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Austin Police say conflicting suspect descriptions hampered communication during shootings

Three investigators walk in the Circle C neighborhood while wearing protective booties.
Patricia Lim
Investigators enter the crime scene area on Austral Loop in Southwest Austin's Circle C neighborhood last week.

Austin Police say a glut of suspect descriptions hurt their ability to alert Austinites to the potential threat of an active shooter last week.

At a news conference Tuesday, interim Police Chief Robin Henderson said APD received several descriptions — and even video — of a man accused of being responsible for a string of fatal shootings that started outside San Antonio and ended in Austin. Henderson said it wasn’t until late in the day that investigators were able to determine any connection between the shootings.

“The descriptions we were working on throughout the day were different. Each vehicle used was different,” Henderson said. “So, while it might have seemed that it was obvious, there was no indication based on the information and intelligence that we had at the time the incidents were unfolding that they were related.”

Shane James Jr. was arrested last week in connection with the shootings. Authorities say he killed his parents in Bexar County last Tuesday morning, then made his way up to Austin and fatally shot four people, injuring three others, before he was arrested. He was charged with capital murder and aggravated assault of two police officers.

The department faced criticism over its lack of emergency alerts, with neighbors telling KUT and other news outlets they were caught off guard as the suspect moved through Austin in two stolen vehicles before crashing and being taken into custody.

Henderson said the department received three descriptions of the gunman, who shot a 28-year Austin ISD Police Department sergeant just before 11 a.m. at Northeast Early College High School. APD said videos from students didn’t show a clear picture of the suspect — only his car’s license plate as he fled.

After that, James allegedly killed two people off Shadywood Drive and stole a car. Police say he then injured another person, then stole another car after fatally shooting two more people.

Police said it wasn’t the first time the department encountered the suspect, a former U.S. Army lieutenant who police say was discharged for unacceptable conduct in 2015.

In 2018, APD was called out to Mosaic Church in Northwest Austin after staff told police a man was expressing suicidal thoughts. APD Sgt. Peter Kovach said James was detained by police and later released.

“Officers responded up there and took him into emergency custody, due to him being a danger to himself … or others," Kovach said.

Investigators added that the suspect legally bought the weapon they say was used in all the shootings despite an assault charge in 2022. The private purchase didn't violate state laws that prevent felons and people accused of domestic violence from buying guns.

The two police officers and the civilian who were shot have been released from hospitals.

James was charged with seven felonies in Travis County. APD said he has not been charged in Bexar County for the deaths of his parents.

You can watch the news conference video below. If the video doesn't appear, try refreshing your screen.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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