Bellaire High first U.S. school shooting fatality in 2020

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Bellaire High first U.S. school shooting fatality in 2020
Tuesday's death of Cesar Cortes is the first fatality in a U.S. school in 2020, but already the fifth school shooting this year.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Tuesday's death of Cesar Cortes is the first fatality in a U.S. school in 2020, but already the fifth school shooting this year. Statistics from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security showed 111 separate school shootings in 2019. Eleven students died in those incidents last year.

Statistics also show the vast majority of school shooters are minors. In Texas, allowing anyone under 17 years old to access a gun is a crime, but a 13 Investigates report in November 2019 showed it is rarely prosecuted and even less frequently results in serious jail time.

RELATED: Bellaire High School shooting suspect charged with manslaughter, victim identified

The suspect in Tuesday's deadly shooting at Bellaire High School is believed to be 16 years old. But, police said he refuses to cooperate with authorities and because the weapon has not yet been found, officials cannot determine what, if any, additional charges an adult who may have made the firearm accessible to the suspect could face.

There have been 55 Harris County cases where someone was charged with making a firearm accessible to a child since the Texas law went into effect in 1995, but only 30 percent of those charged were found guilty, and only one of them served more than seven months. Most of them served far less.

"Investigations, interestingly enough, are not always simple," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told 13 Investigates in November. "How a child got a gun, how a sibling got a gun, but the charging decision now is easier and that's because I implemented a new policy under my administration to take all cases where a child had been seriously injured or killed to the grand jury if there was evidence that they had gotten the weapon because an adult was negligent."

RELATED: 13 Investigates: Significant jail time rare after kids get hold of guns

The Bellaire High shooting suspect was arrested around 8 p.m. Tuesday on Caversham Drive near Chimney Rock Road and faces a manslaughter charge.

"The reason that the manslaughter charge was filed, as opposed to murder, because at this time the evidence shows that the act that the juvenile committed was not intentional, but it was reckless," Ogg said. "The individuals knew each other. ... So this is not an accident because pulling a trigger on a gun whether you know if it's loaded or not is an intentional act, but he did not, based on the evidence we have right now, intend to kill his friend, yet he did."

Multiple friends of the victim told ABC13 the victim is 19-year-old Cesar Cortes. He had planned to serve his country and had already enlisted in the Army. Anyone who finds a firearm believed to be used in the deadly shooting should call authorities.

HISD does have an anonymous 24-hour tip line for anyone to call with word of potential danger. The number is (713) 641-7446. It is answered by the HISD Police Department and can be anonymous. Bellaire Police Lieutenant Greg Bartlett said Wednesday afternoon, "If you see something, say something - that's how a lot of these are prevented. Kids tend to be a little tight lipped, but that's how we end up with a result like this."

A study published in 2019 in JAMA Pediatrics found that safe firearm storage could reduce suicides and accidental shootings of children and teens by up to 32 percent. When deployed, gun locks are one way to comply with the state law. Project Child Safe, an arm of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, makes cable locks available for free at virtually every police agency in the Houston area. A complete list is available here.