Even at just 13 years old, Bennie Hargrove was a hero, his family and Albuquerque leaders say.
So on Thursday — what would have been Bennie’s 15th birthday — they gathered to honor the eighth grader’s legacy and sacrifice, and to rename after him the park next door to Washington Middle School, the school where he was shot while standing up for a friend against a bully.
“This is bittersweet,” Vanessa Sawyer, Bennie’s grandmother, told the Journal.
“I’m honored, I’m excited. … But it breaks my heart,” she added, her voice catching in her throat.
In August 2021, Bennie was shot during the lunch break by another eighth grader who brought his father’s gun to school. In early March, Juan Saucedo Jr., now 14, pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in Bennie’s death. He’ll remain in custody until he’s 21.
Bennie was a protector, his grandmother says, who was fiercely defensive of the people he loved. And on that day, he made “the ultimate sacrifice,” his mother Collette Wise added in remarks given on Thursday to about 100 people.
Still, Sawyer says, she thinks he had a bright future ahead of him in his sport of choice — basketball.
“Little did Bennie know at the time, that … was going to be taken away from him,” Rep. Pamelya Herndon, D-Albuquerque said, speaking at the event.
“But (he) will be living on forever,” she added, pointing out that his death spurred “one of the most advanced and audacious bills ever to be signed into law.”
Sponsored by Herndon in this year’s legislative session, House Bill 9 — nicknamed after Bennie — would make it a crime for someone to negligently store a firearm in a way that a minor could access it. It’s set to go into effect next month.
The bill’s become an important part of Bennie’s legacy, both Herndon and his family say.
“We look forward to the Bennie Hargrove (Gun Safety Act) taking effect next month, and the effect it will have on saving children’s lives and protecting parents from the trauma and pain that my family has gone through,” Wise said.
But the legacy Bennie left behind wasn’t necessarily worth the trade-off of losing him for his older brother, DeAndre Sewell.
“Honestly, I wish he never interfered,” Sewell said. “But it … makes me really proud of him, because he done something I wouldn’t. I would have probably just minded my own business, to be honest, but Bennie did the exact opposite, and stood up for his friend.”