The parents of an eighth grader in Brownsville, Texas are outraged over the death of their teenage son to police bullets in what may have been a deadly misunderstanding.
15-year-old Jamie González was shot three times in a hallway at Cummings Middle School in Brownsville after a confrontation in which the police said the boy brandished— and refused to drop — what appeared to be a handgun. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun that closely resembled the real thing, police said late Wednesday.
What happened was an injustice.I know that my son wasn't perfect, but he was a great kid.
- Noralva Gonzalez, Mother of 15 year-old Jaime González
"Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" the boy's father, Jaime González Sr., told The Associated Press outside the family's home Wednesday night. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"
His mother, Noralva González, showed off a photo on her phone of a beaming Jaime in his drum major uniform standing with his band instructors. Then she flipped threw 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 Rodríguez said the teen was pointing the weapon at officers and "had plenty of opportunities to lower the gun and listen to the officers' orders, and he didn't want to."
The chief said his officers had every right to do what they did to protect themselves and other students even though there weren't many others in the hallway at the time. Police said officers fired three shots.
Shortly before the confrontation, Jaime had walked into a classroom and punched a boy in the nose for no apparent reason, Rodríguez 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," Rodríguez said.
About 20 minutes elapsed between police receiving a call about an armed student and shots being fired, according to police and student accounts. 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 González to drop the weapon, followed by several shots.
Two officers fired three shots, hitting González at least twice, police said.
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."
A recording of police radio traffic posted on KGBT-TV's website indicates that officers responding to the school believed the teen had a handgun. An officer is heard describing the teen's clothes and appearance, saying he's "holding a handgun, black in color." The officer also said that from the front door, he could see the boy in the school's main office.
Less than two minutes later, someone yells over the radio "shots fired" and emergency crews are asked to respond. About two minutes later, someone asks where the boy was shot, prompting responses that he was shot in the chest and "from the back of the head."
Administrators said the school would be closed Thursday but students would be able to attend classes at a new elementary school that isn't being used.
Superintendent Carl Montoya remembered González 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.
González Sr. 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."
He said he last saw his son around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, when the boy said goodbye before leaving to catch the bus to school. And he said nothing seemed amiss the night before when he, his wife and their son went out for nachos then went home and watched a movie.
González Sr. was struggling to reconcile the day's 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 Rodríguez, 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.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.