Jan 5, 2012
Parents of an eighth grade student shot and killed by police after he displayed a pellet gun in school called the shooting an injustice as the acting police chief confirmed Thursday that officers have received death threats.
Jaime Gonzales, 15, died Wednesday at his middle school in Brownsville, Texas, after two officers fired three shots, striking Gonzalez at least twice, after he failed to comply with "numerous commands" to drop the weapon, said Interim Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez.
He said that before police were called to the school, Gonzalez walked into a classroom and punched another boy in the nose.
The boy's father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr., called the shooting unjustified and said he had no idea where his son got the pellet gun.
"Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" he asked outside the family home, the Associated Press reported. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"
The boy's mother, Noralva Gonzalez, showed a photo on her phone of a beaming Jaime in his drum major uniform standing with his band instructors, the AP reported. 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."
Rodriguez said his officers "took the necessary action to protect themselves and the other kids."
He confirmed to The Brownsville Herald that police officers have received death threats following the shooting death.
The telephone calls were made overnight to the police department's dispatch center, authorities said.
Rodriguez said he was debriefed of the situation Thursday morning and that all supervisors and officers have been informed of the calls and advised to remain cautious.
He said the weapon was a .177-caliber pellet gun, which uses compressed carbon dioxide to fire a small metal pellet at low velocity. Police released a photo of what they said was Gonzalez's gun, which resembled a semiautomatic handgun.
School administrators called police and ordered a lockdown after the student "displayed a weapon" in the main hallway, Brown said.
Student Robert Valle, 13, reported hearing police enter the hallway and shout, "Put the gun down."
"I was nervous," Jade Rodriguez, 11, said. "I was under the desk."
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 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.
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.
Student homicides at school are fairly rare. Federal statistics show school killings account for fewer than 2% of youth homicides; young people are about 50 times more likely to die violently off school grounds than on them.
Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia, said that in most school shooting cases, someone knew beforehand about an armed student's distress.
"The first question that people have to ask is whether this boy felt bullied or mistreated in the school in some way," Cornell said. "Initially people always express dismay. Invariably when you find out enough about the young man, it does become explicable."
U.S. Education Department data show that in the 2008-09 school year, the most recent for which records are available, 15 students were school homicide victims. In 1992-93, the figure was 34.