Demonstrators marched in Albuquerque’s International District Thursday night to protest police violence after an hours-long SWAT standoff ended in a home burning down and the death of a teen who was inside.
“That young man lost his life … because the police did not stop and think about what they were doing,” said Sundra Coleman, who lived in the house. “That was somebody’s son.”
Protesters and initial news reports said the boy was 14 years old. Police have since said they aren’t certain of his age and haven’t yet identified him.
But the family who lost their home are keeping him in their minds. “Remember him,” Coleman told protesters.
Police said they don’t know the cause of the boy’s death, though information from the Office of the Medical Investigator is expected soon.
“What happened from the get-go was unacceptable,” said another resident of the house, Deja, holding her toddler in one arm and gripping a mic with her other hand. “I don’t have nowhere to go now, and I don’t know where my son is going to live. I don’t know where my mom is going to live.”
Her mom worked two jobs all her life, Deja said, to raise her. When the house burned down, “they took everything,” she said.
The family was telling police a 14-year-old boy was still in the house, she said, “and they let him die, and burn.”
On Wednesday, officers were following Qiaunt Kelley, who had warrants out for his arrest, one for “unlawful taking of a vehicle out of the city of Santa Fe” and one for a probation violation, according to a police lieutenant at a news conference Thursday.
Kelley and the teen went to the house where a friend lived, according to police, and when detectives tried to arrest Kelley, he ran inside. Then SWAT was called in, Police Chief Harold Medina explained Thursday.
Cop watchers and other observers there that night attended the demonstration and said munitions SWAT officers shot into the home started the fire.
“Different types of munitions were used,” Medina said. “It is unknown exactly where in the home the individual was.”
The Albuquerque Police Department and the city’s fire department said they’re investigating whether tear gas and pepper spray canisters ignited the fire — such weapons have done so when used in similar SWAT situations elsewhere.
“At the end of the day,” said Coleman’s niece before the march began, officers are “going home to their home, and my Aunty Sundra’s not going to a home.” She pointed to other relatives. “She’s not going to a home. He’s not going to a home.”
It’s unclear who gave orders preventing Albuquerque Fire Rescue from extinguishing the fire more quickly or saving the person inside. “It took time for us to turn off the fire,” Medina said. “We have to remember that the fire department, they are not police officers… It is a challenge for us to get them into an unresolved situation.”
According to a fire department news release, firefighters had to battle the flames from outside the house “in coordination with APD” because Kelley was still inside.
When Kelley came out, fire crews went inside and found the teen dead, according to the news release.
Demonstrators said the teen was brought out of the burned house and laid in the street while people demanded he be given some dignity.
“A 14-year-old Black man — Black child — a child,” Clifton White corrected himself standing in the intersection of Central and Wyoming as night fell and the protest wound down, police lights flashing behind him. “They didn’t know who he was. He could have been a 9-year-old. They didn’t care. They used their toys. They burned a house down.”