Decision-making process behind issuing emergency alerts for shootings in Austin

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AUSTIN (KXAN) –Several people – including neighbors and a state representative – expressed concerns about law enforcement not issuing some kind of active shooter alert as a suspect allegedly shot and killed four people in Austin Tuesday and injured two officers. Authorities in Bexar County said the suspect also killed his parents before coming to Austin.

Below is the timeline of the shooting spree, as explained by Interim Austin Police Chief Robin Henderson early Wednesday morning.

  • 10:40 a.m. – Austin ISD officer shot near Northeast Early College High School
  • 11:59 a.m. – Double homicide on Shadywood Drive
  • 4:57 p.m. – Cyclist shot on W. Slaughter Lane, non-life-threatening injuries
  • 6:54 p.m. – APD officer responds to active burglary on Austral Loop, finds suspect in backyard. Suspect fires at officer. Officer has non-life-threatening injuries. Suspect drives away. Two people found dead inside home.
  • 7:14 p.m. – Police chase ends with suspect crashing car

Henderson said police did not connect the suspect – identified Wednesday as Shane James, 34 – to all of the shootings until after the Austral Loop incident.

“The failure to use the alert system raises questions,” said State Representative Vikki Goodwin (D-Travis County). “There were multiple points in time throughout the day when the alert might have been relevant and might have saved lives.”

A high-ranking law enforcement source told KXAN that while the investigation is still underway, the attacks in Austin at this point appear to be random, and evidence at this stage does not indicate the suspect has any connection to the Austin victims. This could change as the investigation unfolds.

That same source said there was no way of knowing the shooting of the AISD police officer and the double homicide on Shadywood Drive were connected in the hours following. They also said APD did not have solid vehicle or suspect descriptions immediately following those incidents. Since the department has to have an “actionable piece of information” that will help people take precautions before deciding to issue an alert, the source said the case – as investigators knew at the time – did not meet the criteria for APD to responsibly send out an alert to the public.

“One of the things that will happen when the ongoing investigation is over, I think, is that the public will see that there’s nuance to things, and so decisions have to be made about what you’re dealing with,” said Mayor Kirk Watson. “And I think you’ll, people will see that the nuance of being in the moment and having to address things, that good decisions were made.”

As the shooting of the AISD police officer took place, parents received text notifications from the district.

Check back for updates on what kinds of alerts are available in Central Texas and the criteria law enforcement follows when issuing them.

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