U.S. Marshal explains why deputies exchanged weapons in high school parking lot

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Last week two men were exchanging guns in the parking lot of Rio Grande High School, prompting the school to go under a shelter-in-place order. Turns out, those two men were working with the U.S. Marshals on a manhunt for a felon.

"What happened that day is really unfortunate and I feel for the students and their parents and the school because I know they were alarmed and concerned and I understand that and I apologize for that, but what we can’t lose sight of is what was happening in the community in the big picture," said U.S. Marshal Sonya Chavez.

The U.S. Marshals Serivce was working with area law enforcement to find a wanted felon had shot at police earlier and escaped. To them, the parking lot seemed like a safe space to make adjustments before they went back out into the field.

"At times our deputies have to find a safe spot to pull over and change equipment," Chavez said. "Sometimes we use church parking lots, we use back alleys, we use whatever is safe. In that moment, the school parking lot appeared to be a safe place for them to go in and they were there less than two minutes."

According to a letter sent to families by the school, an individual had seen the exchange and came forward to alert school security that there were two individuals with weapons in the parking lot. The school briefly went under a shelter-in-place order.

Chavez said she is sorry students at Rio Grande High School had to witness it and she’s glad the school took the situation seriously – but she also stands by the decision her deputies made.

"Do we wish it wouldn’t have been a school and wouldn’t have been students? Absolutely," Chavez said. "But I will not question as to why they made that call at that time."

As a former FBI agent who has investigated violent crimes for 22 years, Chavez said she understands what it’s like to work in the field and wants to share that understanding with the community.

"I don’t want what happened to come across that I am minimizing it, because I recognize that it is concerning, but I also want to re-emphasize what the mission at hand was, and it was to apprehend someone who had already proven himself to be a danger to our community," Chavez said.

The U.S. Marshals Service wants to also emphasize that no students or staff were put in harm’s way last Wednesday. At the end of the day, they were able to successfully arrested the wanted felon.