BROWNSVILLE, Texas — An armed eighth-grader gunned down by police officers in the hallway of his Texas middle school Wednesday was brandishing a pellet gun that looked like a firearm, and he refused repeated orders to lower the weapon before the officers opened fire, police said.
The carbon-dioxide powered pellet gun 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was holding looked like a handgun, and the initial report to police that sent officers rushing to Cummings Middle School Wednesday morning was for a student seen holding a gun, Orlando Rodriguez, Brownsville's interim police chief, said at a news conference.
Robert Valle, a 13-year-old who was among the school's 750 students locked down in their classrooms during the confrontation, said he heard police run down the hallway and yell "put the gun down," before several shots were fired.
"He had plenty of opportunities to lower the weapon...and he didn't want to," Rodriguez said. Two officers fired three shots, striking Gonzalez at least twice, he said. The autopsy results are pending.
Rodriguez said that before the confrontation with police, Gonzalez walked into a Cummings Middle School classroom and punched another boy in the nose. He said he doesn't know why Gonzalez was brandishing the weapon.
Earlier Wednesday, before police said the weapon was actually a pellet gun, Jaime's godmother Norma Leticia Navarro told The Associated Press she couldn't imagine what led to the fatal confrontation.
"Jaime was not a bad kid, and I wish I could ask him why he did that, why did you put yourself in that position?"
Still, she said she understood that police were doing their job, but she expressed frustration that a child was killed and wondered if something else could have been done.
"I'm not saying he was perfect or an angel, but he was a very giving person."
She said both of his parents work, and that his stepmother raised him from infancy and was very strict with him.
As word of the shooting spread quickly through the city on Texas' southern tip, where violence frequently spills over from Mexico's drug war, frantic parents rushed to reach their children.
Those who got their early on were able to retrieve their frightened children, but some who arrived later found the street outside the school lined with squad cars and blocked off. About two hours after the shooting, dozens of frustrated parents and relatives flooded out of the park pavilion without their children after school officials announced that all remaining children had been bused to a high school and could be picked up there.
Julie Tomalenas waited for an hour to pick up her 13-year-old sister before being told of the relocation.
"It was very stressful not knowing if she was OK, where she was, when we could see her again," Tomalenas said.
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The lockdown was lifted about two hours after the shooting, but the students and employees were relocated while officers investigated at the school, Brown said.