John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photo


Senior night for the Warriors girls basketball was disrupted Friday when three middle school students were taken into custody for bringing a gun to the basketball game.

Before halftime could happen, the students were taken into custody, the building was evacuated, and the game was rescheduled. Three more students may be facing charges in the incident.

A middle school student brought the gun in a bag and told other students about it, according to Superintendent Ron Hendrix. Other students notified both the police and school staff. The Socorro Sheriff’s Department and Socorro police officers responded.

Hendrix said his understanding was the student who brought the gun had issues with another student at the school. Hendrix said he didn’t know if the student “brought it just to show off,” but the student told others about the gun in their bag.

“This was an isolated incident between some kids that’s been carrying on for several years and kind of came to a head because parents allowed it to,” he said.

The Socorro Police Department is investigating the incident with the Socorro Sheriff’s Department.

“The police did a wonderful job of reacting immediately along with the school officials that were there. They were all running straight to make sure no one got hurt and it was a good outcome, and we appreciate them all,” said Hendrix.

The three middle school students who were taken into custody Friday night were released back into the custody of their parents that evening because there was no space available for them in a juvenile detention center.

“The reasons for that go a long way from Socorro, New Mexico,” said Socorro Police Chief Mike Winders. “If we had our way, we want to make sure these kids understand how serious this is.”

The plan was to send the three kids to a juvenile detention center outside of the county on Friday night. There are none located in Socorro County. They would have been brought back to Socorro for a hearing within 72 hours.

“Juvenile probation had no beds available for these kids. They’re just overwhelmed like we all are, so we were forced to release them. They went home with their parents, pending charges, which are coming. But we have to sort through and get the charges right. This is still fluid, but we have to slow down and get the charges right.”

Three more students may also be facing charges related to the incident.

“The charges could be wide ranging,” said Winders. “The only real felony here that we have is taking a gun on school grounds. Thank God, they did not point it at anybody, which would be a separate felony. It’s going to be a slew of potential misdemeanor assaults. That’s what we’re working on. We know we potentially have the taking a gun on school grounds. We’re still trying to pinpoint who actually brought it, who actually was in possession of it, who gets charged rightly. We can’t just run around swinging charges and seeing what sticks, so we have no choice but to slow down.”

The Sarracino Middle School students who were involved in the incident will also be facing consequences at school. They will be taken to a long-term hearing, a school district disciplinary process which will determine whether they are allowed to come back to the school, said Hendrix. The school will present their side, and the parents and kids will get a chance to respond. Then a long-term hearing officer will decide if they get to come back to school or not. That process will not begin until the police department has finished their investigation.

“I want people to know that when kids do something serious, we are going to the full extent of the law, press charges on them because we want our kids to be safe and secure,” said Hendrix.

Out of an abundance of caution, for the next week the middle and high school will have an increased law enforcement presence, including state police officers and Socorro County Sheriff’s deputies, said Winders. The school district has also been working on a plan with the Sheriff’s Department to have sheriff’s deputies act as school resource officers until the district has a permanent school resource officer position, said Hendrix.

Eye-Opening Experience

Jill Madrid-Angel, the Charisma Blue Dance Team coach, was with her 10 dance team members preparing 62 young dance camp participants to perform at halftime when a mass of parents ran into the gym where they were practicing. The dance team holds an annual community dance camp and the children who participated, ages 4 to 12, were set to perform during the basketball game’s halftime show.

Law enforcement informed her that someone had brought a gun into the basketball game, and she tried to calm the young girls by playing the quiet game.

“From start to finish, it really did seem like it was a quick ordeal. We had them sit for just a couple of minutes, then we were instructed by one of the officers to evacuate the building.”

But before all of the girls were evacuated from the building, they got the all-clear and the majority of the group resumed their practice. Some students were too upset to resume.

“I think we were not even a minute into the routine again, when they came in and said the game had been canceled and we all had to leave,” she said.

“Even though it was quick, it was chaotic and stressful. I know it was really scary for everyone.”

The incident hit home for Madrid-Angel.

“Not only am I an employee of the school, but I have children within the school, and it was just a really eye-opening experience that it can happen anywhere. I don’t think any training could prepare us for something like that. It’s something that I hope none of us have to go through or endure, but it’s something that we need to be reminded is possible and we need to have a plan in place.”

Madrid-Angel said she’s thankful that all the adults in the building did everything in their power to ensure a safe outcome.

The game against Hatch was rescheduled for Wednesday in Truth or Consequences. No spectators were allowed. The rest of the games during the week went on as normal. People who attended the Friday game can attend the girls home game on Friday, Feb. 18 against Cobre for free. The dance team and dance camp participants will perform at halftime.

The school mental health team is available for anyone in need of support. The Warrior Wellness Line is 575-838-2543.