ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A 14-year-old New Mexico boy accused of shooting and killing a classmate in 2021 has pleaded no contest to a charge of second-degree murder, prosecutors said Thursday.
The boy will remain in state custody until he’s 21, the maximum sentence allowed for a child under New Mexico law. The Associated Press does not generally identify juvenile crime suspects.
The shooter opened fire during the lunch hour at Washington Middle School in front of numerous students who had returned for the fall semester just two days earlier. Police said the victim — 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove — was trying to protect another boy who was being bullied.
Authorities had said the student who shot his classmate brought his father’s gun to school.
The August attack left New Mexico's largest school district reeling and marked the second shooting in Albuquerque in less than 24 hours. At the time, the city was on pace to shatter its homicide record and top officials described the violence as a scourge. The record was broken that year and again in 2022.
The middle school shooting spurred legislation that ended up stalling during last year's session. Lawmakers are once again considering a similar measure that would criminalize negligent gun storage in cases where a child brandishes the weapon or uses it to hurt someone.
The bill narrowly passed the House and is poised to be considered by the full Senate.
The teen was initially charged with an open count of murder and unlawful carrying of a deadly weapon on school premises. His attorney had raised issues of the boy’s competency early on, saying the teen needed counseling and treatment for mental health issues.
“This was a terrible tragedy for everyone involved,” Bernalillo County District Attorney Sam Bregman said in a statement Thursday. “It changed the Hargrove family forever and devastated hundreds of children, parents, school faculty and the community."
Bregman said he hoped the plea would bring some closure to the family, who was in court Thursday. Family members told judge that Bennie was missed and that it hurt even more that another child was the one who committed the crime.