“I want to come home.”
That’s what former Lobos women’s basketball player Brooke Berry told her mother the morning after a fatal shooting in the heart of the University of New Mexico campus last weekend that police say involved vengeful UNM freshmen and a visiting New Mexico State University basketball player who came to town with a firearm.
It wasn’t promising redshirt freshman Brooke Berry’s first scare on campus since arriving from Billings, Montana. Like almost all other UNM scholarship athletes, Berry lived at the Lobo Village apartment complex, just west of the Pit next to I-25, where gunfire rang out on consecutive weekends in June.
Police found several bullet casings, damaged vehicles, bullet holes in walls and a broken window after the June 19 incident. A party got out of hand the prior weekend, leaving bullet holes in cars and the walls of the complex.
Although no one was injured in either shooting, the headline in the July 1 Daily Lobo read: “In aftermath of shootings, Lobo Village residents fear for their safety.”
Berry’s mother, Amy Berry, said her daughter had hidden in the bathtub during one of those shootings.
The Nov. 19 shootout occurred on UNM’s main campus outside of Coronado Hall; 19-year-old UNM student Brandon Travis was killed and 21-year-old NMSU basketball player Mike Peake was shot and injured. Even though that shooting did not occur near Lobo Village, Berry’s mother said the latest shooting “was really the last straw.”
So she and her husband drove 14 hours to Albuquerque to get their daughter, informing Lobos coach Mike Bradbury that Brooke was leaving the school because of recent violent crime on and around the campus.
“Brooke really likes the basketball team and she wanted to stick it out, but she was scared,” her mother said. “It’s a shame because New Mexico has a great team, a great venue. We really wanted it to work. But basketball’s only a small part of life. You have to be safe.”
If ever there were an example of the tangential fallout of violent crime in Albuquerque, Brooke Berry is it. It took just a few months of living in the Duke City for her to feel so unsafe she wanted out. How many other students feel similarly unsafe on campus should be a great concern to UNM leaders.
Early Tuesday, the UNM Police Department responded to a report of an assault with a firearm near the 300 block of Redondo NE – not far from the site of last weekend’s fatal shooting.
“The caller told officers they were walking outside Redondo Village Apartments when they observed two males parked in a black hatchback-style Jeep,” UNM said in a LoboAlert to the campus. “One of the subjects in the vehicle was described as pointing a handgun at them before driving off campus. No shots or injuries were reported.”
The days of settling disputes via fisticuffs as a last resort have unfortunately passed. The prospect of violence has gotten so real that UNM and NMSU have cancelled their remaining men’s basketball game this season that was to be played Dec. 3 in Las Cruces.
Guns seem to be everywhere, including in the waist band of a visiting Aggie basketball player and the hands of a UNM student living in a residence hall.
Although guns are banned from campus through both university policy and state law, university spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair says enforcing it has been a challenge “being an open campus in an urban environment.”
The UNM campus is indeed in an urban environment. Just last month a 49-year-old man was found dead in an alley in the university area from an apparent homicide. The Oct. 15 discovery of the body of Lawrence Pena marked the 103rd homicide investigated by the Albuquerque Police Department this year. There were 116 homicides in Albuquerque in 2021.
The university area is squeezed into the most homicidal areas of Albuquerque, a Journal map of 2022 homicides shows.
The campus shootout involving Peake and Travis is a tragedy that does not reflect well on either school or build confidence in parents to send their kids to either school.
Currently, there are more questions than answers. Why on earth would a Division I basketball player bring a gun on a road trip? Are there security measures that need to be in place to prevent that? What discipline did other members of the NMSU team face for violating curfew?
And what is a UNM student doing with a gun on campus? Ten weapons have been found on campus in the past four years, but UNM is not saying what discipline was meted out. Immediate expulsion for having a weapon on campus could prove a strong deterrent — especially if that information was known campuswide.
UNM also needs to beef up security at and near Lobo Village. It is not a UNM-owned dormitory, but it should take responsibility for security. Having gunfire ring out on two consecutive weekends is simply unacceptable. Had that happened on the main campus, there would have been an uproar from the university community.
Better communication between the two schools also appears needed. Did NMSU share the potential of more violence with UNM after the Oct. 15 brawls at Aggie Memorial Stadium in Las Cruces involving UNM and NMSU students — one of which apparently sparked last weekend’s fatal shooting?
Fifteen thousand people were planning to head to the Pit to watch the Nov. 19 men’s basketball game between UNM and NMSU. Was UNM aware of the previous brawls so it could beef up security had the game taken place?
At a time when the utmost of transparency is needed, NMSU officials waited until Wednesday to finally face direct questioning, and then only via Zoom.
UNM and NMSU are in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. It’s going to take a lot of sunshine and candid answers to come out from underneath this dark cloud.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.