4 Investigates: Guns on school campuses
School is supposed to be a safe space, a place of opportunity and promise. But, for many of us, it’s become another worry.
The growing number of guns on Albuquerque campuses make us question will our children make it back home? That question is getting much harder to answer.
A walk through the Mount Calvary Cemetery never gets easier. But it’s the closest Al Burson gets to seeing his youngest child.
These days, the conversation is one-sided. It’s why Burson said the last morning spent with his son Andrew is so memorable.
“We had our morning get together. He left to go to school, and I had a doctor’s appointment,” said Al Burson about the morning of Feb. 25, 2022.
Later that day, Burson learned his 16-year-old son Andrew Burson had been shot and killed right next to West Mesa High School.
“I’m the type to always prepare. I prepared for if he got sick. This came out of nowhere,” said Burson. “I never expected my son to get killed next to the school property by another child.”
But it’s a reality that’s becoming more and more possible. Months before the West Mesa shooting, a 13-year-old was arrested for shooting and killing 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove at Washington Middle School.
Data gathered from public records requests show more weapons are being found on Albuquerque Public School campuses.
17 guns were found in the 2022-2023 school year, but that number could be higher. APS administration does not keep the same tally of fake guns, like toys, BB or Airsoft guns. While having them is not a crime, the district attorney’s office says if they are being used to assault or threaten someone, that child can face criminal charges.
West Mesa tops the list with six weapons confiscated in the last three school years — that does not include the weapon used to kill Andrew Burson.
“It is something that keeps me up at night,” said Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman.
Along with a zero-tolerance for guns on campus Bregman is spearheading a program to bring gun violence education to the classroom.
“We’re literally going to be putting prosecutors in the classroom,” said Bregman.
They’re starting that pilot with two high schools, West Mesa and La Cueva, and two middle schools, Truman and Washington Middle School.
“Those are most effective where you start to train those kids on how to peacefully resolve an issue and not resort to violence, whether it be fighting or bringing a weapon,” said APS Superintendent Scott Elder.
Elder said the district has other outreach programs, but they are not at every school.
“Right now, the state of New Mexico has got quite a bit of money from oil and gas and that’s fantastic, these are the types of programs we hope that will get funded,” he said.
“A gun violence class should be required in every middle school in the state of New Mexico and every high school in the state of New Mexico,” said Dennica Torres with the Law Offices of the Public Defender.
While some smaller school districts have implemented security measures like metal detectors and clear backpacks, APS said its best tool is “See something, Say something.”
“The fact of the matter is, a lot of people understand the seriousness of this. So when someone makes a foolish decision, it is not uncommon for someone else to know about it,” said Elder.
In dozens of police reports, KOB 4 combed through, that is the case. A weapon is reported, and APS police track it down.
Through those reports, we found most weapons on campus were found in a student’s backpack. Some students carried them, and others were found in cars.
That’s what happened last year when “See something, Say something” didn’t work in time to save Andrew Burson.
“He knew there was a weapon in the car because it was being flashed around,” said Lilia Trejo, Marco’s grandmother.
Witnesses told police 14-year-old Marco Trejo stole a gun from Burson before the shooting.
When Burson went to get that gun back, Trejo started shooting.
According to friends, Burson had an unregistered “ghost gun.” Burson’s dad doesn’t know how, if, or when he would have gotten a hold of that.
“This was a shocker. They don’t have no guns, you know. No money to purchase one. No way to get them. That was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Lilia Trejo.
Trejo, now 16, took a plea deal this year: guilty to murder in the second-degree. He’ll stay locked up at the New Mexico Youth Diagnostic Development Center until he’s 21.
His plea ensured he would have the opportunity to start over. But it’s not the life Trejo imagined for her grandson; a once-a-week visit, and a future she knows, is murky.
“I always thought that was something other families went through, not mine. You know, obviously they were doing wrong, and they should have known. Well, that’s not always the case. It can happen to anyone,” said Trejo.
While she didn’t see this coming, maybe someone did.
“There’s a lot of our kids that are going through a lot at school and when they come home, they don’t share it. Do the schools miss it? Probably. Do the teachers see it? Probably,” said Trejo.
“I’d heard there were problems at the school, but I’d always ask Andrew ‘Is everything going ok? Are there any issues?’ ‘No, no everything’s fine.’ And I should have asked leading questions reaching further into it,” said Burson.
Burson said he would give anything to get that opportunity back.
“He was a class clown too, always cutting up,” he said.
Now, he’ll work to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other family.
“The way I view it is, anger caused this death and destroyed two families when it comes down to it,” he said.
The gun involved in the West Mesa High School shooting has never been found. It’s believed that when Trejo was running away, he tossed it, but it never turned up throughout the investigation.
Both families worry about where it could be now.
All other guns found on campus are turned over to law enforcement for analysis. An Albuquerque Police Department spokesperson said he’s aware of at least one of those weapons being involved in other shootings.
KOB wants to disclose that Lilia Trejo is a KOB employee who is not involved in the news department.