Long line at Bellaire HS as students return after shooting

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Thursday, January 16, 2020
Bellaire High School reopens today
The return to class will be different today at Bellaire High School. What you need to know if you're a student or staff member.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Bellaire High School has implemented special conditions and security measures after a student was charged with manslaughter and released to juvenile authorities less than 24 hours after police say he shot another student to death.

According to an HISD email sent to parents, all students have to enter the school through one single-entry point.

Students will have their bags checked by Bellaire H.S. administrators and students will not be allowed to leave campus for lunch. Read the full email below:

"Good evening - I am reaching out this evening to offer updated information regarding the return of students to campus, Thursday, January 16. Until further notice, all students will enter the building through a single-entry point. This process will begin at 7:15am through the doors on Maple at the Circle Drive. Upon entry, students will have their bags reviewed by Bellaire administration. This means that all student backpacks, purses, gym bags and other bags must be opened by the student so that administrators can view the contents. We plan to host a regular class schedule including all seven class periods. During lunch we will close the campus so all students will remain on site. To support our students and staff, the HISD is sending additional counselors. Finally, we will have additional HISD Police officers and school administrators on campus as well as officers patrolling the area.
These are initial precautions and more long-term, sustainable changes are being developed by the school safety and security committee. I thank you for your continued support."

Bellaire police continue to investigate the shooting.

The 16-year-old suspect was questioned for several hours after his arrest but he refused to make any statements about what happened, authorities said.

Multiple friends of the victim told ABC13 the victim's name is Cesar Cortes. He had planned to serve his country and had already enlisted in the Army.

The suspect was arrested around 8 p.m. on Tuesday on Caversham Drive near Chimney Rock Road.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg explained why manslaughter charges were filed during a press conference on Wednesday.

"The reason that the manslaughter charge was filed as opposed to murder, is because at this time, the evidence shows that the act that the juvenile committed was not intentional, but it was reckless. The individuals knew each other."

Ogg continued saying, "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."

The weapon used has not been located, according to Bellaire police. Investigators said the suspect may have discarded it after leaving the high school campus.

In a press conference Wednesday, Bellaire Police Lt. Greg Bartlett said the weapon is a 32 caliber semi-automatic pistol.

WATCH: Bellaire PD Lieutenant answers questions after HS shooting

WATCH: Bellaire PD Lieutenant answers questions after HS shooting

Bartlett said the suspect brought the gun with him to school that morning. Investigators believe multiple students saw the suspect with the gun before the shooting occurred.

"If you see something, say something, said Bartlett. "Unfortunately, kids tend to be a little tight-lipped to protect other students."

Authorities say about six other students were in the room at the time of the shooting.

"Citizens in the area of (Bellaire High) school should be careful and report any found handgun immediately to Bellaire PD," police chief Byron Holloway said.

In pictures taken during the arrest, the suspect is seen being escorted into a police vehicle in handcuffs. Police say the student was hiding with a friend behind a convenience store before his arrest. The friend was also taken into custody.

Bellaire police used a drone during the search efforts.

They responded to the shooting at the school around 4 p.m. Cortes was shot on campus and was later pronounced dead. According to Bellaire police, Cortes was a 19-year-old senior at the school.

Officials initially said classes were set to resume on Wednesday, but HISD later announced classes were officially cancelled.

Police say the suspected shooter and a friend were hiding behind a convenience store before the arrests.

HISD released the following statement:

"The Houston Independent School District is deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of one of our students. We offer our deepest sympathies to the student's family and friends. This incident is being investigated by the Bellaire Police Department. HISD is fully cooperating in the investigation. In this time of sadness and loss, I want to assure you that we will have grief and crisis counselors available on campus tomorrow and as long as needed to offer our students and staff emotional support. We will also have extra officers on campus and patrols around the campus in addition to extra administrative personnel to ensure the school is safe and secure."

Meanwhile, a community prayer gathering organized by Crosspoint Church has been scheduled for Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Evelyn's Park Conservancy, located at 4400 Bellaire Blvd.

"A learning environment is the last place where young people should feel unsafe and in fear of their lives," said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. "Yet gun violence continues to disrupt schools and destroy families across the country. I extend my deepest condolences to the young man's loved ones and to all students, teachers and staff at Bellaire High school."

Turner said he spoke with students who serve on the Mayor's Youth Council during a meeting about the incident, saying "As I said to them, I will continue to work with elected officials at the state and federal level, along with advocacy groups and all people who are ready to enact laws to protect our children."

Executive vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers Andy Dewey released the following statement:

"It is profoundly sad that a student who had a whole life ahead was shot to death today at Bellaire High School. There can be no excuses or acceptable explanation for a killing such as this. When we learn more about the incident, we will determine if more security or other violence prevention efforts are necessary at our schools. HFT stands ready to help the Bellaire school community in any way possible during this tragic time."

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