After Texas school shooting, many questions loom

By Danny Robbins

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Brownsville city manager Charlie Cabler, left, holds up a photo of the carbon dioxide powered pellet handgun 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was holding at the time he was shot by police at Cummings Middle School as Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez speaks during a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 in Brownsville, Texas.

The Brownsville Herald, Yvette Vela, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — On a doorstep outside a family home, a father wondered why police had to shoot his son in the hall of the boy's middle school. In an office across town, a police chief insisted that his officers had no choice.

And scores of others in this Texas border city wondered: Could the death of 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez have been prevented?

A day after police fatally shot an eighth-grader who was brandishing a realistic-looking pellet gun, his anguished parents pleaded for answers, demanding to know why police didn't try a Taser or beanbag gun before resorting to deadly force.

In front of the family home, the father lamented his loss and called on authorities to explain their actions.

"Why three shots? Why one in the back of the head?" asked Jaime Gonzalez Sr.

Some standoffs with police last three or four hours, he said. This one "took not even half an hour."

But Brownsville interim Police Chief Orlando Rodriquez said the preliminary autopsy report showed the boy was not shot in the back of the head.

There was broad agreement among law enforcement experts: If a suspect raises a weapon and refuses to put it down, officers are justified in taking his life. The shooting also raised questions about whether pellet guns should be marked in a way that would easily distinguish them from real handguns.

Rodriguez defended his officers, saying the younger Gonzalez pointed the pellet gun at police and repeatedly defied their commands to put it on the floor.

He said the boy was shot twice in the torso. Asked about the parents' suggestion that there had been a shot to the back of the head, Rodriguez said, "It's a laceration as a result of the fall."

The Brownsville Herald, which reviewed the report, confirmed the preliminary finding that the boy died of two gunshot wounds, one to the chest and one to the abdomen. The report, signed by pathologist Elizabeth J. Miller, noted Gonzalez had a laceration to the right side of the head consistent with a fall.

Officers spoke with the boy's parents Thursday and exchanged information with them, Rodriguez said.

Authorities also released a 911 recording from Cummings Middle School. The assistant principal on the phone first says a student in the hall has a gun, then reports that he is drawing the weapon and finally that he is running down the hall.

On the recording, police can be heard yelling: "Put the gun down! Put it on the floor!" In the background, someone else yells, "He's saying that he is willing to die."

Before police arrived, school administrators had urged Jaime to give up the gun. When officers got to the school, the boy was waiting for them, Rodriguez said.

Moments before he was killed, Jaime began to run down a hallway, but again faced officers. Police fired down the hallway — a distance that made a stun gun or other methods impractical, Rodriguez said.

If the situation had involved hostages or a gunman barricaded in a room, police might have tried negotiations. But instead, Rodriguez stressed, this was an armed student roaming the halls of a school.

The two officers who fired have been placed on administrative leave — standard procedure in police shootings. Rodriguez expected them back at work soon.

Under federal law, pellet or BB guns must be sold with an orange band around the tip of the barrel so they can be distinguished from real weapons. But law enforcement experts say users often remove the bands, and the coloring can sometimes be hard to see.

Gonzalez's gun had no markings, according to Rodriguez.

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