Family of mass shooting victim, city leaders testify to Texas House committee

Published: Nov. 7, 2019 at 7:45 PM CST
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It’s been roughly two months since the mass shooting attack killed seven people and injured dozens of others.

The Texas House committee tasked with helping prevent future mass shootings heard testimony from the families of shooting victims and area leaders.

The State House Committee on Mass Violence Prevention And Community Safety held its third public hearing, which was in Odessa.

Public testimony lasted for roughly five hours where the committee heard passionate speeches and, hopefully, solutions.

On Aug 31, seven people were killed by a mass shooter.

One of them was Joe Griffith, who was shot in front of his children.

“He was robbed of his life, robbed,” Joe Griffith’s sister Carla Byrne said. “His children were robbed at having him. Him wife has been robbed at having him.”

On Thursday, his family plead for a stronger background check system and procedures to treat mentally ill people who show violent behavior.

“If we can prevent one more daughter from rolling up to her brother’s grave site so see her mother on her hands and knees digging into the mud and putting flowers on her dead sons grave, isn’t this worth all of our efforts?” Byrne asked the committee.

Yes, but how to direct those efforts is the question of the day.

Much of the committee’s conversation with law enforcement focused on communication.

They questioned why the DPS officer who first pulled over the shooter didn’t know Odessa Police was looking for that same man after he threatened his workplace earlier that day.

While being questioned by a committee member, Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke admitted Midland Police couldn’t have heard any of the alerts sent out about the gunman before he went on his rampage and only select DPS troopers would have been able to tune in to their radio channel.

That information gap may have made that chaotic day all the more chaotic.

That’s why agencies agreed on one solution that could help—a regional communications command center that would allow dispatchers to relay urgent alerts to all agencies quickly.

Another suggestion might have stopped the mass shooting before it even began.

Odessa’s Public Safety Director Michele Racca wants mental health history stored in a database officers can pull up when they scan a license plate, cautioning officers against unstable people before they approach the driver.

“We see the red flags and give them that caution and then they’ll maybe wait for backup,” Racca said.

For the Griffith family, those proposed changes in policy can’t come soon enough.

“So the next time a mother sits here in this chair or some chair like this and she talks to the committee like this and her child has been killed by a mass murder who failed a background check and also bought a gun from a private seller, then that’s going to be on you because you have the chance to change this,” Joe Griffith’s mother Sharon Griffith said.

The state committee has until the next legislative session in 2021 to come up with recommendations that will hopefully make mass shootings like the one that struck Odessa a thing of the past.