The Shooting of Mexican Immigrants in Rifle, Colorado

In 2001, a man named William Stagner shot and killed four Mexicans in Rifle, Colorado. This incident demonstrates how violence is still inflicted on immigrant groups in the twenty-first century in the American west.

Rifle, Colorado is a small town nestled on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Since the end of the 19th century, the town’s population has steadily increased due to its successful cattle ranching industry. By the late-20th century, the surrounding ski and tourism industries had attracted a sizable Latino immigrant labor population to Rifle as well.

On July 3, 2001, at around 11:45 p.m, a white man named Steven Michael Stagner went to the City Market grocery store in Rifle and opened fire at those he suspected to be immigrants. He first shot Juan Hernandez-Carillo, a botanist who was speaking on a pay phone outside of the store. From there, he crossed the parking lot and shot 19-year-old Anjelica Toscono, who had entered the United States only 22 days earlier while she was  speaking on a payphone with her mother in Mexico. He then headed to the nearby RV park, where many Latinos lived, to continue his rampage. Two brothers, Fernando and Carlos Medrano, were sitting outside their trailer under a tree drinking beer when Stagner approached and shot them both. He shot three more Mexican men before he was apprehended by law enforcement. In the end, Hernandez-Carillo, Toscono, and the Medrano brothers were all killed.

In the aftermath, the local 4th of July celebration was canceled, and many people attended memorials in honor of the four victims and public demonstrations protesting Stagner’s actions. Stagner was charged with first-degree murder; however, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Stagner was sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute for an undetermined amount of time. This outraged many in the community, especially those in the immigrant community. They tried to challenge the court’s decision on the grounds that Stagner’s known hatred for immigrants proved that the shootings were not random, but rather race-based, but were unsuccessful. The community continues to grieve these deaths, and Stagner has remained in a mental hospital.

Images

Rifle, Colorado
Rifle, Colorado A view of modern Rifle. Source:

“Rifle, Colorado.” Alan Sikirić. April 12, 2011. Via Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/9ybtG8.

Cattle just outside of Rifle
Cattle just outside of Rifle A couple of cattle herders driving a group of cattle just outside of Rifle in the 1970s. Source: “Cattle Herd in Piceance Basin.” David Hiser. March 1973. Via Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/35740357@N03/3815849266/.
Rifle, Colorado Today
Rifle, Colorado Today A modern view of Rifle, Colorado. Source: “Railroad Avenue in Rifle Looking North.” Jeffery Beall. March 24, 2017. Via Wikimedia  Commons. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rifle,_Colorado#/media/File:Rifle,_Colorado.JPG.
Bird's Eye View of Rifle, Colorado
Bird's Eye View of Rifle, Colorado An overhead view of Rifle in the 1970s. Source: “Rifle, Southeast of the Piceance Basin.” David Hiser. October 1, 1972. Courtesy of Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/3815027767/.
Apen, Colorado, near Rifle
Apen, Colorado, near Rifle Aspen, Colorado is a ski town close to Rifle. Many Latinx immigrants have migrated to Rifle and surrounding cities to work at ski resorts in Aspen. Source: “Downtown Aspen.” Matthew Trump. April 27, 2005. Via Wikipedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_of_Aspen,_Colorado.jpg.

Location

Metadata

Sydney Wilson, Brigham Young University, “The Shooting of Mexican Immigrants in Rifle, Colorado,” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 20, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/726.