Texas School Shooting Victim’s Family Sues Attacker’s Parents

By JIM VERTUNO | May 31, 2018

The family of one of the students killed in a Texas high school shooting filed a lawsuit against the alleged gunman’s parents, claiming the shooter’s father didn’t properly secure the weapons and were negligent in entrusting him with firearms.

Authorities charged Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student Santa Fe High School, with capital murder in the May 18 attack that killed eight students and two substitute teachers. Investigators said Pagourtzis used a shotgun and pistol belonging to his father that had been kept in a closet.

Texas law states that guns can’t be made accessible to children under 17, with exceptions such as hunting or when under parent supervision. Parents can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and $4,000 in fines if the child fires the weapon and causes serious injury or death.

Christopher Stone and Rosie Yanas, whose son Chris Stone, 17, was killed, filed a lawsuit in Galveston County on Thursday. Stone’s funeral was Friday.

The lawsuit also argued that Pagourtzis’ parents didn’t obtain mental health counseling for their son and didn’t warn the public about his “dangerous propensities.” Dimitrios Pagourtzis posted a photo of a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “Born to Kill” on social media, and Gov. Greg Abbott has said the teenager had journals with writings indicating he planned the attack.

Pagourtzis family attorney Nicholas Poehl said he only represents them in the criminal case against the son and declined comment on the civil lawsuit. He did not know when the family would have attorney in the civil matter.

The lawsuit is not the first of its kind following a mass shooting.

Most recently, the family of one of the four people killed in a shooting at a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, sued the suspected gunman’s father, accusing the Illinois man of negligence. In that case, police said the gunman had displayed signs of mental illness before his Illinois gun card was revoked in 2017. His guns were transferred to his father, but police said the father returned them to his son at some point.

Texas law requires gun owners to “take steps that a reasonable person would take to prevent the access to a readily dischargeable firearm by a child, including but not limited to placing a firearm in a locked container or temporarily rendering the firearm inoperable by a trigger lock or other means.”

Abbott, a staunch supporter of gun rights, said this week he’s open to strengthening laws on gun storage and reporting lost or stolen weapons. But that suggestion is already drawing resistance from some gun rights lawmakers who said they would resist efforts for more government control of what happens inside the home.

“The idea of regulating and enforcing the storage of firearms is a nightmare. I will fight it forever,” tweeted Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland.

Alice Tripp, legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association, met with Abbott this week during the governor’s roundtable talks on school safety and mass shootings. Tripp said attendees were told that authorities have used the law to charge parents 62 times since it was first enacted in 1995.

On Friday, a group of Santa Fe High School students called for stronger home gun storage laws. They spoke at an event organized by March For Our Lives, which formed after the deadly February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

The students also called for enhanced security at schools and mental health background checks for anyone trying to buy a firearm.

Student Bree Butler said she supports gun ownership and her family owns guns, but they are locked safely away and she doesn’t have combination to the gun locker.

“It’s so important that we understand that none of us are trying to take your guns away,” Butler said.

Three of the Santa Fe victims were buried Friday.

Mourners gathered in the Houston suburb of Crosby for 15-year-old Christian Riley Garcia. Friends and family described him as brave “far beyond his years” and said he often put the needs of others before himself. Friends said Garcia used his body as a barricade against a closet door in a classroom to keep the shooter from entering.

Stone was buried in League City. Substitute teacher Cynthia Tisdale, who was married for nearly 40 years and had three children and eight grandchildren, was buried in Dickinson.

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