by an interpreter – and mother joined the boy for a virtual hearing in Children’s Court. Saucedo Jr. called in from within the Bernalillo County Youth Services Center.
Public Defender Dennica Torres raised the issue of Saucedo Jr.’s competency and argued that he needs counseling and treatment for his mental health issues that he will not be able to get while in custody.
“Juan is in special education, he does have mental health issues,” she said. “He has been in counseling for some time and he does have a therapist. He does take medicine for his mental health issues, he does attend school regularly.”
Torres said that Saucedo’s parents are “very present in his life” and a juvenile probation officer said that Luz Saucedo “does care about her son and his well-being.”
However, Hargrove’s grandmother, the probation officer and prosecutor Mari Martinez asked that Saucedo Jr. be detained pending his trial.
Judge Catherine Begaye agreed and ordered him to be held at the center.
“The child poses a substantial risk of harm to others and I can’t overlook the allegation in this case,” she said.
Washington Middle School students returned to class Tuesday and crisis counselors were made available.
The community is “reeling from the shock and heartache” of the shooting, Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Scott Elder said in a statement.
“I can’t stop thinking about the eighth-grader whose life ended so violently and way too soon,” he said. “Nor about his classmate – just a child, really – accused of pulling the trigger and now facing murder charges.”
Elder said the district has bolstered police presence at the school and is encouraging witnesses to come forward.
District attorney: Unknown if parents will be charged
Meanwhile, 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez doesn’t know yet whether his office will charge Saucedo’s parents under the same statute that was leveled against the parents of a teen who fired a gun inside a Rio Rancho high school.
“We will not be able to make a conclusive determination about whether such charges are appropriate in this case until the Albuquerque Police Department completes its investigation into the murder of Bennie Hargrove and provides a detailed account of how Juan Saucedo Jr. was able to access the murder weapon,” Torrez’s spokeswoman said.
In June 2019 Tamara and Dale Owen, the parents of Joshua Owen, were charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a fourth-degree felony. Prosecutors allege the Owens were told their son had threatened to shoot up the school and they denied having a gun but, a little less than a year later, Joshua Owen took an unsecured handgun from their bedroom and tried to shoot students at V. Sue Cleveland High School before the gun jammed and he fired into the air instead.
The trial for Tamara Owen is still pending but Dale Owen, the father, has since died.
Records detail family’s long history with APS
Court records, police reports and witnesses detail the Saucedo family’s history with Albuquerque Public Schools – including the Highland High shooting and a classroom brawl – as well as Saucedo Sr.’s criminal history.
In November 2015 an APS teacher said she was in a classroom at Zuni Elementary with a parent and her daughter when, without warning, Luz Saucedo came into the room and attacked the mother. She said it started with hair-pulling but the women soon ended up on the ground and Saucedo’s daughter started attacking the woman as well. The teacher said the fighting lasted a couple of minutes and, at some point, Saucedo Sr. came into the room, but she didn’t see him join in the melee. In 2017, the parent filed a lawsuit against APS and all three Saucedos alleging that the mother was hospitalized from the incident and sought damages. The lawsuit was later dismissed after “matters have been amicably resolved between them.”
Then, in 2018, a fight between parents that started with words and a fist escalated to poles, bats and gunfire in the student pickup lane outside Highland High School.
By the time police arrived Alex Placencio had been shot twice, in the hand and thigh, and Saucedo left the scene in his truck. Portions of the fight were captured on cellphone video and multiple witnesses told police the men took turns in the fight, with a few saying Saucedo was defending himself when he fired the shots.
Placencio said that’s because the video didn’t tell the whole story.
“This guy shot me and nothing was done about it. They said it was both our faults. … I don’t believe it was,” he said Tuesday.
Placencio said Saucedo had been “staring him down” for weeks before Saucedo walked up to his door and confronted him. He said he approached Saucedo, who punched him in the chest. Then, he said, Saucedo’s wife handed him a gun as Saucedo Jr. watched from the passenger seat of her car. Placencio said he grabbed a bat from his trunk and hit Saucedo’s truck before Saucedo grabbed a pole and the men went at it.
“He goes down – on his knees – and I’m hitting him a few times,” he said.
Placencio said he took the pole from Saucedo and stepped back as Saucedo’s wife stood nearby.
“I thought we were done and he pulls his gun out,” he said. Placencio said Saucedo shot him twice and was about to shoot him again when Placencio grabbed him and the two men started wrestling. He said Saucedo Sr. then jumped in his truck and fled.
Luz Saucedo told police she didn’t know Saucedo Sr. owned a gun or where he got it. During the interview, officers pulled a bullet fragment from her sweater and tagged it into evidence.
Police found the bat and pole, with blood on them, in Placencio’s trunk and found Saucedo’s truck abandoned at 8th and Copper NW.
Police never found the gun but Placencio still has the bullet doctors pulled from his leg.
“I’m concerned that the gun that he shot me with could be the same gun his son shot this kid with,” Placencio said, wondering if the bullet matches the gun used to kill Hargrove.
He said, “the cops dropped the case because they blamed both of us but they never pursued to find the gun.”
Torrez’s office said they determined that Placencio was the first aggressor, and the facts of the case didn’t support charging Saucedo Sr. and would not have prevented him from possessing firearms.
In 2013, Saucedo Sr. was arrested on drug trafficking charges after police found a methamphetamine pipe and several bags of the drug on him. Saucedo Sr. told police he was selling meth to get extra money for his daughter’s 15th birthday, according to a police report.
Saucedo agreed to “work his criminal charges off” by conducting three controlled drug buys off dealers but Saucedo Sr. never went through with it. The case was later dismissed due to “an illegal search and seizure” by police.