Exclusive: Westwood High School Covers Up Shooting Incident

Indri Schaelicke | @ISchaelicke

Administrators at Westwood High School in Austin, Texas, may have engaged in a cover-up attempt of a shooting incident on school grounds on Wednesday, April 3rd. Controversy has arisen after several students stated that they witnessed a gunshot occur in a football locker room. The school, however, denied the presence of a firearm on campus at any point.

Administrative Dishonesty

At 1:45 local time, Westwood High School administrators announced via intercom that they were placing the school in its lock-out procedure due to an external threat. A lock-out typically occurs when a threat exists outside the school’s buildings; students can travel between classes and in the halls but cannot leave the building. However, the administrator requested that students remain inside their classrooms unless there was an extreme need to leave them. The conflicting nature of the lock-out policy and the instructions given by the administration caused many students to become confused and concerned.

The same administrator came onto the intercom four separate times throughout the lock-out procedure. The first announcement was the establishment of the lock-out. During each of the next two announcements, the administrator requested students’ and teachers’ further compliance. During the fourth and final intercom communication, the administrator informed the school that the threat had “never even entered the Westwood area” and ended the lock-out.

A tweet from Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody declaring the "lockdown" at Westwood HS released.
A tweet from Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody declaring the “lockdown” at Westwood HS released.

In a conversation with 71 Republic’s Indri Schaelicke, a student reported that they had told an SRO at 12:45 that a student may have fired a shot in the freshman football locker room earlier that morning. The SRO informed the student that they had already received similar reports and were looking into it.

A Possible Gunshot

Three students who were in that locker room at around 9:00 AM verified the presence of a revolver. All of them were able to confirm that it had a full six rounds loaded into it. The rounds were entirely “golden”, not tipped with any color, and “pointy tipped” with a “Silver circle w(ith) a golden circle inside of it”. When presented with a picture of BB revolver bullets and regular revolver bullets, one witness stated the bullets in the gun looked more like the regular revolver ones.

The students said that the alleged student possessing the revolver entered the locker room between 8:30 and 8:50, before classes began. He then showed all of the room’s occupants the gun, which he had inside of his duffel bag.  

One witness recalled that the alleged possessor crossed to the other side of the locker room (showers and bathrooms divide the two sides). The student was reportedly speaking to the witness when the gun went off. All three witnesses maintain that the student fired the revolver accidentally and at the ground. The witness closest to the incident stated that they saw the alleged shooter run around the locker room, scoop up something off of the floor, and laugh.

The witness believed it was a shell casing as they did not hear a bullet strike the floor. They did, however, say that there were a lot of people talking in the locker room at the time; this may have rendered it impossible to hear anything hit the floor. The lack of a sound of anything hitting the floor led the witness to believe that the loud bang was the shooter firing a blank. However, revolvers do not eject casings during the discharge of a bullet; this fact weakens the theory that the student fired a blank. A casing may only leave the revolver’s cylinder if someone opens it.

Damage visible on freshman football locker room floor.
Damage visible on freshman football locker room floor. Image Credit Indri Schaelicke.
Damage visible on freshman football locker room floor.
Damage visible on freshman football locker room floor. Image Credit Indri Schaelicke.

Damage is visible on the floor of the freshman football locker room. Two witnesses say they had never seen this before the 11th, but cautiously stated that they may have overlooked it. This evidence supports the idea that a bullet struck the ground, leaving damage in several places on the concrete floor.

The School’s Response

On the evening of April 3rd, Westwood High School Principal Mario Acosta sent a letter to students, staff, and parents. In it, the principal explained the incident and what the school did to address the reports of the gunshot.

This afternoon at approximately 12:45 p.m. students reported a potential threat to campus administration. We immediately reported the incident to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department. Law enforcement was able to assure us that there was no threat on the campus, however a decision was made to go into a campus-wide lockdown as a precautionary measure. While the campus was in lockdown, the Williamson County Sheriffs in partnership with other local law enforcement agencies worked quickly to address the issue. The issue did not occur on or near Westwood High School. Once law enforcement assured us that they had secured the situation, we lifted the lockdown.”

Please know that there was no imminent threat present to staff or students and the lockdown was conducted as a precautionary measure.

-Mario Acosta, Westwood High School Principal in a letter sent to the Westwood Community on April 3rd

The statements in the letter, along with those that administrators made at the lifting of the lock-out, downplayed the entire incident and did not provide clarity to the events of that day. If there was, in fact, a firearm on campus, that could certainly be an “imminent threat” to “staff or students”.

Naturally, rumors spread through the school the next day; many students and teachers alike questioned whether the administration had told the community the truth. In an attempt to dispel these rumors and make up for a lack of clear information, Westwood Principal Mario Acosta sent another letter to students, staff, and parents on Thursday, April 4th. This was the first time that the Westwood community heard the school’s perspective of the incident.

The chain of events began with a report that a student was in possession of a firearm while on campus property. The campus was immediately placed on lockdown as law enforcement and campus administration investigated the report. The weapon was not found and it was determined the student in question was not on campus.

Once located, it was discovered that the student had a BB gun and admitted to having it while on campus property until leaving school earlier that day. As a result of this serious violation of our District’s Student Code of Conduct, the student has been removed from campus and will now face appropriate disciplinary action. Law enforcement also continues to investigate the situation to determine if legal action will be taken.

-Westwood Principal Mario Acosta in a letter sent to the Westwood Community on April 4th

A Coordinated Cover-Up?

A Westwood High School student whose mother teaches at the school gave an account of a subsequent meeting for teachers. She reported that the administration met with all of the teachers on Thursday the 4th. The student said that their mother described the meeting as tense and that “the vibe was off”. The teacher felt that the administration was trying to convince the staff that they were never in danger. Whenever a staff member would ask a clarifying question, the administration would appear to be upset and quickly dismiss it. Such conduct from the administration would be concerning, as it could suggest that they were attempting a cover-up.

“…if people would try to ask questions about it (the shooting incident) the administration would get like (sic) upset”

-Student and child of Westwood High School teacher who attended the meeting

With strong testimony from three credible eyewitnesses, one must question the reliability of the school’s assertion that the gun they found on the student was a BB gun. It is also possible that the student ditched the alleged firearm; there was sufficient time between when it was fired and when the police apprehended them.

It is clear that the Westwood High School administration did not communicate clearly with students, parents, and staff. Moreover, they kept the community in the dark for several days. Since multiple witnesses confirmed the presence of a revolver in the locker room, it may not be true that “the threat never entered the area”.

If you have any information about the incident that you wish to share, please email [email protected]

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