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Slaying stuns city; officer dies responding to domestic call, Tex.

April 03, 2001
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Slaying stuns city; officer dies responding to domestic call, Tex.

Bill Hendricks, Amy Dorsett and Ihosvani Rodriguez
March 30, 2001, Friday, Metro
Copyright 2001 San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio Express-News
March 30, 2001, Friday, Metro

(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) --Gunfire erupted across the street from a West Side elementary school Thursday morning, leaving a veteran police officer and a woman dead and ending with a shootout that wounded another man.

Killed in the wake of a domestic disturbance were Police Officer Hector Garza, 48, and Jessica Garcia, 21. Wounded and in guarded condition at University Hospital was her brother-in-law, John Luna, 42.

Police arrested Frank Garcia, 28, at the scene and charged him with two counts of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder.

He was being held late Thursday in lieu of posting bonds totaling $4.25 million.

The death of 25-year police veteran Garza, who had a wife and five children, was another blow in a series of SAPD calamities this year that included the slaying of a SWAT team member and the indictment of eight officers on federal drug charges.

Garza and Garcia were shot to death about 9 a.m., just minutes after the officer, responding to a family disturbance call, arrived at a house in the 900 block of South San Eduardo Avenue.

The woman had called police to ask for an officer to stand by while she moved out of the house.

Garcia lived at the wood-frame residence across from Frey Elementary School and intended to leave her husband, police said.

Within seconds after the gunfire, administrators at the elementary school called police and then put their 450 students through a well-practiced emergency drill, with some of the youngsters seeking shelter under their desks until they were moved to the gymnasium in a nearby building.

Students never were in danger and many didn't realize the drill had been called because of a shooting, Edgewood School District officials said.

But as news of the shooting spread through the West Side neighborhood around Old Castroville Road and Gen. McMullen Drive, worried parents rushed to the school.

Dozens of officers swarmed to the area to answer the call of an officer in trouble. Officers found two bodies inside the residence.

Paramedics pronounced Garza and Garcia dead at 9:23 a.m. Both had been shot in the head.

Investigators said the fatal shots were fired from a Mac-10 semiautomatic handgun.

Police said Luna had gone to the South San Eduardo Avenue residence to help Garcia, his wife's stepsister, move out.

Luna, who was wounded in a shootout in the street, sought help at the school and then was taken by ambulance to University Hospital, where he was reported in stable condition.

Police Chief Al Philippus met with detectives at the scene, and then talked to reporters front of the school.

Philippus said he and Garza had been police cadets together, graduating from the academy in 1975.

"Hector was a good guy with a big heart. Everybody liked him," Philippus said.

The slain officer and outgoing City Manager Alex Briseo were childhood friends, and Briseo labored to control his emotions when he told reporters about his boyhood friendship with Garza.

"This is a bad one (shooting). I've known him since we were 6 years old," Briseo said. "I'm shocked. It's very difficult, and today is my retirement day, my last City Council meeting."

Garza was the third San Antonio police officer shot to death in little more than a year.

Police Officer Oscar Perez, 31, was shot to death March 24, 2000, while attempting to serve an arrest warrant at a motel on Roosevelt Drive near Southcross Boulevard.

SWAT officer John "Rocky" Riojas, 37, was shot to death with his own gun Feb. 2 while he fought with a man he chased along a path at an apartment complex in the 9400 block of Fredericksburg Road.

Still stunned from the deaths of Perez and Riojas and adjusting to the first upswing in overall crime statistics since the mid-1990s, the 1,900-member Police Department was rocked last week when federal authorities announced the indictments of eight officers on drug charges.

A series of bond hearings for the eight police officers and four other suspects was winding down in federal court Thursday when Garza was slain.

Reflecting on the battering the department has taken in the past year, Philippus said: "I've never seen anything like this kind of adversity in my life. But we will go on."

Officer E.N. Banda, who was guarding the crime scene, knew Riojas and Garza, as well as some of the officers who were indicted on drug charges.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride with the problems we've had," he said. "It's been tough."

Until Garza was slain, San Antonio police never had suffered the shooting deaths of three officers in a slightly more than a one-year period.

Philippus noted that domestic disturbances pose extreme danger for police.

"You never know what you're going to run into," Philippus said.

Domestic violence statistics for 2000 weren't immediately available Thursday, but Philippus announced in October that such reports were 20 percent greater than the same period in 1999.

While veteran officers still consider family violence calls especially risky, Garza was the first San Antonio officer killed answering a domestic disturbance call since Police Officer Gilbert Ramirez was fatally shot at a South Side residence on Christmas Eve 1983.

Police gave this sequence of Thursday's events:

At 7:48 a.m., Frank Garcia's mother called police because she was upset that her daughter-in-law, Jessica Garcia, was planning to move out.

Garza and another officer soon went by and Jessica Garcia waved them on, telling them everything was OK.

Frank Garcia, who was making deliveries on the North Side, talked to his mother by mobile phone and learned of his wife's plan to leave with their two children. He started driving home.

At 8:55 a.m., another call for a disturbance came in for the same address. Garza returned to the house where a Bill Miller Bar-B-Q delivery truck was blocking the street.

Garza went into the house and found Frank and Jessica Garcia in a bedroom. Jessica Garcia was on the bed, and Frank Garcia was kneeling, talking to her, with his back to the officer.

Frank Garcia told Garza that everything was OK and encouraged him to leave. But Garza insisted Garcia move the delivery truck.

Garza was shot once in the head, then Jessica Garcia was shot.

At 9:11 a.m., an emergency call came in from the elementary school. An officer was in trouble, the caller reported.

Garcia went outside to confront Luna. Shots were fired from a Mac-10. Garcia then went back in the house and returned with an AK-47 assault rifle. Luna got a handgun from his car.

An explosion of gunfire erupted in the street beside the school campus. Luna, shot in the leg, ran to the school for help.

Frank and Jessica Garcia had two children, Beverly Garcia, 5, and Frank Garcia III, 2, police said.

The two children were outside the residence with their grandfather when their mother was shot and their father arrested, officers said.

Philippus said Garza likely was caught off guard by the shooting.

"It does not appear that he ever reached for his gun," Philippus said of Garza. "He never really knew what happened."

Acknowledging what a tough year the department has had, Philippus said he is asking the community for prayers.


Memorial fund

An Officer Hector Garza Memorial Fund has been established with the San Antonio City Employees Federal Credit Union. To contribute: Hector Garza Memorial Fund, PO Box 830968, San Antonio 78283.

Full story: Slaying stuns city; officer dies responding to domestic call, Tex.

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