Parents Wonder: Is Briseño's Blood on Austin High's Hands?

Administration could have done more before and after student was killed, critics charge

It's been a month since Christopher Briseño was shot to death as he walked home from his school bus stop, and his parents and peers are still demanding answers. A group of about 30 crowded the board auditorium Monday night to argue that Austin High ignored information that could have prevented the shooting.

"I have so many unanswered questions," said parent Gloria Cantu, whose son Adam was also shot during the incident. "I'm just so angry at everybody."

On Thursday, Sept. 22, a fight broke out at Austin High. On Friday, Briseño and Cantu were shot near Zavala Elementary in East Austin, shortly after getting off the school bus. Principal Barbara Spelman said that Austin High did not bear responsibility because the shooting took place across town, and told the Austin American-Statesman that there was "nothing to suggest that anyone in AISD could have prevented this tragedy."

Some parents, however, are suggesting otherwise. "I gave them information that could have prevented this," said parent Eva Nuncio, and there were plenty of signs that Thursday's fight was likely to escalate. After school on Thursday, students saw a car following the bus from Austin High to East Austin. Later that day, Austin High student Emmanuel Garcia was jumped by a large group of boys, one of whom he recognized from school, as he was playing dice with a friend near the bus stop. Word travels fast in the neighborhood where, as Gloria Cantu put it, "everybody knows everybody," so when Nuncio heard of the incidents, she feared the situation was likely to get worse. She decided to keep her own son home from school the next day, and at 8:15 Friday morning, she says she called the school and told Assistant Principal Andrew Lofters what had happened to Garcia. The school, as far as parents can tell, did nothing with that information.

"No one asked if [Garcia] needed any help. No one asked if he needed counseling. No one asked if he had seen any of the boys at school," said Janie Moreno Briseño, Christopher's mother. She wore dark glasses and, like many in the audience, a T-shirt with an image of her son, known to his friends as Woody. "I don't have my child. If they had done what they were supposed to have done, he would be here." Spelman referred a Chronicle call about Nuncio's claims to the AISD communications staff, who said they had to look into the matter before commenting.

Outside of the question of what the school could have done before the fight, other parents say the school isn't doing enough to cope with its aftermath. Several parents urged the district to provide ongoing protection, particularly as the 16-year-old charged in the shooting moves toward trial. Parent Delia Castro complained that Austin High offered students counseling for only two days before referring them to outside counselors, which parents can only access if they have the right combination of health insurance, transportation, and plenty of money. "I guess you must have a formula for showing two days of counseling is enough for these kids," Castro said.

As Woody's friends and family finished their three-minute speeches to the board (jarringly interspersed with teachers lobbying for better pay and a group of high achievers from LBJ High explaining why they should be exempted from finals), the Austin High community gradually drifted outside to talk strategy and support one another. One woman broke down screaming and crying before a TV camera and was immediately smothered in hugs. Paul Galvan, a freshman who had grown up with Briseño and had watched him die, said he felt the tragedy had brought the community closer together and that, despite all that happened, he stood by Austin High. "It's a good school," Galvan said. "It's got good kids. Smart kids. It's just that the administration needs to take things seriously."

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Austin ISDcrime, Katrina Martinez, Paul Galvan, Christopher Briseño, Barbara Spelman, Gloria Cantu, Delia Castro, Janie Moreno Briseño, Andrew Lofters, Austin High shooting

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