ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The mother of two Native American teenagers who campus police pulled from a college tour in Colorado after a parent reported feeling nervous about them said she believes her sons were victims of racial profiling and she feared for their safety after learning about the encounter.
In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Lorraine Kahneratokwas Gray described receiving a frantic phone call from her son, 19-year-old Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, about the incident at Colorado State University.
He and his 17-year-old brother, Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, had saved enough money to drive roughly seven hours from the family’s home in Santa Cruz, New Mexico, to Fort Collins to tour the campus, she told the AP.
“I felt they had been the victim of racism and that they weren’t safe there,” she said in a post this week on Facebook.
She later told the AP, “I don’t think they even grasped the magnitude of what happened to them until we talked.”
The brothers had joined the tour on Monday after it started, and their mother — who had stayed home in New Mexico — said she learned afterward that the two had been quieter than others in the group during the walk through campus, which apparently prompted one woman to call police.
“When they told me that on the phone … I couldn’t wrap my head around that,” their mother said. “What do you mean, it’s because they were quiet?”
Colorado State University officials said in an email to students that it is reviewing what happened to try to avoid similar situations or handle them more appropriately.
“The incident is sad and frustrating from nearly every angle, particularly the experience of two students who were here to see if this was a good fit for them as an institution,” the email said. “As a university community, we deeply regret the experience of these students while they were guests on our campus.”
During the tour, a campus police officer approached the brothers and confirmed they were part of the admissions tour, according to the school.
The mother said the older brother had been able to show the officer an email on his phone confirming their spots on the tour.
By then, however, their tour group had moved on without them and the brothers left the campus and returned home to New Mexico.
The university officials said a parent called police about the brothers. According the email, the tour guide did not know that campus police had been called or responded.
Gray described her sons as teenagers who like to express themselves through contemporary music and traditional songs. The family is Mohawk, and lived in upstate New York before moving to New Mexico, the mother said.
The older brother is currently a student at Northern New Mexico College in Espanola and has been talking about transferring to Colorado State University for the past year, his mother said. The younger brother is a high school senior at Santa Fe Indian School.
“They decided maybe they’ll go to school together and make it a great bonding experience,” Gray said. “They missed a day of school for this tour, and then for it to not even be completed …. It’s shameful on so many levels.”
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report from Denver.