Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and his family were among those almost hit as a large SUV drove through a parade that celebrates Native American culture in western New Mexico, injuring at least 15 people, officials said.
Police in Gallup took the driver into custody Thursday and later said he consumed alcohol before barreling down the parade route that was the kick-off event for the 10-day Gallup Intertribal Ceremonial Centennial Celebration.
The vehicle sped through downtown Gallup about 15 minutes after the nighttime parade started and as thousands looked on. Many captured the chaotic scene on video, some yelling obscenities at the driver and SUV occupants who were detained and handcuffed.
As the SUV sped near the parade, videos posted on social media showed, people yelled for others to get out of the way and some pushed parade-goers to safety.
Children performing traditional dances appear to have been among the first to have seen the SUV heading toward them, the videos showed. They ran to the side amid screams and others scrambling to get out of the way.
The images also showed blankets, shoes, banners and umbrellas left strewn along the street and on the sidewalks as people fled.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday that the state will send additional police officers and a behavioral heath crisis team to Gallup for the rest of the event. She said 15 people were hurt and characterized most injuries as minor. Two Gallup police officers were among those hurt.
Nez said the vehicle was coming at him and a group of tribal officials marching in the parade. He thanked people for their quickly taking action to get spectators and participants out of harm’s way.
“We just ask for your prayers for all of the participants,” Nez said in a video posted on social media. “We’re all shook up. You would see this on television, you would think it would never happen here. I’m sorry to say it happened here in Gallup, New Mexico.”
Tonya Jim said she went to the parade with her parents, grandchildren and children. Her 5-year-old granddaughter, KaRiah, was picked from the crowd to join a group of dancers. Shortly after, the vehicle barreled down the parade route, turned and hit a man across from them who was sitting on a folding chair, she said. KaRiah was helped off the road by someone and was not hurt.
“I’m glad whoever was holding her hand just kept holding her hand and ran with her to get her off the road,” Jim said. “I’m not sure who she was, but I’m thankful for her.”
Jim said the family burned cedar and prayed when they got home and did a tobacco smoke prayer Friday morning to calm down.
“I blessed my kids and thanked the creator they are still with me and (to) pray for the families who are hurt,” said Jim, who is Navajo and lives in Fort Defiance.
During the mayhem, the SUV swerved onto a side street, pulled into a parking spot before trying to pull out again and then hit a parked car and backed into a police car, New Mexico State Police said. Officers converged on the vehicle and handcuffed the driver and two passengers, police said.
The nighttime parade is a highlight of the ceremonial celebration, which was founded in 1922 as a way for traders to showcase the culture and art of Native American tribes in the region, said Gallup Intertribal Indian Ceremonial Association board President Kyle Tom.
A daytime parade will go on as planned on Aug. 13, the day before closing events, Tom said. Other events include dances, rodeos and a juried art show.
People travel to Gallup from the vast Navajo Nation that extends into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah and from other tribal reservations to attend the parades and events. Nez, tribal council members and others expressed anger and disbelief over what happened.
“It’s supposed to be a celebration, but today it was a difficult time for us,” Nez said.