All of the latest stories, video and audio from The Texas Tribune.The Texas Tribune publishes news and information on our destination website on a full range of topics, including education, health and human services, immigration, border issues, transportation, the environment, criminal justice and energy.
The prompt for the latest skirmish in the never-ending war of words in one of the country’s most intractable debates came just hours after a shooter had killed 10 people at a Texas high school.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an evangelical Christian and Republican former radio talk-show host who has been a strong proponent of expanding gun liberties in the state, spoke with a cadre of officials on Friday, pointing out that though Santa Fe High School had been given a safety award from the state and enjoyed the regular protection of two police officers, it still fell victim to horrific violence at the hands of an armed teenager.
So after recommending that parents lock their guns away, he identified a solution for what he framed as a central problem.
“We may have to look at the design of our schools moving forward and retrofitting schools that are already built. And what I mean by that is there are too many entrances and too many exits to our more than 8,000 campuses in Texas,” he said, citing security at office buildings and courthouses. “Had there been one single entrance possibly for every student, maybe he would have been stopped.”
The remark, which echoed some of the National Rifle Association’s past positions on school security, quickly became a talking point for supporters of gun control on the Internet, a punchline about how Republicans would rather restrict doors than guns.
“Guns don’t kill people, doors do,” went the sarcastic recap of the implicit assumptions embedded in Patrick’s comments, an absurdist retort that reverberated with both anger and ironic detachment.
Former government ethics director Walter Shaub pulled up the construction standards for the Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs, which includes a section on doors, and wrote on Twitter that “Texas has stricter regulations for doors than it does for guns.”
“Blame the doors?” wrote Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). “Anything but the weapon. Got it. Enough Is Enough.”
But put politics and the emotional debate about gun control to the side, if you can, just for a split second. Three security experts discussed with The Washington Post whether Patrick’s proposal had any merit to it, under the current status quo.
Scott Zimmerman, founder and chief executive of K17 Security in Rockville, Md.
Zimmerman said redesigning buildings to be more secure was just one component of a broad security approach, and one that also could end up being the most expensive — a potential hurdle for budget-stretched public schools in aging buildings.
“A lot of these doors are not built for security,” he said. “Weak locks and weak doors. If you’re going to compensate for that, that adds up very quickly.”
Even with limited points of entry at a school, there would probably be areas outside where students would congregate that would remain vulnerable, he said.
“People can still find ways,” he said. “Could minimizing the number of entrances be one piece of the puzzle? Potentially. But saying could be a complete fix, I think this is an overreaction.”
Equally important was an emphasis reporting and tracking individuals with concerning behavior and finding ways to “get them assistance and get them off the pathway to violence,” in addition to improving staff training for emergency communication and response procedures, he said.
And he said he believed the NRA’s proposals for increasing school security through its physical design — “hardening” in security parlance — fell short in significant ways.
“We’ve already failed at that point, if we have a gunman at the school,” he said. “The other measures are for how to reduce this from happening.”
Ed Hinman, a director at Gavin de Becker & Associates, a security consulting firm based in Los Angeles
Hinman was more supportive of the idea to limit building entrances, saying that being able to channel and watch who was coming in was a good way to increase safety. But regulating exits was more complicated. He also spotlighted training and preventive measures as important parts of the picture, stressing, like Zimmerman, the need for better mechanisms to identify and track warning signs of problematic students.
“I think the biggest thing missing in active shooting training or physical security is it’s too reactive,” he said. “There’s not a lot of focus on the early identification of someone. If it’s in a workplace, someone who’s disgruntled, talking about firearms, making threats. And so much of the evidence shows that with these school shooters, there’s a lot of warning signs.”
“So many of these students are isolated,” he said. “They’re suffering, and they’re going to act out on it.”
He said he did not believe that limiting the number of entrances to most buildings would be prohibitively expensive, even with a system of badges.
“It’s done almost everywhere, and it certainly needs to be done in schools,” he said. But, he said, “first and foremost is the prevention piece.”
Arnette F. Heintze, co-founder and chief executive of Hillard Heinze, a security firm in Chicago
Heintze said that one exit and entrance for a school the size of Santa Fe High School was not likely to work.
“You can’t have one exit and entrance for 1,400 people,” he said. “Then you create a killing field for someone.”
He pointed out that state fire codes and other regulations dictate how many doors and exits must be available in a building but said the idea of staggered start times for students was a good one. However, he said, the focus on building design shouldn’t overshadow what he agreed is a central issue: identifying students who show warning signs.
“What I’d hate for America to do is get distracted by feeling there is a failure in school security design,” he said. “It’s our society and how we don’t pay attention to signs and behaviors of individuals who are on the path to violence. … You can’t put armed guards at every school entrance in America; it’s not going to happen. It’s educating our society about those behaviors.”
A Lubbock-based program seeing success helping prevent at-risk students from committing violent acts is getting more attention after Gov. Greg Abbott touted it as a potential statewide model to reduce school shootings the day after a student allegedly shot 10 people to death at his a southeast Texas high school.
The Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center works to identify junior high and high school students most at risk for committing violence in schools and intervene before it happens.
At Santa Fe High School on Friday, police said 17-year-old junior Dimitrios Pagourtzis, armed with his father’s legally-owned shotgun and .38 revolver, killed eight students and two teachers and wounded 10 others. Pagourtzis, who had written about his plans in his journal but otherwise showed no obvious danger signs according to Abbott, has been charged with capital murder and remains in Galveston County Jail without bond, the school district said.
Abbott alluded to Tech's program in a Friday tweet, saying “we want to use it across the state.”
But could it identify, and stop, someone like the alleged Santa Fe shooter?
Billy Philips, executive vice president for rural and community health at Tech’s Health Sciences Center, said he “was a bit surprised” to hear Abbott mention the program, which he said has seen success but is still being refined and perfected.
Philips said the project has found students at West Texas schools possessing notes, maps, threats and other evidence that they may have been planning a mass shooting. He said the screenings have helped avert violent incidents and got students the help they needed.
“The aim of it is really to provide just one more tool to be sure that our schools are safe,” Philips said. “To make sure that our kids have the opportunity to not worry while they’re in school, to create a peace about it so they can learn and grown and share ideas … things we all did when we were in school.”
The program launched in 2014, in response to a pair of mass shootings in 2012: A theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado that killed 12 people and injured 70 others and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. that left 20 children and six adult staff members dead.
The Criminal Justice Division of Abbott’s office funded the program with a $565,000 grant.
Through the program, at-risk students at 10 West Texas school districts who show aggressive or harmful behavior are identified and then screened for potential psychiatric services. Parents have to consent each step of the way. Students first receive two psychiatry sessions at school — in which they use laptops to video conference with a child adolescent psychiatrist working remotely — and additional psychiatric services are provided through the center’s clinic.
Since its launch, more than 400 students have been referred to the program, with 200 getting screened for anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation — and whether they’re prone to violence or violent thoughts. Those screenings can lead to psychiatric appointments and sometimes immediate hospitalizations and arrests for planning violent incidents like shootings, according to an April 30 brief that Tech’s Health Sciences Center published about the program.
In four years, the program has had 25 students removed from school, 44 placed in alternative schools and 38 sent to a hospital.
The project also measures success through changes in grades, truancy referrals and discipline referrals. So far, Philips said, the program has seen a 37 percent drop in referrals for students who received services.
He said the program also helps the targeted schools amid a statewide shortage of mental health professionals. Philips said before the program, students would sometimes have to wait weeks to get an appointment to see a psychiatrist. Using telemedicine, “we can get those links in moments and those moments can be critical in some situations,” he said.
Philips said the program is looking to expand into five more school districts.
“We’ve got about a third of our kids in schools these days who are troubled by some form of mental illness either directly or because they live in a home environment where someone has trouble,” Philips said. “The services need to be there for them, the people need to be there that are trained to help with mental health issues. This is one approach that we use in schools that seems to be very effective.”
SANTA FE — A 17-year-old student armed with a shotgun and a pistol went on a rampage Friday morning at his school here outside Houston, killing 10 people — mostly students — before surrendering to the officers who confronted him, officials said. Ten others were wounded, including a school resource officer who was left in critical condition.
Santa Fe High School became the latest scene of carnage in what has become anationalepidemicofmassshootings. For the second time in the past three months, the victims were children and their teachers. It happened during first period.
Isabelle Laymance, 15, was in art class, drawing geometric shapes, when she heard gunshots. She froze for a moment, then she ran to a back door leading to a patio, but it was locked. She and seven other students barricaded themselves in a supply closet that connected two art classrooms. She lay on the floor and called police, and then called her mother, whispering “I love you” while holding a friend’s hand. They shushed each other, hoping to avoid detection.
The trenchcoat-clad gunman — who police identified as student Dimitrios Pagourtzis — came into the first art classroom and began shooting. He knew students were hiding in the supply closet, Isabelle said.
“He said ‘Surprise,’ and then he started shooting, and he killed one or two people. And he shot a girl in the leg. In the closet. He shot through the window,” she said. “We blocked the doors with ceramic makers and he kept on trying to get in and he kept on shooting inside the closet.”
She called police three times over the course of 30 terrifying minutes. A police dispatcher told her to be quiet and assured her that help was on the way, she said.
The gunman kept shooting, swearing and yelling. He shot a police officer who approached, then engaged other officers in discussion, offering to surrender.
“He kept saying ‘If I come out, don’t shoot me.’ They didn’t shoot him, they just put him in handcuffs,” she said.
Pagourtzis, who students described as a quiet loner, was held Friday without bond at the Galveston County Jail, charged with capital murder and aggravated assault on a peace officer. It was unclear what motivated the attack, as authorities said it came without any obvious warning.
Pagourtzis made his first court appearance Friday evening, a little more than 10 hours after the massacre. He spoke quietly, saying “Yes, sir” when asked if he wanted a court-appointed attorney. After the brief hearing, Pagourtzis was led away.
Police said Pagourtzis gave a statement admitting responsibility for the shooting, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in court. Pagourtzis told police that he went into the school wearing a trenchcoat and wielding two guns intent on killing people.
The affidavit, which identifies him as Dimitrios Pagourtzis Jr., states that the 17-year-old told police that “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told.”
The two guns used in the shooting belong to Pagourtzis’ father, according to Gov. Greg Abbott, who said it was unclear if the father knew his son had taken them. Unlike many other mass shootings carried out with high-powered rifles like the AR-15, this one, authorities said, included relatively common weapons.
Police said they also found explosive devices inside the school and at locations off campus.
Authorities said they also were scrutinizing two other potential suspects in the shooting. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said officials questioned another student, described as “a person of interest.” Abbott said police also hoped to speak with a third person who he said could have “certain information,” though he did not elaborate.
Three officers responded to the attack, officials said. The first to confront the shooter was school safety officer John Barnes, a retired Houston police officer who, according to a former Houston colleague, Capt. Jim Dale, joined the Santa Fe Independent School District police force because he wanted a less stressful job.
Barnes was shot in both arms, Dale said. A second Santa Fe ISD officer arrived, pulled Barnes to safety and applied a tourniquet. A third officer, a state trooper, also engaged the gunman, according to a state police official.
Officials have not yet provided a timeline showing how long it took to respond to the active-shooter emergency calls, nor have they disclosed many details about their interactions with the shooter.
Barnes was taken by helicopter to the trauma center at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he was in danger of “bleeding out” when he arrived, chief medical officer Gulshan Sharmer told reporters. Dale, the Houston police captain, said many officers descended upon the hospital to show their support, and the family is in good spirits after hearing from doctors that Barnes’ injuries likely were not fatal.
Santa Fe High School, home of the Indians, had won a statewide award for its safety program. As an ominous precursor to Friday’s shooting, the school had experienced a false alarm about an active shooter in February, an event that attracted a massive emergency response and the chaotic arrival of fearful parents.
Gage Slaughter, 17, said he was sitting in his AP history class when the shooting started. When he heard the gunshots, he thought — as is so often the case in mass shootings — that it was just firecrackers. Someone pulled a fire alarm, he said, and everyone went outside. Then a coach and some teachers told the students to start running.
“There were people who were starting to cry,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going on until I was down the road a little ways and I heard one of the teachers saying it was a school shooter.”
In the hours that followed, heavily armed officers in tactical gear surrounded the school. Authorities said they found explosives in the high school and in surrounding areas, and put out warnings on social media for people to avoid touching anything unfamiliar.
Parents were picking up their children early from other schools in the area as they reeled from the horror that had come to their community.
“I just need to cuddle [my] baby girl,” said Catharine Lindsey, a parent who lives nearby and said she could hear the rescue helicopters from her home. “Ever since Parkland, I’ve had to tell my 13-year-old daughter to ‘not be a hero, to hide and stay safe with teacher’ if something like this happens, because she’s the type who would try and talk the shooter down.”
This was the 16th school shooting so far this year, according to a Washington Post analysis. That’s the highest number at this point in any year since 1999, the year of the Columbine High massacre. The Post’s analysis found that since 1999, shootings during school hours have killed at least 141 children, educators and other people, with another 284 injured.
There was limited solid information about the victims at Santa Fe High in the hours after the shooting.
The Embassy of Pakistan confirmed Friday evening that Sabika Sheikh, a Pakistani exchange student, was killed in the attack.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Sabika’s family and friends,” Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said in a statement.
Another exchange student, Sayyed Zaman Haider, said Sabika was from Karachi City and was studying through the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. A spokesman for the bureau did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Haider said Sheikh was about to return home: The academic year was ending, so she was almost done with her cultural exchange.
Cynthia Tisdale, 63, a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School, died in the shootings there, her family confirmed Friday. Tisdale worked at the school frequently, her son Recie Tisdale said.
“She started substitute teaching because she loved to help children,” he said. “She didn’t have to do it. She did it because she loved it.”
Recie Tisdale is a police detective in nearby League City. Cynthia Tisdale lived in Dickinson with her husband of nearly 47 years, William Tisdale. The couple had three children and 11 grandchildren. William Tisdale said his wife had also been a paralegal for 22 years.
“She was a good woman,” he said. “She watched out for me.”
Among the injured was sophomore Rome Shubert, a pitcher on the school baseball team, who said that a bullet grazed his head. “I’m so grateful and blessed that God spared my life today,” Shubert wrote in a tweet. “Today I was shot in the back of the head but I am completely okay and stable.”
On Friday night, students gathered at a vigil here wearing T-shirts, made after Hurricane Harvey, that read “Texas Tough.” On the back: “Indians got your back.”
The shooting immediately drew condemnation nationwide. President Trump quickly decried the Texas shooting.
“This has been going on too long in our country — too many years, too many decades now,” Trump said in Washington. “We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support and love to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack.”
In Santa Fe, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said: “Once again Texas has seen the face of evil.”
In his jailhouse booking photo, the suspect, Pagourtzis, wore a blank expression, as if bored.
The suspect documented his thoughts on his computer and cellphone, and the writings revealed not only that he intended to commit the shooting but also that he planned to commit suicide, the governor said. He said the shooter didn’t have the “courage” to follow through on the suicide.
Experts on mass shootings note that the killers study their predecessors, copy their moves and even their fashion choices. The shooter at Santa Fe High appeared to copy elements of the Columbine massacre: a black trench coat, a shotgun, explosives.
More than 30 shooters have copied the Columbine killers, and admitted they’d done so, according to Adam Lankford, a criminology professor at the University of Alabama.
“This seems like actually a more extreme version because of all of the different elements that seem to be copied, from clothing to weapons and modus operandi in terms of planting bombs,” Lankford said. “It’s a form of celebrity worship. The celebrities in this case are celebrity killers — the Columbine killers.”
Berman and Achenbach reported from Washington. Christian Davenport and Stephanie Kuzydym in Sante Fe, Tex., and William Wan, Julie Tate, Alice Crites, Jennifer Jenkins, Jenna Johnson, Susan Svrluga, Emily Wax, Matt Zapotosky, Nick Anderson and Abigail Hauslohner in Washington contributed to this story.
HOUSTON — Houston Democratic players are now calling what was once the wildest Democratic primary in the state a word not spoken often in Texas politics: boring.
But even as local political junkies are tiring of the national drama surrounding the 7th Congressional District's Democratic primary in west Houston featuring attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and activist Laura Moser, what happens here Tuesday night will have outsized implications for national Democrats' optimism and tactics in their bid to take control of the U.S. House in the fall.
It all started when the House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, took the unusual step of dumping a tranche of opposition research on Moser, a member of their own party. The objective was to knock her out of the seven-way primary to challenge U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, because national operatives believed Moser is too liberal for the district and has some liabilities that could take the seat out of contention in the fall.
The race was instantly nationalized, and locally, it was the talk of the town.
Moser was able to capitalize on the backlash, coming in second to make the runoff with Fletcher.
Liberal anger over the DCCC's attempt at sabotaging Moser still surfaces on social media and in other pockets, but three months later, locals are tired of hearing about the DCCC and ready to move onto the general election.
“We are very excited about the candidate who will be coming out of Tuesday’s runoff in CD-7,” Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schecter wrote in a text message to the Tribune. “We are ready to talk about the real issue of beating Republicans like John Culberson, who has continually shown a lack of leadership for his constituents.”
At a forum featuring the two candidates on Monday night, the DCCC issue did not even come up. Instead, participants – mostly high school students – focused their questions on issues like the environment. There were minimal fireworks.
Things have gotten so boring in the race that some political observers wondered why anyone would schedule a congressional forum on the same night the Rockets had a playoff game.
A mildly exasperated moderator struggled to glean policy differences from the candidates and wondered why it mattered for him to vote for one woman over the other.
Their answers to his query sum up the current Democratic Party, and to people who can't vote in this race — deeply invested Democratic activists and operatives who live outside of the district — each woman is an avatar for opposing sides of a deeply divided party.
Moser promises to excite the liberal base and bring new voters into the fold. Fletcher aims to appeal to Republicans and moderates who are disgusted with Trump and current GOP leadership.
“I believe that I’m the candidate you should vote for because we cannot run the same types of campaigns and expect different results,” said Moser. "I believe with my history of grassroots activism and involvement and bringing new people into the process."
In interviews, forums and television ads, Fletcher leans on her mostly lifelong residence in Houston.
"I disagree with Laura when she says she is the only candidate who can talk to voters from across our community about issues because that's what I've been doing for nearly all of my life," Fletcher said of her volunteer work with the local Planned Parenthood chapter and other Texas progressive groups.
The comment was a subtle jab at Moser, who spent much of her adult life in Washington and moved back to her childhood stomping grounds last year.
"It’s not veiled. It’s not veiled," Moser said. "Her whole thing is who has lived here the longest, and no one in Houston cares," Moser added, noting the sizable immigrant population in the city and district.
"The kind of 'Gone with the Wind' Tara thing doesn’t feel relevant, but it’s not subtle."
Even amid the contention, it remains an open question whether the race will actually be competitive in the fall.
Houston is one of the most expensive regions to run campaign ads, and it’s easy to imagine decision-makers in Washington cutting bait in the bayou if the political climate darkens and they need to marshal resources toward cheaper media markets.
And then there is the question of whether national Democrats will even bother investing in the race if Moser is the nominee.
The DCCC is far more careful in how it approaches this race now compared to February. But it’s plain the committee prefers Fletcher. She also has the backing of EMILY’s List, which is often a player in the fall campaigns of their endorsed female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights.
It’s hard to imagine the DCCC, many members of Congress and EMILY’s List changing lanes after all of the drama in the primary and going on to spend millions on Moser in the fall – but it’s a weird climate this cycle and stranger things have happened.
All surface signs indicate that Fletcher has the inside track on winning the nomination on Tuesday.
She placed first on March 6, she has raised more money and started the runoff period with a cash-on-hand advantage of nearly $200,000, she has modest television presence in the runoff, and EMILY’s List has spent about a quarter of a million dollars backing her.
Moser blames the DCCC for losing out on donors.
"I was shut out," she said. "The DCCC definitely funneled all the big donors in Houston to [Fletcher] and I didn’t get them. And so she’s on TV."
Moser suggested that her small-dollar donations could prove more formidable in the fall because few of her contributors have maxed out to the federal limits.
And the normal metrics did not always prove to be indicators of success on the primary night in March, and nearly everyone involved in or watching this race is bracing for unpredictability.
Moser is betting on her grassroots operation.
"I am the candidate who is out there, who has 2,000 volunteers walking throughout the district," she said at the forum. "Everyday, I talk to people who have never been contacted because no one cares."
She also invoked former President Barack Obama in her strategy.
Her husband, Arun Chaudhary, was integral to Obama's first campaign, and he went on to work in the administration. The family was the focus of amusing photos from the Oval Office when her daughter threw a tantrum in front of the president.
"It's hard. Barack Obama spent $350 million in 2008 to move the needle ... and it worked," she said.
Whichever candidate's strategy is most effective in the primary does not guarantee winning in the fall.
The last time a Democrat ran a viable campaign for this seat was back in 2008, during the Obama presidential wave.
This is a historically Republican district. It reaches into the Katy suburbs, and it’s home to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and former President George H.W. Bush, along with a host of Republican stereotypes — oilmen and lawyers at places like Baker Botts who frequent the Houstonian for meetings over whiskey.
The reason for all of this national Democratic optimism, however, is how 2016 played out in the communities along the I-10 freeway. Hillary Clinton carried the seat by a point — a massive swing from Mitt Romney’s 21-point margin in 2012.
What worries some local Democrats is they fear Clinton’s performance was the high-water mark, a result more of Trump’s incendiary nature than a massive demographic swing, and that all of this national infighting in their backyard will be for naught.
Culberson, after all, carried the district in 2016 — albeit against a nominally performing opponent — by 32,000 votes and is sitting on nearly $1 million for the fall.
Possibly, the larger aim among Harris County Democrats is to carry the county — a feat not done during a midterm in recent memory.
Long before Moser or Fletcher ran for Congress, operatives and donors were working to build an infrastructure in Harris County that would not just elect local officials but run up the vote totals that could someday make Texas competitive statewide.
But investments from the DCCC to win the Texas 7th Congressional District could do much to achieve that county goal and elect a slate of local officials.
"I think there will always be skeptics and there will always be naysayers, but I've spent a year now on the campaign trail,” Fletcher said in response.
“There are people who are showing up because they share the concerns that I do ... that our country is headed in the wrong direction," she added.
Moser agreed with the worriers.
"This is a Republican district, and I have not had any illusions about that," she said. "Whoever wins Tuesday night has a tremendous responsibility on their shoulders to carry something that might not be carryable yet. And that is why I think my strategy — which, granted, has a lot of unknowns — is the only one that could work."
The debates over tactics and the political mood have left both the district's constituents and political observers nationally with a host of questions.
Will Moser’s theory of bringing a flood of new voters into the fold prove right? Or will it be Fletcher’s attempts at crossover appeal? Is this even a real race? Will the DCCC spend on this race in the fall, even if the nominee is Moser? Will Republican have match the spending as well?
What is clear is that millions of dollars of campaign spending, and in some ways the future of the Democratic Party, ride on what West Houston’s Democratic voters decide on Tuesday.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
In the hours after a deadly shooting at a southeast Texas high school left at least 10 dead and 10 more wounded, a familiar debate began to emerge — pitting the state’s top Republican leaders against some of the Democrats vying to take their spots in this year’s elections.
As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, along with many of the state’s other Republican political leaders, sent his “thoughts and prayers” to the families of those injured and killed, state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, tweeted, “Y’all been sending thoughts and prayers for two freaking decades now.”
“Time to try something new,” Wu said.
That something new could be born out of roundtable discussions Gov. Greg Abbott has announced will begin next week to tackle the challenge of school shootings. Speaking into a cluster of microphones Friday afternoon at a press conference outside Santa Fe High School, where authorities say 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis shot students and staff with a shotgun and a .38 revolver, Abbott said that he had already been preparing to release several new proposals for gun laws in Texas.
Now, he said, he will begin meeting with stakeholders to propose “swift solutions to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again.”
"We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families,” Abbott said. “It's time in Texas that we take action to step up and make sure this tragedy is never repeated ever again.”
As he detailed those plans, Abbott indicated a willingness to examine the state’s gun laws without giving any indication that he’s considering any radical changes. Proposing relatively uncontroversial measures like “speeding up background checks” and keeping guns out of the hands of people “who pose immediate danger,” the governor emphasized that Texas politicians must weigh every possible strategy for preventing gun violence in schools.
To that end, he said, the new discussion groups should include two members from each chamber of the state Legislature, as well as teachers, concerned parents, victims of November’s deadly shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs — “as well as,” Abbott emphasized, “those who believe in making sure gun rights are protected.”
State Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said at a separate press conference Friday that he and his colleagues welcome that discussion, noting that they have "been waiting to have it for a long time."
"However, we have a responsibility also to act," Turner said, flanked by over a dozen other House Democrats. He went on to say Texas should pass universal background checks, require the reporting of stolen guns and begin a "safe gun storage campaign."
Democrats already in office were hardly the only ones weighing in on policy in the wake of the tragedy Friday. As soon as reports of the shooting began to surface, politicians and hopefuls running in next week’s May 22 runoff election began to speak out about policy solutions and the failures they attribute to current state leaders.
Democrat Beto O'Rourke, an El Paso congressman running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz this fall, emailed supporters Friday afternoon a long list of specific policy ideas — everything from funding federal research on gun violence to improving campus safety to implementing "red flag" laws, which allow local officials to seize an individuals' weapons when they appear to present an imminent threat of violence.
"We can meet silence with action," O'Rourke wrote. "Tragedy with common purpose. The disagreements with compromise and consensus that allow us to do better — not perfect, not your ideal, not my ideal, but better than what we have today. Shouldn't be too much to ask for the kids who died today, for the kids too scared to go to school on Monday, should it?"
Democrat Mike Collier, a longshot candidate for lieutenant governor, convened a hasty press conference in downtown Houston where he blasted Abbott and incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick because, he said, they “consistently do nothing” to seriously address gun violence in schools.
"I’ve listened to their remarks today and all I hear is talk," Collier said. "Talk is cheap. What we need is action."
Collier called on Abbott to immediately name a "public school safety czar" and equip that person with "extraordinary resources" to tackle the issue. Collier also demanded that Abbott convene a special session of the Legislature to "develop a comprehensive plan for school safety."
And both Democratic candidates for governor, who are battling in next week’s runoff to take on Abbott this fall, had immediate, harsh words for Texas’ handling of gun violence.
Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County Sheriff who took first place in the March 6 primary, said “enough is enough.”
"We will act to make change,” Valdez said in a statement. “There is no other option."
Her opponent, Houston businessman Andrew White, pledged to roll out a plan to prevent school shootings soon, “but not today” — leaving him little time to pitch his proposal before the Tuesday runoff election that will decide his fate.
Meanwhile, Patrick, the Republican lieutenant governor, focused on school facilities in his remarks. Standing alongside Abbott on Friday, Patrick said schools have “too many entrances and too many exits” — far too many doors to guard.
“We may have to look at the design of our schools moving forward,” Patrick said. “We’re gonna have to be creative.”
Collier characterized that policy pitch as a refusal “to address this issue honestly.”
PLANO – Since 1991, U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson has represented a section of Texas north of Dallas. The 87-year-old Vietnam War veteran last year announced his plans to retire.
In Tuesday's primary runoffs, one of the names on the Democratic ballot will be Sam Johnson — but it's not the same Sam Johnson. The 35-year-old lawyer has no relation to the Republican congressman.
The quirk of Johnson's candidacy has drawn attention to the Democratic race in Texas' 3rd Congressional District, even though state Sen. Van Taylor, the Republican nominee, is widely viewed as having the general election locked up.
At first, the younger Johnson found himself defending his campaign to local media. "I would be running if my name was any other name," he told NBC DFW shortly after announcing his candidacy in July.
Johnson doesn't deny that his name has helped him standout in the race, arousing some suspicion from local Democrats. He also doesn't blame voters for thinking his candidacy could be a gimmick.
But after his first candidate forum in January, voters began to take him seriously, he said.
"I think the fact that I'm in the runoff shows that I'm qualified and that voters understood that and that it wasn't just about the name," Johnson, who earned a little less than 29 percent of votes in the primary, said in an interview.
His runoff opponent, Lorie Burch, a 41-year-old attorney, nearly avoided a runoff entirely. She got 49.6 percent of the vote against Johnson and two other candidates in the March 6 primary.
She said she doesn't begrudge her runoff rival, whom she called a legitimate candidate with "a good heart and a good mind to try and create change."
But Johnson's name recognition, she says, won't be enough to beat her in the runoff.
"What effect do I think that has had? Maybe a few percentage points, possibly, but not enough to make a difference for him," Burch said.
A Republican stronghold
That so many Democrats even vied for the seat has turned some heads. The odds are certainly against any of them turning the seat blue. Voters in the district, mostly composed of growing cities like Plano, Frisco and McKinney, have not elected a Democrat to the U.S. House since 1967 and haven't gone for a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
The demographics of the area, nestled in rapidly expanding Collin County, are shifting. The county's population has grown by about 24 percent in seven years, the equivalent of over 187,000 people, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Nineteen percent of the county's population is foreign-born, and the area's booming South and East Asian communities have given Democrats hope that the district could be put into play in the coming decades.
But the county's changing landscape doesn't cancel out the number of voters turning out for Republicans. Taylor earned more votes in the March 6 primary than the four Democratic candidates combined.
That's not to mention Taylor's massive financial advantage, having raised over $800,000 and loaning his campaign another $1 million. Burch, by comparison, has raised about $147,000. Taylor, who carried 84 percent of the vote in his primary, has earned a spot on Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call's list of "almost, probably, most likely members" of Congress.
Yet both Burch and Johnson maintained they would fight for the seat in November and that they weren't counting on a possible "blue wave" to help them in a place like Collin County. Burch said she would emphasize to voters her plan to listen to constituents.
"They want people who are transparent and accountable, who will listen and understand that not every issue is black and white," Burch said. "I find that a lot more people resonate with that then they do with this idea of, 'We just need to vote for Democrats.'"
HOUSTON – With just days to go before Tuesday's runoffs in Texas, candidates across the state are sharpening their attacks, hoping to differentiate themselves from rivals.
But the GOP race in Houston's 2nd Congressional District may be where the candidates are getting on each other's nerves the most.
The two Republicans vying to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston, offer a striking contrast.
Kevin Roberts is a first-term state representative who is originally from the Panhandle. He shares his cell phone number with constituents and touts his business background as an executive director at a law firm.
Dan Crenshaw is a retired Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who lost his eye while serving in Afghanistan. His fundraising trailed other contenders in the first round of the primary, but his eyepatch and glass eye in his signage served as a subtle but effective reminder to potential GOP voters of his military service.
The two men track fairly closely on policy – both campaigns say flood mitigation and border security are the top issues in the district, which was hit by Hurricane Harvey last year. Both are running under a similar banner of conservatism in this GOP stronghold.
But those similarities belie the tone in this race.
Roberts can quote old Crenshaw Facebook posts and policy pages on Crenshaw's website with the fluency of an English teacher recalling Byron.
“I don’t know when taking somebody’s words and saying, ‘You said this and here’s what I think it means,’ became mudslinging,” Roberts said in an interview. “That is verbatim. You said it. Okay? You have the opportunity to explain it.”
Roberts has charged that Crenshaw intends to raise taxes in order to preserve Social Security and that Crenshaw has in the past posted "demeaning" comments about Christianity.
Crenshaw is similarly fluent in Roberts' shots at his record, and he charges back that Roberts is twisting statements and positions out of context. He further says those attacks have been what defined his opponent in the runoff to voters.
“Even the outside groups [involved in the race]…I’ve not seen anything from that that talks about Kevin in a negative way except for, ‘Look at all the mudslinging he’s doing,'” Crenshaw said.
“I mean, I think it’s okay to defend ourselves, and say, ‘He’s doing all the mudslinging, we’re not."
Millions poured into race
The district begins in the northeast Houston suburbs and wraps around the outskirts of the city counterclockwise before ending deep into the heart of Houston from the west. By all objective analysis, this is safe GOP territory and the winner of this runoff will likely become a member of Congress.
Roberts placed first in the March 6 primary with 33 percent of the vote, with Crenshaw narrowly winning second place with 27 percent of the vote. That a runoff was even needed was something of a shock: GOP fundraiser Kathaleen Wall spent a stunning $6 million on her bid, prompting speculation she would draw enough votes to win the seat outright. She ended up coming in third, and trailed Crenshaw on election night by a mere 145 votes.
In the runoff, Crenshaw has led in fundraising, raising $247,000 to Roberts’ $191,000. Crenshaw is currently at a slight cash-on-hand advantage, according to the most recent reports..
Both men credit retail politicking for their first-round success.
In the runoff, outside groups have poured more money into the race. Conservative Results Matter, a group aligned with Roberts and the law firm where he works, has spent $616,000 — all of it attacking Crenshaw — while American Patriots PAC, a pro-Crenshaw group, is up to $386,000.
Out of nowhere late this week, former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a voter in the district, emerged from a 16-month Twitter slumber to enter the fray after apparently receiving an anti-Crenshaw piece of direct mail.
“I can't keep quiet watching the race for #CD2, with Kevin Roberts, an office manager for a plaintiff’s law firm, lying about his opponent Dan Crenshaw, a distinguished #veteran & former @USNavy #SEAL who lost his right eye in Afghanistan,” he wrote.
The source of the mailer is unclear, but Dewhurst’s description of it as comparing Crenshaw to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont and Barack Obama falls in line with attacks an anti-Crenshaw super PAC has deployed..
One of the biggest points of contentions in the contest is Donald Trump. Roberts told the Tribune he backed Trump during the 2016 primary when he was a candidate for state representative, a time when most Texas politicians backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida
“I supported President Trump from the get-go go because of his business experience,” said Roberts.
Crenshaw was still in the service during the 2016 primary and was not active in Texas politics at the time. In 2015, Crenshaw called Trump's rhetoric about Muslims "insane" and "hateful." But he now strongly supports the president.
While much of the 2nd District is conservative, there are pockets of diversity and progressivism. When pressed on if Trump’s contentious statements might offend future constituents, both men argued there was a difference between supporting Trump’s agenda and his incendiary style.
“We’ll be running on a campaign of, despite what you think of the president’s personality, is your life better or worse?” Crenshaw said. “And I think we can make a very good argument that things are good.
“What I mean in terms of support is, on good policy, I want to be a part of helping move good policy to get results,” said Roberts.
“I’m not engaging or condoning anything he has said or done,” he added. “As a Christian, it’s not my job to judge his heart. I don’t have to agree with what he says or his actions."
Whomever carries the day on Tuesday night is all but certain to represent the 2nd Congressional District in Houston.
At least, mostly certain.
As Crenshaw, Roberts and aligned groups spent the spring going at each other, a Democratic candidate named Todd Litton has been quietly building his cash reserves and impressing the local party establishment.
As of his latest financial report, he had about a quarter of a million dollars in cash on hand. And while many Houston Democratic players who were interviewed by the Tribune say they do not believe this seat will come online next fall, they’re nonetheless impressed with the operation Litton put together.
National Democrats are cautiously watching the district in the event a historic Democratic wave appears poised to wipe out Republicans who were once thought to be on high ground.
Roberts and Crenshaw insist this is a reliable Republican seat – but each promises to be ready in the fall to forcefully defend it, should he be the nominee.
“If I’m successful and voters make the decision that I’m the right guy, then I’ll make the turn and I’ll look to that,“ said Roberts.
“We’re not going to ignore him, by any means,” Crenshaw said of Litton. “I think they’re raising a lot of money because, I mean, it’s the nature of the national conversation right now with Democrats being excited. “
CORPUS CHRISTI — Asked Friday about a news report that said former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold's recent hiring as a lobbyist for the Port of Port Lavaca may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Republican said he "wasn't involved."
The Victoria Advocate reported Friday that Farenthold’s hiring may have been illegal since the notice posted by the Calhoun Port Authority, which oversees the port, was too vague in describing what was going to be said at a closed meeting where the former congressman's hiring was discussed.
"I’m trying to get on with my life. I wasn’t involved other than I talked to them about a job. I don’t know anything about it," Farenthold said afteran event hosted by The Texas Tribune. "I’m not talking to reporters. I’m a private citizen now.”
According to the Advocate, the posting said the board would meet “for the purposes of deliberating the appointment, employment, compensation, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee.” But the Texas Supreme Court ruled that these notices need to be specific when they concern high-profile people.
Weeks after resigning from Congress amid sexual harassment allegations, Farenthold announced he had accepted a job as a lobbyist for the Port of Port Lavaca. The Calhoun Port Authority confirmed Monday that Farenthold would serve as the port's full-time legislative liaison.
Attorneys representing the port denied that the disgraced congressman’s hiring was illegal since only the executive director of the port, Charles Hausmann, had the authority to hire and fire employees, the Advocate reported.
At the closed meeting, they said, Hausmann only consulted with the board about potentially hiring Farenthold. The board itself did not vote on the matter.
The University of Texas System’s Board of Regents has tapped Larry Faulkner, a former president of the University of Texas at Austin, to be interim chancellor.
In a telephone meeting Friday afternoon, the regents gave Faulkner unanimous approval to temporarily helm the 14-campus system until they find outgoing Chancellor Bill McRaven's permanent successor. McRaven's last day will be May 31, and Faulkner will assume the interim position starting June 1.
He is not a candidate for the permanent position.
Faulkner said Friday he expected his replacement will be in place “well before the next legislative session starts" and that he thought the regents "have candidates and are happy with the candidates they have."
“My job is really to keep business moving” he said. "Preparing for the legislative session is of course a very significant item of business for the UT System in this period of time. I will want to focus on making sure we're as far down that road as we can be going through the summer.”
"He is widely known and respected for his steady hand in higher education leadership and administration, rich knowledge of the UT System and its institutions, and breadth of relationships throughout Texas and the nation,” said Regents’ Chairman Sara Martinez Tucker, in a statement. "His strengths present the Board of Regents and the chancellor search committee with an optimal opportunity to concentrate on and conclude the search knowing that the System is in the perfect position to continue its advancement during this period.”
McRaven announced in December he’d step down in May after a three-and-a-half year tenure atop the UT System, which enrolls more than 213,000 students across its network of eight academic colleges and six health institutions. A high-wattage former Navy admiral, McRaven is best known for masterminding the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and he’s expected to take a position at the UT-Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. He's cited health issues and a desire to pursue teaching, writing and other activities as reasons for his departure.
The search for McRaven's successor has been overseen by a task force of five current and former regents, who hired international recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates to help collate names. In recent months, energy executive Jim Hackett has been bandied as a contender for the post, as has Rex Tillerson, the former U.S. secretary of state and Exxon Mobil CEO.
When McRaven assumed the post, he was greeted as a leader whose vision, billed as a series of “quantum leaps,” could catapult the UT System to greater national prominence. But lawmakers, and some regents, later balked at what they saw as undisciplined spending at the system level — and chafed when McRaven moved forward on an expensive land purchase in Houston without getting approval from lawmakers. The system's board is currently in the process of selling the land, and officials there have noted their administrative headcount has been reduced by more than 220 over the past three years.
A separate group of regents is evaluating the system's scope and spending and may suggest it slim down and redirect its focus on the institutions it oversees.
Disclosure: Larry Faulkner, the University of Texas System, the University of Texas at Austin and Exxon Mobil have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
A school shooting early Friday morning at Sante Fe High School, south of Houston, has left at least eight fatalities, according to multiple reports, including the Houston Chronicle.
The Chronicle cited federal and county law enforcement officials for the number of deaths. The school is no longer an active shooting situation. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said on Twitter that one person is in custody in the case and "a second one is detained."
The injured — among them at least one police officer — are being treated, local officials said. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office was deployed to the Galveston County school to assist with a “multiple-casualty incident.”
Law enforcement agencies were securing the building and students were being transported to the nearby Alamo Gym, where they could reunite with parents, the district said.
One student, sophomore Leila Butler, told local news that fire alarms went off at the 1,400-student high school around 7:45 a.m. Another student said a gunman entered an art class wielding what looked like a shotgun and began shooting.
Read Full Article
Read for later
Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
Scroll to Top
Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.