Gunfire spurs panic at youth baseball game on the West Side - Albuquerque Journal

Gunfire spurs panic at youth baseball game on the West Side

The Jennifer Riordan Spark Kindness Sports Complex where gunfire sent families, players and coaches fleeing earlier this month during a championship game at the West Side baseball fields. Two teens were detained by police, then released, (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The New Mexico Heat and Albuquerque Hawks were in the midst of a tie game on June 11 at a West Side baseball field. It was game three of a championship for the players, none older than 13.

Then, an umpire heard a bullet whizz by his head as gunfire echoed from the mesa. Heat coach Andre Roybal cleared the field as bullets ricocheted off chain link fence and kicked up dirt mere feet away. His wife used her body to shield their 11-year-old daughter, and families ran screaming from the bleachers.

Roybal called the situation “absolutely terrifying.”

“As we started running to take cover, my daughter is screaming, ‘I don’t want to die, daddy,'” he said. “That’s the sound I have replaying in my mind over and over.”

Albuquerque police detained two teens after finding handguns in their vehicle but released the boys when the District Attorney’s Office found they lacked probable cause. Parents of traumatized children are unsatisfied with the outcome and Roybal said, at the very least, shooting in the mesa should be outlawed.

Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said the investigation is ongoing.

He said department leaders agreed with prosecutors that probable cause “was not sufficient to justify charges.” Gallegos said an internal affairs investigation will determine “whether the officers followed policies.”

Lauren Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said police would have to gather evidence other than the car stop to move forward.

“If APD can present constitutionally viable evidence, we will look at bringing charges,” she said.

Gallegos and Rodriguez would not elaborate on why the stop was unconstitutional.

According to an incident report obtained through an Inspection of Public Records Act request:

Officers responded around 7:30 p.m. to reports of gunfire at the Albuquerque Regional Sports Complex on Arroyo Vista, northwest of Interstate 40. Police heard gunshots in the distance as they arrived.

Officers saw two vehicles on an adjacent hill and one tried to drive away when police approached. Police pulled over the vehicle seen leaving and detained two boys, one 16 and one 17. They found two handguns in the glove box during a “safety sweep” and the boys told police they “did not know who owned the guns.”

“The gunshots had stopped and for the time officers were on scene no more gunshots were heard,” the report states. “Due to these facts, it is reasonable to believe the (teens) were the ones shooting.”

Police found at least one impact near the baseball field and bullet fragments “closest to the field house.” A detective prepared a warrant to keep the teens in custody “due to the violent nature of the crimes.”

Rodriguez said the warrant was for a misdemeanor charge of unlawful carrying of a handgun and did not include a charge for the shooting.

“In reviewing the warrant, however, there was an issue with the constitutionality of the stop that made the case not viable and so the attorney did not approve the warrant,” she said.

Rodriguez said, under New Mexico law, any evidence gathered from the stop – such as the two guns – could not be used against the teens.

The DA’s office advised the officers to release the teens immediately and their parents picked them up. The vehicle was sealed and towed due to the fact that police could not release the guns to the teens and could not seize the guns without a warrant.

Parents and coaches say that, until now, they had become “desensitized” to the sound of gunfire due to the proximity to the mesa where people often shoot.

Roybal said he can’t imagine the people shooting, who were on a hill, didn’t know they were aiming toward the field.

“This place is enormous, you can’t miss it,” Roybal said.

“To say that they were accidentally shooting in that direction, they were either really reckless or they were doing it with intention.”

He said local leaders like the City Council should look into restricting shooting in the area.

Denise Puentes, still shaken by the incident, said more should be done.

“The fact that somebody did not get hit or hurt is just miraculous,” she said.

Puentes was in the bleachers near third base when somebody yelled “get down” amid the pop of gunfire. She grew emotional describing her 13-year-old son running as dirt exploded across the field.

“It was horrible,” she said, getting choked up. “… Whether (the shooters) got careless or whether they just were there and decided to be (expletives) – it was horrifying.”

Puentes said there was “complete hysteria and panic” as gunshots continued and players, parents and attendees tried to find shelter. She said they prayed, fearing the worst, while a man jumped into a neighboring field and yelled there was an active shooter.

“My son and I got home and we were just bawling for a whole night,” Puentes said.

She said it’s “ridiculous” that the teens were released and, in general, thinks more should be done to protect the public from gun violence.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you – especially at a baseball tournament for youths,” Puentes said.

“I feel like something has to change.”

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