Texas school 911 call: 'Put the gun down!'
Police chief: Officers acted to protect themselves and other students, firing three shots
By Christopher Sherman
BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A 911 recording reveals the tense moments in a Texas middle school when police confronted an eighth-grader who was brandishing a realistic-looking pellet gun and repeatedly ordered him to put the weapon down.
Over and over, officers can be heard telling 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez to put the weapon on the floor. When he refused, they fatally shot the boy Wednesday at Cummings Middle School in Brownsville.
A six-minute recording of the 911 call that summoned police was obtained Thursday by the Brownsville Herald.
An assistant principal made the call. As officers arrive, she says Gonzalez is drawing the weapon. A moment later, police yell that Gonzalez is running through the hall.
Someone can be heard yelling that the student says he's willing to die. And an administrator is yelling, "Lock the door."
The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun that closely resembled the real thing. No one else was injured.
Gonzalez's parents demanded to know why officers took lethal action.
"Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" asked the boy's father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"
The older Gonzalez said he had no idea where his son got the gun or why he brought it to school, adding: "We wouldn't give him a gift like that."
The boy's mother, Noralva Gonzalez, showed off a photo on her phone of a beaming Jaime in his drum major uniform standing with his band instructors. Then she flipped through three close-up photos she took of bullet wounds in her son's body, including one in the back of his head.
"What happened was an injustice," she said angrily. "I know that my son wasn't perfect, but he was a great kid."
Interim Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez said the teen "had plenty of opportunities to lower the gun and listen to the officers' orders."
The chief said his officers acted to protect themselves and other students, firing three shots. There were few others in the hallway at the time.
Shortly before the confrontation, Jaime had walked into a classroom and punched a boy in the nose for no apparent reason, Rodriguez said.
Police did not know why he pulled out the weapon, but "we think it looks like this was a way to bring attention to himself," the police chief said.
Authorities declined to share what the boy said before he was shot.
The shooting happened during first period at the school in Brownsville, a city at Texas' southern tip just across the Mexican border. Teachers locked classroom doors and turned off lights, and some frightened students dove under their desks. They could hear police charge down the hallway and shout for Gonzalez to drop the weapon, followed by several shots.
David A. Dusenbury, a retired deputy police chief in Long Beach, Calif., who now consults on police tactics, said the officers were probably justified.
If the boy were raising the gun as if to fire at someone, "then it's unfortunate, but the officer certainly would have the right under the law to use deadly force."
The school was closed Thursday, but students were able to attend classes at a new elementary school that isn't being used.
Superintendent Carl Montoya remembered Gonzalez as "a very positive young man."
"He did music. He worked well with everybody. Just something unfortunately happened today that caused his behavior to go the way it went. So I don't know," he said Wednesday.
The boy's father was struggling to reconcile recent events, saying his son seemed to be doing better in school and was always helpful around the neighborhood mowing neighbors' lawns, washing dogs and carrying his toolbox off to fix other kids' bikes.
Two dozen of his son's friends and classmates gathered in the dark street outside the family's home Wednesday night. Jaime's best friend, 16-year-old Star Rodriguez, said her favorite memory was when Jaime came to her party Dec. 29 and they danced and sang together.
"He was like a brother to me," she said.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press