Lorina Ybarra was in a safety meeting at work in Alpine when she received an alarming series of text messages from her daughter, Iris Chavez, a seventeen-year-old senior at Alpine High School. Iris was in pre-calculus class when gunshots rang out in the hallway outside the band room. The school immediately went into lockdown mode, something teachers had been trained to handle just a few weeks before. Iris’s teacher locked the door and turned the lights out as Iris and her classmates huddled in the far corner of the classroom.
Police ultimately determined that a fourteen-year-old freshman, who has not yet been named, shot a another teenage student, also a girl, in the hallway. The victim was taken to Big Bend Regional Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries. The shooter then turned the gun on herself in a school bathroom. A Homeland Security officer responding to the shooting was accidentally shot by a U.S. Marshal and was airlifted to a hospital in Odessa, where he is in stable condition. “You have to understand, there were multiple agencies coming in without much information. The first ones on the scene did not really know what was happening,” said Alpine Police Chief Russell Scown.
“Iris said she could hear the shots and the yells,” Lorina Ybarra said this morning after she collected her daughter from the Assembly of God church next to Alpine High, where students were held after the school building was evacuated. Residents were on hand to offer bottled water and hugs to their affected neighbors.
“Everybody’s saying, a shooting in Alpine? Really? Alpine?” said Chavez’s stepfather, Tony Ybarra.
The school shooting alone would have been an unprecedented event in the small high desert town with a population of about 6,000—but it turned out to be just the beginning. Not long after the shooting, a man called the town’s dispatch and said, according to Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, “If you think what happened at the school is bad, wait till you see what happens at Sul Ross.” The attention then shifted to Sul Ross University, on the east side of town. Then came reports that a similar threat had been issued against Alpine’s lone hospital, Big Bend Regional Medical Center. And then a threatening note turned up at the Marathon Motel thirty miles east of town.
According to Dodson, the phone calls appear to have been made by “some nut” taking advantage of the community “in the midst of our most emotional times.” The note at the motel is likely the work of a separate individual, though the investigation is still ongoing.
By this afternoon, Alpine was juggling four active crime scenes and was receiving assistance from agencies both local and national. “We’ve got Homeland Security, FBI, Border Patrol, DPS, Reeves County, Pecos County, some Midland officers. A game warden showed up,” Dodson said at an afternoon press conference. It’s an unprecedented gathering of law enforcement for the small town, according to Dodson: “Not even at a conference did we have that many show up.” Even though Dodson said he feels confident that the threats were pranks committed out of “meanness,” officials are taking them seriously. Bomb-sniffing dogs are being flown in from Austin to check over “every room, every trash can” at the university, Dodson said.
Investigators have released little information about the alleged shooter, apart from her age and the fact that her family had moved to town approximately six months ago. Dodson called her “a very good student” and said that her parents had been cooperative with the investigation. As yet, they have released no information about a possible motive. They promised to release more information in the days to come.
“There have been murders, but nothing that affected the whole town like this. This is a first. It’s too much for Alpine,” said Joel Ybarra (no relation to Tony or Lorina), who was born and raised in the town.
For now, resources are being focused on finding the source (or sources) of the prank calls, including assistance from the the FBI. Dodson’s voice got tight as he discussed the person he described as a prank caller: “He is the focus right now because of what he has done to our community,” Dodson said. “We don’t need to be chasing these ghosts.”