AUSTIN, Texas - Some Austin residents who live near the crime scenes involved in Tuesday’s shooting spree are questioning why they were not notified of the threat posed by the suspected shooter, as he remained on the loose for hours.
While Austin police have been widely applauded for the bravery and hard work of officers on the ground, risking their lives to track down Shane James, confront him and take him into custody, some have raised concerns about the communication coming from police.
"It could have been me. It could have been me pulling in my driveway and him coming and shooting me and killing me," said Circle C resident Rebecca Lusk.
For about two hours Tuesday evening, Lusk says she had no idea anything dangerous was going on in her neighborhood.
"I heard the three shots in the distance, and the helicopters. I left to go feed my daughter's cow, thinking, ‘hey, I better go before the roads are shut down’. I didn't think it was that serious," said Lusk.
At 4:57 p.m, Tuesday, a cyclist was shot and injured near Slaughter Lane and Mopac, a little over half a mile from Lusk’s home. Then, at 6:46 p.m., just down the block from Lusk on Austral Loop, there was a report of a burglary that led to an officer being shot. That later turned out to be the scene of a double homicide. After shooting the officer, police say James fled in a stolen car, until he was arrested around 7:15 p.m.
Lusk says she found out about what was happening on Facebook.
"I saw another one of my neighbors post, ‘hey, there's a live shooter in the neighborhood’," said Lusk.
FOX 7 spoke to several neighbors who live on Austral Loop, and all of them said that when it came to any sort of notifications or alerts Tuesday night, there was radio silence.
"Why didn't phones ring? Why didn't an emergency text go out? Something to everyone. ‘Live shooter in Circle C neighborhood. Everybody stay in your homes’," said Lusk.
All this happened hours after James’ alleged spree began with an officer being shot at Northeast Early College High School on Tuesday morning. At an Austin ISD Police briefing, there was no mention of a suspect on the run, with Chief Wayne Sneed cutting off reporter questions.
About an hour later, after the double homicide on Shadywood Drive, Austin police did warn residents.
"We do not have anyone in custody at this time. So we do ask everyone that you remain vigilant," said Sgt. Destiny Silva.
Shortly after 9:30 p.m., Austin ISD posted on social media that the school shooting suspect had been arrested.
Then, nearly four hours later, confirmation came from Austin police.
"The suspect is in custody, and no longer poses a threat to our Austin community," said Austin Police Chief Robin Henderson at a briefing around 1:15 a.m. Wednesday. "I want to emphasize that APD and other law enforcement did not determine that these incidents were connected until the last incident occurred tonight."
At no point was the Blue Alert system, which notifies the public when an officer is shot, or the DPS Active Shooter Alert system activated. State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, an Austin Democrat, says that’s a problem.
"I think there were several opportunities for them to send out an alert, even if after the first incident at the school, they didn't think it was an active shooter. When the second incident happened in South Austin, it may have occurred to them, ‘well, let's go ahead and send down an alert so that this neighborhood can be aware the shooter was not caught’. And so in my mind, there's an opportunity to let people know to be on alert," said Goodwin. "There is an opportunity for DPS and APD and other local law enforcement organizations to have conversations about protocols."
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In a statement, Texas DPS Press Secretary Ericka Miller said in part:
"The Active Shooter Alert became effective on September 1, 2021…Similar to other alerts, the Department will issue an Active Shooter Alert when a requesting agency submits a request for an event that meets the requirements. DPS will not issue an alert without a request from an investigating agency unless the Department is conducting the investigation. You can read the activation requirements on the DPS website…Since the Active Shooter Alert became effective, the Department has not received any requests for activation. We would refer any questions regarding the investigation to the Austin Police Department."
In a statement, Austin Police said the following:
"The Department would like to address the concerns our community has about early notification and if the suspect information could have been shared earlier. The incident that occurred at the Northeast Early College High School was led by AISD PD with APD assisting. We worked closely with AISD to gather the information they had. Shortly after this incident happened, another incident took place in a different area of Austin that involved a double homicide. At that point in time, we focused on the new shooting incident as we would any normal homicide. Based off the preliminary information that was collected at both scenes, there was no immediate indication that led us to believe the two incidents were connected, but we did not dismiss the possibility. As our investigators continued to review evidence from both scenes, it was determined that the two incidents could potentially be linked. As the team continued to work to get a description, photos and videos together to share, the final incident occurred. An important thing to note, these incidents did not take place in one specific area of Austin, and the initial evidence we had did not show any similarities. The Austin Police Department takes the safety of our community seriously, but we must do our due diligence to ensure the information we share is done in a timely and accurate manner.
"The community has also inquired as to why the Blue Alert was not activated. Blue (and Amber) alerts require some sort of actionable intelligence. Merely sharing that an officer was shot does not give the community anything to "look out for" or action items to take to be safe. There was no specific suspect or vehicle information to share, which would meet our threshold for moving forward with a Blue Alert.
"Because this was not an active shooting event, we did not utilize the TX HB 103. This was a series of events which took place in several different locations across the city with various or unknown motives and no specific commonality. It is not common practice for APD, or any other law enforcement agency, to issue any sort of alert for every shooting that happens in their jurisdiction with an unidentified shooter."