Austin’s Sixth Street entertainment district, filled with revelers resuming post-pandemic life, again became the scene of chaos and bloodshed early Saturday when at least 14 people were wounded in a mass shooting that intensified questions about public safety and gun violence in one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.
Austin Police Department officials confirmed that they worked with the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force to find and arrest one of two suspects involved in a previous dispute and were rapidly working to arrest the second man. Police did not immediately name the suspects. Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said he was confident investigators soon would be able to untangle more details about what prompted the gunfire. He said the shooters could face a range of charges that include attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Officials said most of the victims, whose injuries ranged from moderate to critical, were innocent bystanders. Chacon said he believes no one died because of swift and heroic actions his officers took.
The shooting marked the most significant mass casualty incident local emergency officials have responded to citywide since 2014 — an incident that happened in the same area when a man plowed his car into a crowded, barricaded street during South by Southwest. Four people died, and 30 were injured. Although no one died in Saturday’s shooting, the incident also marked the first time that many people were shot in one event in Austin since the infamous mass shooting from the University of Texas Tower in 1966 that left 15 dead.
The scene began unfolding at the height of a typical weekend night on Sixth Street. Austin-Travis County EMS medics responded at 1:25 a.m. to what they described as an “active attack” in the 400 block of East Sixth Street. Officials said security video footage they reviewed as part of the investigation showed victims enjoying themselves one moment, then dropping to the ground from injuries as shots rang out. When first responders arrived, they found people covered in blood and sprawled out on the street and sidewalk.
“It was very difficult to contain the scene. It was very difficult for EMS to make their way into this crowd,” Chacon said.
Police told the American-Statesman that the crowd in the city’s entertainment district at the time was near the size of a pre-pandemic group, meaning potentially tens of thousands of people gathered in the area anchored by East Sixth Street. The Republic of Texas biker rally is happening in Austin this weekend, which typically draws thousands of motorcyclists to the city and to the entertainment district. But Chacon said they have no information that the rally played any role in the violence.
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SOURCE: Austin American-Statesman, Tony Plohetski