Investigators Trying to Figure Out Texas School Shooting

Hidalgo County Sheriff and Edinburg Police advise parents to get in their cars to drive into Carmen Elementary to pick up their children after a shooting at Harwell Middle School Monday Dec. 12, 2011 in Edinburg, Texas. Authorities suspect hunters may have shot two South Texas middle school students who were wounded by gunfire Monday afternoon while trying out for a basketball team. (AP Photo/The Monitor, Delcia Lopez)

EDINBURG, Texas (AP) — Investigators in Texas tried Tuesday to figure out who may have shot two middle school students as they tried out for the basketball team after school.

Authorities have questioned three men, who they initially said were hunters. They said Tuesday that two were actually doing target practice on an adjacent ranch while the third was an illegal immigrant who was trespassing on the property and hunting with an assault rifle.

But investigators still aren't certain who fired the shots or whether the shooting was intentional, reckless, negligent or accidental.

Dozens of law enforcement officers fanned out through soggy just behind the school parking lot where the boys had been trying out for the school basketball team Monday. They were looking for rifle casings or anything that could pinpoint the location of the shooter.

"We felt certain that the shots came from afar," Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. They did not come from the campus or anyone driving by, but more likely from adjacent ranchland, he said.

One student was shot under the arm while going for a layup. He was in stable condition, but the other, who was shot in the back while waiting to try out, was in critical condition with a bullet embedded in an organ, Trevino said.

The two men doing target practice may have been in the right line of fire to hit the students, but it would have been from a distance of about 800 yards, or nearly a half-mile, Trevino said. They were released around 2 a.m. Tuesday, but remain under investigation.

Investigators were still trying to determine precisely where the trespassing hunter was when the shooting happened and whether he would have been in line with the students. He remains in custody and could face trespassing and weapons violations in addition to immigration charges, Trevino said.

Classes went on as scheduled Tuesday at Harwell Middle School in Edinburg, but with increased security and counselors available to speak with students, school district Superintendent Rene Gutierrez said.

At the time of the shooting, one of the boys was going for a layup. He was shot under his right arm. The other was shot in the back while waiting his turn to try out, Trevino said.

A number of after-school activities besides the basketball tryouts were going on at the school, including a concert and a faculty meeting, Gutierrez said. He estimated as many as 200 children could have been on campus.

Classes were not in session when the shooting happened, but the school complex was immediately placed on lockdown.

Harwell Middle School opened just this year on the rural property northeast of Edinburg, which is about 50 miles northwest of Brownsville. Homes line the road approaching the school, but open fields stretch out behind it and to the north.

Gangs have been a problem at the school, said Harrell eighth-grader Samuel Cepeda, 15, and he has worried about security. However, Trevino said investigators do not believe the shooting was gang-related.

The outdoor court was set up in a faculty and staff parking area behind the main administrative building. A chain link fence separates the campus from about 200 yards of open field and there a tree line starts an expanse of thick scrub.

Eighth-grader Annette Vargas Ugalde, 15, said she was about to board her bus near the gym after school when school officials started rushing students indoors.

"They told us to, 'Get inside, get inside,'" she said.

She said she heard no shots but saw a group of people on the outdoor court standing near one boy on the ground. A school nurse tended to him while another boy was sitting up.

Annette said she boarded her bus, and it left.


Associated Press Writer Jeffrey McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.


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