LAS CRUCES, N.M. – New Mexico State University has dismissed a fraternity for five years after a student was injured in a shooting at an initiation event.
The incident, reported Wednesday by student news outlet The Round Up, took place at a Kappa Sigma fraternity event held in November.
According to a criminal complaint, student Jonathan Sillas was shot in the leg early on the morning of Nov. 9 after an initiation held by a campfire at a campground in Cloudcroft. The Otero County Sheriff’s Office alleges that Miguel Altamirano “put a gun to (Sillas’) leg and pulled the trigger,” stating afterward that he did not know the gun was loaded.
The weapon was described in the complaint as a .40-caliber handgun. Sheriff’s deputies allege in the complaint that Altamirano admitted to having consumed alcohol prior to the shooting.
The sheriff’s office informed New Mexico State Police of the incident, who contacted the office of student dean Ann Coombes Goodman.
The dean’s office launched an investigation that found other violations of the students’ code of conduct, including serving alcohol to minors.
“Kappa Sigma violated their own national fraternity expectations and local chapter bylaws specific to hazing, new member activities, alcohol use, pledging activities, and social events,” the Dec. 18 report stated.
It also detailed hazing activities prohibited by university rules governing student organizations.
Hazing rituals punished by NMSU
Students pledging to Kappa Sigma were required to participate in loyalty oaths with guns held to their heads or other parts of their body, according to the report, and the activity included pulling the guns’ triggers.
The festivities included games in which pledges held items, such as eggs, to protect while they were tackled near a campfire.
Members and officers of the fraternity chapter encouraged students to attend ceremonies that included these loyalty challenges, and the investigation found that no fraternity member intervened against the activities despite new members’ health and safety being put at risk.
The fraternity’s charter has been revoked and the organization dismissed from the New Mexico State campus through Dec. 31, 2024.
In a statement from the fraternity’s national headquarters in Virginia, Executive Director Mitchell Wilson said: “Kappa Sigma Fraternity is unequivocally opposed to any form of hazing. It is against our core values and against Kappa Sigma’s Code of Conduct. We cannot comment on details of chapter or membership disciplinary proceedings, however, any member found to be in violation of the Fraternity’s Code of Conduct will be held accountable.”
A joke gone wrong?
Meanwhile, Altamirano faces a fourth-degree felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and a petty misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon while intoxicated.
A preliminary examination in Otero County Magistrate Court is scheduled for February.
In an interview with The Round Up, Sillas claims that Altamirano “was suspended from NMSU for five years,” but the university confirmed only that Altamirano is not currently enrolled.
Altamirano’s attorney, C.J. McElhinney, told the Sun-News the incident was a joke gone awry.
“The evidence in this case is consistent with negligent handling of a firearm and not the crime of aggravated assault,” 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. My client cooperated with law enforcement. It is not uncommon for the state of New Mexico to overcharge cases and this is what has happened in this case. I am confident that my client will be exonerated on the felony charge he is currently facing.”