A New Mexico State University fraternity member shot a student pledge during an initiation event at a campground, authorities said.
Miguel Altamirano, 21, is facing charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and negligent use of a deadly weapon while intoxicated in the Nov. 9 alleged hazing incident that left Jonathan Sillas wounded in the leg at a campsite in Cloudcroft, according to a criminal complaint obtained by the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Investigators allege Altamirano “put a gun to [Sillas’] leg and pulled the trigger,” but he told deputies from the Otero County Sheriff’s Office that he didn’t think the .40-caliber handgun was loaded, the newspaper reports.
“He pulled out a gun, he cocked it back and then that’s when I started freaking out,” Sillas recalled to KFOX14. “He proceeded to press it on my leg and then I was like, ‘No, I don’t mess with stuff like that.’ … He was like, ‘Come on, everyone did it.’”
Sillas no longer has the same “muscle strength” in his leg and remains shaken in the aftermath of the shooting.
Students like Sillas who sought to become members of Kappa Sigma were forced to show their loyalty by holding guns to their heads or other parts of their bodies — and then pulling the trigger, according to a report by the university’s dean of students.
A gun was not pointed at Sillas’ head during the incident, but Altamirano also pulled the gun on other pledges without incident, Sillas told KVIA.
Other activities that pledges were required to participate in included protecting delicate items like eggs as they were tackled near a campfire, according to the Dec. 18 report obtained by the newspaper.
Kappa Sigma has been formally dismissed from New Mexico State University through Dec. 31, 2024, as a result of the shooting, university officials said.
“New Mexico State University cares deeply about the health and welfare of our students,” a statement read. “This incident is unacceptable and indicates a serious violation of our policies, for which we have taken steps to hold any responsible individuals accountable.”
Altamirano’s attorney, meanwhile, insists the shooting was merely a joke gone wrong.
“The evidence in this case is consistent with negligent handling of a firearm and not the crime of aggravated assault,” attorney C.J. McElhinney said in a statement to the Sun-News. “My client never intended to injure anyone and was only joking around in the context of a fraternity event when this unfortunate incident occurred.”
Altamirano, who is no longer enrolled at New Mexico State, is facing up to three years in prison if convicted. He’s due back in court in February.