Yvette Vela / AP
A photo of the carbon dioxide powered pellet handgun 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was holding at the time he was shot by police at Cummings Middle School is shown during a news conference Wednesday morning.
Police say they have received death threats since fatally shooting a South Texas 8th-grade student who was carrying what appeared to be a weapon, but turned out to be a pellet gun.
Interim Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez told The Brownsville Herald Thursday that the department received threatening phone calls overnight concerning Wednesday morning’s incident at Cummings Middle School, in which 15-year-old Jaime Gonzalez was shot three times by Brownsville police. No one else was injured.
Police said the boy was brandishing — and refused to drop — what appeared to be a handgun and that the officers acted correctly. They revealed late Wednesday that it was just a pellet gun that closely resembled the real thing.
Jaime’s distraught parents demanded to know why police took lethal action against their son.
"Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" the boy's father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr., asked The Associated Press outside the family's home Wednesday night. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"
His 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.
"What happened was an injustice," she said angrily. "I know that my son wasn't perfect, but he was a great kid."
Jaime had gunshot wounds on his shoulder and rib cage, and one in the back of his head.
"That's the shot that bothers me the most," Jaime Gonzalez Sr. said to The Brownsville Herald.
Police Chief Rodriguez 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.
A 15-year-old student was shot and killed Wednesday after brandishing a gun at his Brownsville, Texas, middle school. KVEO-TV's Matthew Searcy reports.
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," Rodriguez 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 were notified over the school intercom that the school was on lockdown, said The Brownsville Herald. They locked classroom doors and turned off lights, and some frightened students dove under their desks. They could hear police charge down the hallway.
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."
According to radio records, police repeatedly asked Gonzalez to put down the weapon, and then one officer yelled, "Take him out," reported The Brownsville Herald.
Two officers fired three shots, hitting Gonzalez at least twice, police said.
They then immediately called for emergency medical personnel as an officer said on the radio, "Subject shot," according to The Brownsville Herald.
David A. Dusenbury, a retired deputy police chief in Long Beach, Calif., who now consults on police tactics, said the officers were probably justified.spacer
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."
Officers shot the teen with assault rifles, the interim police chief said, according to The Brownsville Herald. They will be placed on leave, he told the newspaper, a normal procedure in this type of event.
Students, who were bused to another high school after the incident to meet their parents, described the panic they felt during the lockdown to The Herald.
Renee Almazon, 15, crouched with her teacher and classmates away from all windows and doors.
"We all moved to the corner where they couldn't see us," she said.
Her teacher kept telling the class, "This is a real thing," she told The Herald.
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.
Gonzalez 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."
Father noticed nothing out of the ordinary
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.
Gonzalez 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 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.
Others described Jaime to The Brownsville Herald as a friendly churchgoing teen and basketball and football player.
His godmother told The Herald of the 15-year-old boy who was 5 feet, 7 inches tall: “He wasn’t a bad kid. He looked like a big boy, a man, but he was a child. He was innocent. ... He wasn’t going to hurt anybody, I can assure you. He would have never hurt anybody. I want those parents to know, don’t judge him if you don’t know him.”
The Associated Press and The Brownsville Herald contributed to this report.