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Texas governor: 20 dead in El Paso shopping-complex shooting

EL PASO — Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen injured in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in El Paso, the state’s governor said.

Meanwhile, the police chief said among the possibilities being investigated is whether it was a hate crime. Two law enforcement officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity identified the suspect taken into custody as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius of the Dallas area.

Police said another 26 people were injured, most of them being treated at area hospitals. Most of the victims were believed to have been shot at a Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall, they said, adding that the store was packed with as many as 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school shopping season.

“The scene was a horrific one,” said El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, who added that many of the injured had life-threatening injuries. He said police also had found a manifesto that may have been written by Crusius and posted online — one reason it was being investigated as a hate crime.

Residents were volunteering to give blood to the injured, while police and military members were trying to help people who were looking for missing loved ones.

“It’s chaos right now,” said Austin Johnson, an Army medic at nearby Fort Bliss, who volunteered to help at the shopping center and later at the school that was serving as a reunification center.

Adriana Quezada, 39, said she was in the women’s clothing section of Walmart with her two children when the shooting happened.

“I heard the shots but I thought they were hits, like roof construction,” she said.

Her 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son threw themselves to the ground, then ran out of the Walmart through an emergency exit. They were not hurt, Quezada said.

She said she saw four men, dressed in black, moving together firing guns indiscriminately. Police later said they think there was just one shooter.

Police said by midafternoon that a suspect was in custody and the public was no longer in danger. Gomez said the suspect, who used a rifle, was arrested without incident. Police believe he was the “sole shooter” but are continuing to investigate reports that others were involved.

The mass shooting in El Paso came less than a week after a gunman opened fire on a California food festival. Santino William Legan, 19, killed three people and injured 13 others last Sunday at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Ryan Mielke, a spokesman for University Medical Center of El Paso, said 12 people were brought to the hospital with injuries, including one that died. Two of the injured were children who were being transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital, he said. He declined to provide additional details on the victims.

Eleven other victims were being treated at Del Sol Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman Victor Guerrero. He said those victims ages ranged from 35 to 82.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting “a heinous and senseless act of violence” and said the state had deployed a number of law enforcement officers to the city.

“Reports are very bad, many killed,” President Donald Trump tweeted.

Presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke appeared a bit shaken as he appeared at a candidate forum Saturday in Las Vegas shortly after news of the shooting in his hometown was reported.

O’Rourke, who said he had called his wife before taking the stage, said the shooting shatters “any illusion that we have that progress is inevitable” on tackling gun violence.

The Democrat said he heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon, saying we need to “keep that (expletive) on the battlefield and do not bring it into our communities.”

“We have to find some reason for optimism and hope or else we consign ourselves to a future where nearly 40,000 people a year will lose their lives to gun violence and I cannot accept that,” O’Rourke said.

El Paso, which has about 680,000 residents, is in West Texas and sits across the border from Juarez, Mexico.

The city has become a focal point of the immigration debate, drawing Trump in February to argue that walling off the southern border would make the U.S. safer, while city resident and O’Rourke led thousands on a protest march past the barrier of barbed-wire topped fencing and towering metal slats.

O’Rourke stressed that border walls haven’t made his hometown safer. The city’s murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. Before the wall project started, El Paso had been rated one of the three safest major U.S. cities going back to 1997.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, also said the El Paso shooting suspect wasn’t on her group’s radar screen prior to the shooting. “We had nothing in our files on him,” she wrote in an email. “Scary how young these shooters have been. Almost too young to even build a footprint in the radical right.”

This is the 21st mass killing in the United States in 2019, and the fifth public mass shooting. Before today, 96 people had died in mass killings in 2019 — 26 of them in public mass shootings.

The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database tracks all U.S. homicides since 2006 involving of four or more people killed, not including the offender, over a short period of time regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive.

The database shows that the median age of a public mass shooter is 28, significantly lower than the median age of a person who commits a mass shooting of their family. Since 2006, 11 mass shootings — not including today’s — have been committed by men who are 21 or younger.

Texas to consider dedicating $600M to prevent highway deaths

HOUSTON — State transportation officials are considering a plan that would earmark $390 million to help reduce highway deaths by straightening roads, improving lighting and adding guardrails.

On May 30, the Texas Transportation Commission ordered the state Department of Transportation to identify strategies to cut the state’s roadway fatalities — typically about 3,900 annually — in half by 2035, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Laura Ryan, a commission member, said the first half of 2019 saw a confirmed 1,857 fatalities along roads, which are about 50 less than the first six months last year.

“Fifty is a drop in the bucket based on the (fatality) number,” Ryan said, advising TxDOT to figure out solutions.

Later this month, commissioners are expected to approve particulars of the safety plan that would dedicate $600 million over two years in an attempt to eradicate roadway fatalities in the state.

“If the $600 million is spent wisely and it does affect the goal we have set for ourselves, it would be the best $600 million we ever spent,” transportation commission Chairman Bruce Bugg said. “But the emphasis is on the word wisely.”

The Houston region leads major metro areas in the nation in avoidable roadway deaths, an investigation by the newspaper revealed last year.

Funds specifically for safety represents fewer than 5% of TxDOT’s $76.2 billion 10-year Unified Transportation Program, which transportation commissioners are slated to approve sometime in August.

“We have dramatically under-invested in transportation safety for a while, from a cost-benefit analysis point of view,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, who through his nonprofit Farm & City advocates for safer streets. “Every dollar proposed of this $600 million will have way more bang for the buck than every other dollar in the UTP.”

Officials in TxDOT’s 27 districts will have extensive authority over how money is expended in those areas. Each district will create a four-year safety plan, specifying projects proposed for the money’s use.

“They’ll look and see their hot spots,” said Michael Lee, director of engineering and safety operations for TxDOT.

Possible maintenances or enhancements run from the costly — such as a multi-million-dollar overpass — to simple repairs such as reflective markings on the sides of roads and more obvious threatening signs.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

A sign of the upcoming school year, Vanguard College Preparatory School incoming senior Kortney Sitzke paints on her parking spot while trying to beat the heat. The giant cat’s head is Morris, her family cat. Sitzke says she has put in more than 20 hours’ work on the project and got the idea during art class earlier this year.

Senior rodeo

Robinson’s Rhonda Wilson competes in the 40,50, 60 division of barrel racing at the Texas Senior Pro Rodeo. The two-day event features 150 riders from 40 years of age to middle 80’s.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte/  

Baylor football skybox

JaMycal Hasty battled injuries last season. A healthy Hasty is expected to be a big part of the Bears’ running game.

Waco area teacher raises vary greatly by district under House Bill 3
 Brooke Crum  / 

Some Waco area teachers will receive the coveted $5,000 raise Gov. Greg Abbott proposed at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, but most will not, according to preliminary figures provided by the school districts.

House Bill 3 devoted $11.6 billion to school finance reform, with about $6.5 billion in new public education spending and approximately $5.1 billion dedicated to lowering residents’ property tax bills, the Texas Tribune reported.

The measure includes money for teacher raises and funding for free full-day pre-K for eligible 4-year-olds. It also decreases the amount of money wealthy districts must spend to subsidize poor districts through the state’s recapture program, known as “Robin Hood,” according to the Texas Tribune.

Under House Bill 3, districts and open enrollment charter schools must increase salaries for full-time staff other than administrators. Of the funds they receive, 30% must go toward these raises, and 75% of those funds must go toward raises for teachers, librarians, nurses and counselors.

Six out of 10 independent school districts responded to the Tribune-Herald’s request for proposed teacher salary raises. The others — McGregor ISD, West ISD, Marlin ISD and Robinson ISD — either did not respond or said their numbers were not ready.

School districts may choose to begin their fiscal years either on July 1 or Sept. 1, but most in the Waco area start on Sept. 1 and have not approved their budgets for the 2019-2020 school year.

According to the Texas Tribune, an average Texas teacher’s salary was $53,334 for the 2017-2018 school year, and teachers had an average of 10.9 years of experience on the job.

China Spring ISD

Superintendent Marc Faulkner is probably one of a few Texas superintendents able to offer the $5,000 raise the governor initially promised teachers.

The average raise for teachers in China Spring would be between $4,500 and $5,000, if the board of trustees approves the budget recommendations this month, he said.

For example, a teacher with 10 years of experience made $46,158 this past school year. This school year a teacher with the same amount of experience would make $50,008, under the current budget proposal.

Faulkner said the district fared well under House Bill 3, receiving an additional $1.4 million in state revenue. Most of that, $1.2 million, will go toward salary raises.

China Spring ISD’s starting salary will go up to $40,000 under the current budget proposal, up from $35,954 last school year.

Faulkner said he is grateful the district is able to offer such significant raises so the growing school district can remain competitive and attract quality teachers, which is always a challenge.

Aides in the district also will receive a $2,000 raise, he said, and hourly employees will receive a $1 per hour increase.

Lorena ISD

Superintendent Joe Kucera plans to offer teachers in the Lorena school district a salary increase between $3,550 and $5,000, depending on their years of service.

Like China Spring, House Bill 3 will allow the Lorena Independent School District to offer significant raises close to what the governor promised. Of the new money the district will receive from the state, 52% will go toward raises, if the board of trustees approves the budget recommendations this month.

Lorena ISD teachers will receive on average an 8.9% salary increase, Kucera said in an email.

The district’s new starting salary would be $40,000, up from $36,450 last school year.

Meanwhile, the district is proposing a 6% raise for paraprofessionals, instructional support staff, food service, maintenance, and custodial staff, and a 4% raise for professional and administrative staff.

Waco ISD

Waco Independent School District teachers on average can expect to receive a 6.4% salary increase next school year, in accordance with the newly passed state school finance reform bill, according to the district’s proposed budget.

Under current the budget proposal, most of the district’s teachers — 95 with one year of teaching experience — would receive a 5.2% raise, or an additional $1,900 a year. That bumps up their salary from $46,600 to $48,500.

Waco ISD’s new starting salary for 2019-20 would be $48,000, up from $46,100.

The highest proposed salary increase goes to teachers with six years of experience. They would receive a 7.5% hike, or an extra $3,200 a year. About 49 teachers would receive that pay raise.

Teachers with 27 or more years of experience would receive a salary increase of 5.8%, or $2,800 more a year. There are 90 teachers in that group.

Additionally, the district will provide administrators with a 3% salary hike, costing Waco ISD $320,802.

The total cost of the proposed salary increases is about $5 million.

Midway ISD

District Chief Financial Officer Wesley Brooks said the district is proposing to devote $928,981 to raises for teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses, surpassing the required $737,830 the district must spend on raises under the new law.

Teachers with 11 or more years of experience would receive the greatest raise of 3.5% under Midway’s current budget proposal. Most Midway ISD teachers — 163 — fall into this category, with 11 to 20 years of experience.

Teachers with 15 years of experience made $51,957 this past school year, according to last year’s salary schedule. With the proposed salary increase, their salary would increase to $53,776 for the 2019-2020 school year.

“Teachers from zero to five years are a different category there because another provision of House Bill 3 is that we’re supposed to prioritize experienced teachers with over five years of experience,” Brooks said.

Additionally, Midway is proposing a 2.5% salary increase for teachers with one to five years of experience, as well as administrators and professional staff. Teachers with six to 10 years of experience would receive a 3% salary increase, and support and auxiliary staff would receive a 4% raise.

Superintendent George Kazanas said the support staff raise is intended to prevent turnover and to keep Midway competitive with other school districts.

The total cost of raises under Midway’s current budget proposal is $1.5 million.

McGregor ISD

McGregor Independent School District did not provide the Tribune-Herald with preliminary budget figures, but a 2019-2020 salary schedule is posted on its website.

The new starting salary is $35,830, under the current proposal. The district also plans to offer stipends of $1,500 for teachers with a master’s degree and $2,000 for those with a doctoral degree. Other stipends are available for “hard-to-fill areas and extra duty assignments,” according to the 2019-2020 salary schedule on the district’s website.

Connally ISD

District Human Resource Officer Larry Cumby said Connally Independent School District plans to provide salary raises ranging from 3% to 5%, but he did not provide any specific numbers.

La Vega ISD

The school district is close to offering the $5,000 the legislature initially considered. The new starting salary for La Vega Independent School District teachers this school year will be $45,000, up from $41,888.

Last year, a teacher with six years of experience made $45,488. This year, that salary increases by $4,200, to $49,688 for teachers with six years of experience.

District2018-19 starting salaryNew starting salary
China Spring$35,954$40,000
La Vega$41,888$45,000
State minimum$28,080$33,660