Taos High wrestler suspended after firing airsoft pistol

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A Taos High School athlete has been suspended after firing an airsoft pistol at wrestlers during practice a week ago hitting one in the arm with a pellet, according to information from school officials and a police report.

According to an incident report filed by the school’s principal at 10 a.m. Monday (Feb. 5) with the Taos Police Department, the incident occurred Wednesday (Jan. 31) during the school’s wrestling practice at the Enos Garcia Elementary annex.

Three wrestlers were struck by pellets, but only one sustained a minor injury. None sought medical attention and no charges have been filed against the athlete who admitted to firing the airsoft pistol. All three were interviewed by police.

At least some school officials knew about the incident by Friday, according to Taos News staff interviews with some school and police officials. The school did not file a police report until five days after the incident.

While airsoft pellet guns are considered “toys” by many people and cause less serious injuries than BB guns, cases of eye damage from pellets fired out of airsoft guns have risen into the thousands in the last few years. In addition, the manufacturers’ warning labels on airsoft boxes stipulate they are “not a toy.” Some note they are “dangerous up to 100 yards.”

The athlete, a juvenile, told police during an interview on Tuesday (Feb. 6) that he found an “airsoft spring toy gun pistol in his truck” and, he said “being immature” didn’t realize another wrestler was “caught in the crossfire and got hit” while he was firing and “attempting to hit a friend of his, who was approximately seven yards away,” according to the officer’s report. The wrestler who fired the airsoft gun said the pellet bounced off the wall and struck another wrestler in the arm. He told police he apologized to the student for the incident.

The pellet fired from the airsoft gun left a “small round mark,” on one wrestler’s arm, according to the police report. Photos of the wound showed a round hole on the boy’s arm that appeared to have broken the skin. The father of the injured wrestler said the boy did not have to go to the hospital or have medical attention. 

Police interviewed two other students who said they also were struck by airsoft pellets, one in the butt and one in the calf. Neither reported being injured, and the police report doesn’t note who shot the airsoft gun at them. At least one other person may have witnessed what happened, a person taking down the weight for each wrestler.

The Taos News is not naming the wrestlers involved because they are juveniles.

Taos Police Chief David Trujillo said the Taos Police Department was not immediately called in reference to the incident. School Resource Officer Henry Sanchez told Trujillo Friday (Feb.3) he heard from a school official that there had been an “incident” but was not given details or asked at that time to file a report. Trujillo said it did not sound like anyone was seriously injured.

“If a pellet (BB) gun or firearm had been used, we would have been informed,” Trujillo said Friday (Feb. 2). “The school may have handled this internally.”

The airsoft incident report was filed by the school with his department three days later. 

Taos Municipal Schools Superintendent Lilian Torrez said Friday afternoon (Feb. 2) in a phone interview that she had no knowledge of the incident and would find out more. She said Saturday morning (Feb. 3) that there had been no hearing held for disciplinary action, so it was not clear yet what, if anything, had occurred.

Torrez later confirmed Tuesday (Feb. 6) that an incident involving an airsoft pistol indeed had occurred but was not able to give specifics of the situation. Torrez said the student who fired the pistol has been suspended from school activities, including athletics, pending a hearing where the student’s future disciplinary sentence would be determined. A disciplinary hearing for the student will be held next week, according to Torrez.

Athletic director Nickie McCarty said all questions needed to be directed to the superintendent. THS wrestling coach Robert Valencia said by text Friday (Feb. 2) that he couldn’t comment on the situation. 

Airsoft guns have become increasingly popular around the United States and can look like real rifles and pistols, a deep concern for schools in light of shootings on school property. Airsoft guns can be powered by a battery, gas or a spring. Airsoft guns are considered “low-impact” devices and less dangerous than BB guns. The plastic pellets fired from typical airsoft guns rarely penetrate skin, but can leave welts. The primary injuries seen from airsoft gun pellets are to eyes, but cases have been reported of internal injuries, according to several medical studies. In part, this is due to an increasing number of the airsoft guns being able to fire pellets at higher and higher velocities. 

“Horseplay or no horseplay it’s still serious,” Torrez said Tuesday (Feb. 6). “The student saw it as a toy, but it doesn’t matter if it’s a toy. The point is, you can’t do that.”

According to the Taos High School Student Handbook’s policy on weapons, “look-alike” weapons are indeed considered weapons “if, under the circumstances, the purpose of keeping or carrying the object is for use, or threat of use, as a weapon.” This policy also states that possession or use of a weapon is a Category III offense, which is the most severe offense, and would result in expulsion of the student, according to the handbook.

In light of the rise in deadly school shootings involving real firearms, schools have taken different approaches to students who bring airsoft guns to school, in part because they can look so much like real guns. Officials at an Alhambra, California school immediately called police when an eighth-grader was found with an airsoft pistol in his backpack and two more in his locker in October.

Officials at a Connecticut school also called police immediately in November after a 13-year-old brought an airsoft gun to school in his backpack although officials do not believe the student intended to use the gun maliciously.

Students found with airsoft guns have been expelled from some schools, suspended at others and no action has been taken in some cases.

Torrez said some community members have expressed concern that the district is being too harsh over the incident; however, she said the district must not overlook the situation.

“We have to take every situation as a serious matter,” Torrez said. 

School officials say there was no malicious intent on the part of the student who fired the airsoft pistol.

Reporters John Miller and Arcenio J. Trujillo contributed to this report.

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