GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) — Five years after a student shot and killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School and injured 13 others, survivors and families of those who were killed are closer to getting the information they have been seeking ever since.
The development comes with the passage of what’s being called the “Victim’s Evidence Bill.”
Senate Bill 435 allows prosecutors to let violent crime victims’ families and survivors view evidence without making it public for all purposes.
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law and Tuesday, the Galveston County district attorney invited Santa Fe families to a meeting about how and when they will view the information.
“It was a fight worth fighting for. It was a long time coming,” Rosie Stone, whose son Chris was killed during the shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018, said.
“I’m just so thrilled we got this done and actually get to see something after five years,” Gail McLeod, shooting victim Kyle McLeod’s mother, said. “It’s actually a big relief to have information instead of guessing or wondering.”
The push for the change came from the Santa Fe families. Previously, the law prohibited the release of information when a case was still open, and the case against the teen who was charged in the mass shooting has not gone to trial because he was declared incompetent. The families feared they would never know how their children died.
“We’re going to be able to see our kids’ autopsy reports. We’re going to be able to see some bodycams and evidence, video from that day, and that’s information that we’ve been begging for this entire time, that’s been denied to us,” Rosie Stone said.
It is information they believe they are entitled to as parents and it will help many more crime victims to come.
“The crime victim bill really does remedy a flaw we saw in the public information act,” explained Kelsey Galbraith, who specializes in the Texas Public Information Act. “These are people who have every right to know this information. They have every right to know what happened to their loved one. It’s critical in their grieving and in their healing process.”
Tuesday, the Galveston County district attorney met with families to make appointments to view the evidence. According to the families, there are body-worn camera videos from two law enforcement departments and school surveillance video with no audio.
By law, they will be prohibited from recording any video or making any copies of reports and will have to sign confidentiality agreements.
Still, it feels like a victory.
“We were able to make change for folks throughout our entire state,” said Rhonda Hart, the mother of Kimberly Vaughan.