Man charged with murder after teen who set off fireworks shot

Crime

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man accused of shooting a teenager who was setting off fireworks on in the early hours on the Fourth of July faces a murder charge after police say his story didn’t match what witnesses and cellphone footage shows. 

Jason Roche, 41, told police he had gone up to Devonte Ortiz, 19, multiple times and asked him to stop shooting off fireworks in the Pleasant Hill Apartments at 2501 Anken Dr. He claimed he shot Ortiz in self-defense in his torso.

“Roche stated Ortiz had removed a firearm from the vehicle minutes before the shooting but had placed it on the ground,” an affidavit stated, adding that police found the Mossberg AR-15 style rifle next to the driver’s side of a Nissan sedan. 

However, two witnesses showed police cellphone footage of part of the argument that happened around 1:26 a.m. “Jason Roche is observed displaying a firearm at Ortiz, re-holstering the firearm then displaying the firearm multiple times,” the affidavit stated. It also showed Roche following Ortiz around the car.

Roche’s father tried to intervene in their argument and he and Ortiz started shoving one another, the video showed. The father fell to the ground. “During this point of the video footage, Ortiz was not holding a firearm. After Ortiz shoves [the father], Jason Roche responded by shooting Ortiz,” the affidavit said.

Ortiz died at the hospital. According to the affidavit, police believe Ortiz was moving away from the firearm and not lunging toward it like Roche had told detectives. 

The Austin Justice Coalition held a vigil for Ortiz at the Travis High School football field at 1211 E. Oltorf St. at 6 p.m. Ortiz played football there and was an honor roll student. A GoFundMe has been set up to help with funeral arrangements and to help support his family.

Roche’s bail is set at $250,000. The murder charge he faces is a first-degree felony. He’s in custody in the Travis County Jail.

“Justice will be served”

On Friday afternoon, Ortiz’s grandmother Paula Watrous spoke for the family in front of the apartment where her grandson was shot and killed.

“Everybody wants to come together and do something for Devonte because they loved him,” says Watrous, “in this housing project, by the school, everywhere, all across east Austin.”

Ortiz’s high school football and track coach vouched for that, saying the teen made a big impact at William B. Travis High School, becoming one of the best players he’s ever coached. Ortiz just graduated last spring.

“He’s one of those guys who comes to the program that, as a coach, you love having that type of player, because for one, are you going to coach him, but he’s going to teach you some things about life,” Coach Joseph Rauls said. “He was one of those young men that doesn’t come on every year. You see how he develops through the program, and you just look forward to seeing him become a good young man and have his own family and be a good community leader, and that was taken away.”

Rauls says Ortiz played football and basketball, ran track and was an Honor Roll student. He says the teen was a leader among his teammates.

“You’ve seen a young man come so far and still have so much left in him,” Rauls said. “So much life left in him for that to be taken away, for someone to feel that they have the right to take that away. It’s discouraging.”

Watrous didn’t get into the details of what led up to the shooting but did make it clear the family has been hurt by some of the things they’ve heard in media reports.

“I’m speaking for this family. We have been so hurt we don’t even want to turn on the news station. Give us something positive.” 

She went on to say everyone needs to wait for the final report from the detectives and the District Attorney’s Office but she knows “justice will be served.”

It was a message echoed Friday night, at a vigil for Ortiz on the same football field where he played in high school. Friends and family came out to Travis High School to share their stories of what Ortiz will forever mean to them. 

One friend said, “We gotta love on each other. We can’t live every day like we got every day to live.” 

A cousin described Ortiz as the base that held them all together, saying, “There’s nothing I can do but just cry, ’cause that was my cousin, my brother and my best friend.” 

Ortiz was also a boyfriend to Amber Garcia. In tears, she told KXAN, “He’s the love of my life. Two years, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough.” 

She described Ortiz as passionate, brave, smart and outgoing, the kind of person who would give everyone the world if he could. 

“I just want to lay on him and I just want to hear his heartbeat and I just want to hold my baby,” Garcia said, lip quivering, going on to say, “He didn’t deserve none of this. And I just feel like everything could have been handled a different way.” 

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