AUSTIN (KXAN) — Police are investigating after a shooting at a downtown protest left a man dead Saturday night.
A local organizer who was out demonstrating Sunday night told KXAN he witnessed the incident, and that the man killed was Garrett Foster. Later Sunday evening, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed that the man who was killed was Garrett Foster, 28.
Foster’s mother also confirmed that he died during an interview with Good Morning America. In that interview, Foster’s mother said that he and his fiancée had been demonstrating in protests almost every day for the past 50 days.
A GoFundMe Account for Foster has been created, noting that he leaves behind a disabled fiancée who uses a wheelchair. The two had been at the protest Saturday night, the GoFundMe account says. As of this update, the fund has gathered more than $96,000 in donations.
The Austin Police Department said the incident happened in the 300 block of Congress Avenue around 9:51 p.m.
Austin Police update Sunday evening
In a briefing for the press Sunday evening, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed Foster’s death as a result of the shooting and laid out some details on what police know so far.
Manley said that APD officers were out monitoring downtown protests when they heard two separate volleys of gunfire in the area, just as 911 received multiple calls from that area.
Officers working the protest moved to the area of the gunfire, Manley said, and found Foster with multiple gunshot wounds. Austin Police and Austin Fire attempted to resuscitate Foster, then Austin-Travis County EMS transported him to Dell Seton Medical Center.
Manley said that Foster succumbed to his wounds and was pronounced deceased at the hospital at 10:25 p.m.
One of the people who called 9-1-1, Manley said, was a person who said that someone had approached the driver side window of the vehicle they were driving and pointed a rifle at them. The caller said they had driven away from the scene and was instructed to pull over. This caller was brought to APD’s homicide office to be interviewed, Manley said, and this person’s handgun and vehicle were secured by APD as evidence.
Manley noted that witnesses on the scene described to officers several different versions of the incident.
He summarized that witnesses told APD a vehicle began honking its horn as it turned south onto Congress Avenue from 4th Street. He said the vehicle stopped “as there were a large number of people in the roadway.”
Manley said that Foster, who was holding an AK47-type assault rifle, approached the driver side window of this car as others in the crowd began striking the car.
“Gunshots were fired from inside the vehicle at Mr. Foster,” Manley said. “During the initial investigation of this incident, it appears Mr. Foster may have pointed his rifle at the driver of this vehicle prior to being shot.”
Another individual told APD that after that first volley of gunfire and seeing the car drive away from the crowd, they drew their concealed handgun and fired multiple shots at the car. Manley said this individual was also brought to the homicide office to be interviewed, and this individual’s handgun, along with Foster’s rifle, were also taken into evidence.
Both the driver of the vehicle who fired at Foster and the individual who fired at the car later on have been released “pending further investigation,” Manley said. He also noted that both people have concealed handgun licenses.
The Travis County Medical Examiner’s office will be carrying out an autopsy to determine Foster’s cause and manner of death, Manley said.
“It is important that the community come forward and help us with this investigation,” Manley said. He added homicide detectives and crime scene specialists have processed the scene and detectives are also processing videos and evidence from the incident.
He urged anyone with photos or videos of this incident to share them so they can be included in APD’s investigation.
The department is asking anyone with photos or videos of this incident to call APD Homicide at 512-974-TIPS, the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip-line at 512-472-8477, use the new CrimeStoppers app or email APD homicide firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manley emphasized that those who submit tips may remain anonymous.
Additionally, Manley concluded his statement noting that in responding to this shooting, men and women of the Austin Police department “ran towards danger and helped this individual, but unfortunately were unable to save his life.”
“In these difficult times as we are all working to improve relationships, I do think it is important to highlight the great work that the men and women of APD are doing even under these very difficult circumstances,” Manley said.
The City of Austin is in the middle of discussions about how to “reimagine public safety” and policing in the city.
The budget for Austin Police Department has become a focal point of the discussion over the city’s proposed FY 2021 budget, with hundreds of residents coming before city council in a virtual meeting Thursday to call for more funding to be diverted from APD to other departments.
No one else was injured in the shooting, according to APD, even though Austin-Travis County EMS said emergency calls originally came in for multiple victims.
James Sasinowski, a local organizer who said he was present during the incident, said that earlier in the day, people had organized a demonstration in downtown Austin in solidarity with protesters in Portland, but by the evening the event had shifted into a Black Lives Matter-focused event.
Sasinowski said he met Foster and his fiancée very briefly, noting they were easy to spot throughout the marching because Foster was pushing his fiancée’s wheelchair and was carrying a rifle.
Sasinowski recalled as the demonstrators were heading north on Congress Avenue, a black Sedan turned right onto Congress. He noted that some people jumped in the way of this car and started banging on it, afraid that the car was attempting to run people over.
He recalled that as he was turned away, he heard the first shot being fired. Then turning to face the car, he saw two or three more shots, including the actual flash of the gun. Sasinowski recalled seeing the driver of the vehicle with their arm extended out the window, holding a handgun.
At that point, Sasinowski said the crowd scattered, and he couldn’t see who had been hit. Then, Sasinowski said the sedan sped off down the street and more shots could be heard. Sasinowski believes the driver fired their gun again at that point.
Sasinowski believes that “the driver intentionally and aggressively accelerated into a crowd of people.”
Sasinowski was emotional describing the moment he saw that Garrett had been shot.
“I saw his face. I don’t know how far away I was from Garrett. It felt like I was right there. He was just trying to hold on to his life,” Sasinowski said.
Live streams of the protests from Hiram Gilberto show the crowd of protesters downtown as shots rang out. The crowd then scatters and screams can be heard. Viewer discretion is advised for that video, as it can be disturbing.
The Street Medics Austin group told KXAN, “Our volunteers arrived approximately three minutes after the incident occurred. The SMA volunteers observed that there were approximately four unidentified people providing CPR to the victim later identified as Garrett Foster, and the SMA volunteers provided first aid care for the smaller injuries sustained during the initial chaos.”
The Travis County District Attorney’s Office told KXAN that Austin Police will be the only agency that can respond to questions about this incident, as APD is in charge of this ongoing investigation.
“We can confirm that the DA’s Office is in contact with APD and assisting as needed,” a spokesperson for the DA’s office said.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler posted on Twitter regarding the shooting saying “there are too many guns. Our City is shaken and, like so many in our community, I’m heartbroken and stunned. “
Nonprofit Texas Gun Sense issued a statement extending its sympathies to the friends and family of the person killed.
Ed Scruggs, Texas Gun Sense Board President, stated, “There are multiple layers to this tragedy, but adding guns to any emotional and potentially volatile situation can and too often does lead to deadly violence.”
He went on to suggest that “this tragic loss of life” should prompt Texans to “re-evaluate whether it is safe to have easy access to firearms in certain situations.”