Luis Sánchez Saturno/Sante Fe Mexican/AP
First responders arrive at the scene of a shooting Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, in Española, N.M., where a protest over a statue of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate turned violent. A suspect was taken into custody after allegedly shooting and wounding a man at the protest Thursday, authorities said. (Luis Sánchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)
CNN  — 

A man was shot Thursday during a protest against plans to reinstall a statue of a controversial Spanish conquistador in northern New Mexico, police say.

Demonstrators were gathered in the city of Española, where officials had planned to reinstall a statue of Juan de Oñate but canceled the event over public safety concerns.

Ryan Martinez, 23, is suspected of shooting a man during an altercation that broke out at the protest, Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield said.

Martinez, who was taken into custody Thursday, was being held on charges of attempted murder in the first degree and aggravated assault, New Mexico State Police said Friday.

The man who was wounded was airlifted to a hospital in Albuquerque, said Merrifield, who did not know the victim’s condition.

New Mexico State Police are investigating the shooting, they said.

The statue of Oñate, who established the colony of New Mexico over 400 years ago, initially stood in the neighboring city of Alcalde, but was taken down in 2020 after protests demanding its removal. That came amid a wave of demonstrations in cities nationwide over monuments of controversial historical figures, including slaveowners, Confederate leaders and colonizers.

Oñate led a massacre of 800 to 1,000 indigenous people, after which he cut a foot off some survivors and sold some into slavery. He was later convicted of using excessive force and banished from New Mexico, and he remains a controversial figure in the state.

Rio Arriba County commissioners decided to reinstall the statue in a new location in front of a county building in Española, according to the sheriff.

The rededication of Oñate’s statue was scheduled to take place Thursday, but county officials postponed the event, citing safety concerns.

Despite the postponement, some demonstrators still showed up at the site on Thursday to protest the plan to install the statue.

Video recorded by a witness shows the moments leading to the shooting, in which a scuffle breaks out between a man and a group of others. The man eventually jumps over a retaining wall to escape the others before producing a gun and aiming toward them, the video shows. A gunshot is heard.

It’s unclear what led to the initial scuffle.

Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal/Zuma
Ryan Martinez, center, stands at a rally outside a Rio Arriba County building on Thursday. Police say he later shot and wounded a man during a scuffle.

The witness, Ray Naranjo, told CNN the shooter fled in a car as someone at the event followed him.

Merrifield had submitted a letter to the county’s commissioners on Thursday advising them that he “disagreed with them moving the statue at the current time” and wanted to “prevent any kind of safety issues (or) concerns, which we knew we were going to have,” he said at a news conference Thursday.

“Obviously we have a situation as of today,” he added.

Merrifield added he was grateful for the two commissioners who decided to stop the statue’s planned installation Thursday.