Austinites say they weren't warned of gunman in Circle C. They want to know why.
Last night, Kimberly De La Garza felt like a sitting duck.
As a chaotic flurry of police cars, a helicopter and general confusion swirled around her, De La Garza was coming home from dinner at a nearby restaurant in Circle C, the Southwest Austin neighborhood where she's lived for 10 years.
She had no idea there was a suspected active shooter in her neighborhood. She had no idea it was a suspect connected with six killings and three shootings – including a double homicide in the neighborhood. And she said she had no idea a police chase was heading her way, to the corner of State Highway 45 and FM 1826 – an intersection she drives through every day.
De La Garza didn't receive a notification via text, like she said she did a few weeks ago ahead of inclement weather. She found out about the possible danger through social media, specifically the neighborhood Facebook page.
She had hoped to see a shelter-in-place or a reverse 911, an automated call that warns Austinites of possible emergencies. De La Garza said if the city, county and state can warn of an AMBER Alert, a potential power outage or even a boil-water notice, they should be able to respond "in real-time" to a situation with a gunman on the loose.
"It seems like there's a disconnect or somebody dropped the ball," she said. "If it's not required, it needs to be looked at and the system [needs] to be improved. ... We know they have the capability because we have gotten those alerts."
As of Wednesday morning, she said she hadn't realized APD had arrested the shooter until reading updates from news outlets.
KUT reached out to APD for this story, but the department did not initially respond to questions about the alert process. KUT also reached out to the department's Office of Community Liaison, which partners with neighborhoods to improve police response but did not receive a response.
In a statement Wednesday night, APD said investigators did not initially believe the Northeast High shooting shared a "specific commonality" with the shootings that followed.
"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 department said.
The string of shootings also failed to trigger a Blue Alert, Texas' text-based system used to alert the public when an officer is killed or wounded. APD said in its statement there weren't enough specifics about a suspect or vehicle to trigger its threshold for a Blue Alert.
Robin Arnold said she knew two of the victims, who police have not identified, through the neighborhood. Tuesday night she said she was terrified, "not knowing if all the sudden a bullet was going to come through a window," she told KUT.
"I stayed away from the windows and, of course, all the neighbors are texting one another and just sharing information they had heard," she said.
Arnold, too, said she never got any alert and that the department didn't communicate risks as she heard gunshots in the neighborhood around the time an unidentified cyclist was shot and tires screeching as officers later pursued the suspect.
Both Arnold and De La Garza said they appreciate the department's on-the-ground response. De La Garza said she appreciates officers' efforts and she understands "it takes time to connect the dots" in these situations. She just hopes the department revisits how it alerts Austinites of ongoing threats in the future.
"I'm not faulting the officers on the ground at all. I think they did a great job," she said. "That is how I feel, and I know a lot of our neighbors feel that way."
Goodwin told KUT she reached out to the Department of Public Safety and asked why it didn't send an alert as part of its text alert system. That system comes from a state law that was passed after the mass shooting in the Midland-Odessa area in 2019.
Goodwin said DPS officials told her APD did not request an alert be sent out – and that the alert system has never been used. DPS told Goodwin, given the glut of shootings in Texas, providing updates for each one "would be too many alerts."
"We don't have a lot of tools that we can use when it comes to gun violence prevention and safety, but this is one of the tools it passed as a result of the deaths after the Midland-Odessa shooting," she said. "If we decided that that was important to pass into law, why are we not using it?"
DPS confirmed it has never issued an alert for an active shooter since the system came online in 2021 and referred KUT to APD for any further questions.
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