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By Bill Diven

A Rio Rancho assistant school principal distraught over health issues and armed with a rifle died in a confrontation with law officers as his family was about to place him in a care facility.

On the morning of Oct. 3, Gary Lee DeSanctis’s wife notified a Magistrate Court judge that she and his doctor had secured space for him in a behavioral health center. Several hours later, DeSanctis, 51, lay dead in a section of Sandoval County between downtown Bernalillo and the Rio Grande.

New Mexico State Police continue to investigate the shooting that involved two Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office deputies and two Bernalillo Police Department officers. The agencies have declined comment on the incident beyond an initial State Police news release.

According to court records, DeSanctis had fallen into severe depression and anxiety after a heart attack seven weeks earlier and made statements suggesting his family might be better off without him. On Oct. 1, his wife reported him missing, telling a dispatcher he hadn’t returned from a walk, had a health issue and was on antidepressant medication.

A sheriff’s deputy located DeSanctis on Sheriff’s Posse Road in Bernalillo and offered him a seat in the patrol car to wait for his wife. The deputy reported as he patted down DeSanctis for weapons, the man attacked him and tried to take his service pistol away.

Two electric stun-gun shots and the aid of two Bernalillo officers subdued DeSanctis, who then was charged with two felony counts and released by the magistrate judge without bond. In his wife’s email to the court, she described him as a loving and caring person with no criminal record and cited research on heart attacks affecting mental health even after physical recovery.

The email arrived just before 10 a.m., according to the court file. About 3:30 p.m., a woman living on Bosque Loop came out of her house to find a man with a rifle writing a note in her front yard. 

The man told the woman his presence didn’t involve her, to go back inside, and that authorities already had been notified. In the news release, State Police said it was the woman who called 911.

The content of the note and whether DeSanctis also called 911 have not been disclosed.

State Police reported that as officers arrived, DeSanctis drove off in his truck, stopped a short distance away and got out holding the rifle. When he refused to drop the weapon and pointed it at the officers, they shot him.

Crime-scene tape and neighborhood residents saying no ambulance rushed off suggest the shooting happened on Guadalupe Road and that DeSanctis died there.

A spokesperson for the 13th Judicial District Attorney said their office had not yet received the State Police investigation and will be handing it off to another district attorney or a contract attorney. That avoids a conflict of interest as the local DA works with both SCSO and BPD on criminal cases.

An online profile for DeSanctis lists an education career beginning in 2003 as a teacher in the Northwest and as an administrator in Springer, Santa Fe and most recently as an assistant principal in the Rio Rancho Public Schools district. A former National Guard chaplain, he is survived by his wife, three children, his parents and additional close relatives, according to his obituary.

Bill Diven

Bill Diven is a lifelong journalist living in Placitas. He is the editor of the Sandoval Signpost.

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