Santa Fe hero posthumously honored for sacrificing life for fellow students

Amidst all the dark developments about the COVID-19 pandemic, a Santa Fe family has received some good news to brighten their day. 

Christian Riley Garcia was one of six people in the US recognized Wednesday for his courage and sacrifice by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

March 25 marks National Medal of Honor Day. The prestigious award dates back to the 1800s and honors American military heroes for their sacrifice. 

Due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery went virtual and the six winners of the 2020 Citizens Honors were announced digitally.

"It's been a good thing amidst everything happening. It means a whole lot to us," said Riley's mother, Shannan Claussen. 

Shannan Claussen learned the news a day before her son, Christian Riley Garcia would’ve turned 17.

Two years ago, Riley was one of 10 people shot and killed at Santa Fe High School.

Survivors told his family they lived because Riley sacrificed himself to protect them. 

"He physically used his body as a barricade to protect them. He blocked the door, preventing the gunman from entering and even when he did go, he was unwilling to leave anybody behind. He was physically picking people up off the ground," said Claussen. 

At his funeral in May of 2018, Riley was given special military honors and praised for his courage, selflessness, and patriotism.

Riley believed his God-given purpose was to serve his country. 

At just 15 years old, Riley was the embodiment of a young hero.

It's only fitting that he's recognized as one of two recipients of the 2020 Citizens Young Hero Award.

"Even in his last breath, he was not willing to put himself before anybody else and he would not leave until the got everybody else out of that room. Even if it meant sacrificing his own life for others."

"This award would’ve meant the world to him. He never needed recognition, but he deserves it so much for what he did, and the inspiration he’s been to us, as well as many other people," Claussen said. 

Since 2018, the Garcia family has launched the Christian Riley Garcia Foundation. They're also currently putting the final touches of a documentary about Riley’s life called "Love Thy Neighbor." 

Shannan and her family will head to Washington D.C. this time next year to physically receive Riley’s medal. 

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