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When a Student Was Shot, These Thomas Jefferson Staffers Took Action

When gunfire erupted at Thomas Jefferson High School Tuesday afternoon, three staff members ran toward it. This is their story.
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From left, Thomas Jefferson High School athletic trainer Raul Velazquez, assistant athletic director Brandi Elder, and band director Bob Romano rushed to help a student that was shot in the school parking lot Tuesday afternoon. Dallas ISD

It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon. Most of the 1,400 or so students at Thomas Jefferson High School dispersed once school dismissed at 4:30 p.m. 

Band director Bob Romano was outside, near the parking lot that connects his school and the adjacent Walnut Hill International Leadership Academy, just off Walnut Hill Lane and Lenel Place. Athletic trainer Raul Velazquez was nearby in his clinic, tending to his athletes. The clinic’s bay door, which faces the parking lot, was open. Assistant athletic director Brandi Elder was leaving the building, her day nearly done. 

Ten minutes after the final bell rang, a car with two people—one likely a student, officials said later—drove up, shot another student, and then drove away. (By Thursday, an arrest had been made, but district officials declined to give more details.)

Seconds later, all three were rushing toward the parking lot where a student lay bleeding from a gunshot wound in the arm. All three are being heralded by Dallas ISD officials for the quick actions they took in the seconds and minutes that followed. 

“It didn’t sound like a gunshot at first; it was kind of muffled and away from us,” Romano recalled Thursday morning. “It wasn’t until I saw Raul running out from his clinic—and I was about 20 feet away from him—that we both ran over there.”

When they got there, Romano and Velasquez said, they found the student on the ground and a parent who had been close by preparing to use their belt as a tourniquet. Another student offered a sweatshirt to help control the bleeding.

“That parent was there, and that was such a blessing, and the staff, and Mr. Romano there, and Coach Elder, they were a big part of this,” Velazquez said. “We take care of one of our own, and we take care of all of them. You take care of each other. We were all there to do the work that was necessary when every minute counted and every second counted, and that (Dallas) Fire-Rescue and EMS got here really quick. It just turned out to be the best scenario under the worst circumstances.”

While Valezquez used his medical knowledge to work with the parent and others, Romano called 911.

“Once I walked out and realized what it was, I didn’t think about anything else other than to get to the kid and help him the best way that I could,” Velazquez said. On the football field, he’s tasked with addressing everything from sprains to concussions to broken bones. Gunshot wounds are not something he generally encounters. On Tuesday afternoon, that didn’t matter. 

“I can’t give you specific details (about the shooting) because my mind was ‘take care of the kid and just provide everything that I can to keep this young man alive,” he said. “The biggest thing was just to keep the kid alert.”

“He did a good job of that because he (the student) was definitely in and out,” Romano said. Velazquez said that all three were trained in CPR, and many teachers and staff members had taken advantage of the “Stop the Bleed” training provided by the district.

Elder, the assistant athletic director, said that within seconds of the shooting, several students came to tell her. She immediately notified school administrators inside and then focused on reassuring the students still on campus while getting them inside the building.

All three said that the district’s decision to cancel classes Wednesday so staff members could regroup was vital. They vented to each other and worked through the events of Tuesday. They needed it, they said, to be able to help students on Thursday when they returned to campus.

“It’s a mindset that we have to adopt as a family to give to our kids, to know that we’re resilient and that we can do whatever we need to do to make sure that we’re all okay and we stick together,” Elder said. 

“As a staff, we’re there for each other, which means we’re there for the kids, and we’re there for the parents,” Velazquez said. “We’re a tight community. We love each other, we care for each other, and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other.”

Romano’s band students had a UIL competition coming up Thursday afternoon, he said. It was important to him to stop to speak to them before they got on the bus to head out.

“I think what Superintendent (Stephanie) Elizalde said yesterday is important—that we try not to normalize this kind of thing and just come to school the next day like, ‘Everything’s fine, back to class, where’s your homework?’”

He said he asked the students to vote on whether they felt like playing music today.

“I didn’t want to rob them of that if they needed or wanted to go, and it turns out that 95 percent of them said they did want to go today and that they needed to perform,” he said. “And I was honest with them and I said, ‘You know, me too.’ I need this emotionally.”

TJ, they acknowledge, has been through a lot. A gas leak that caused an explosion in a nearby neighborhood in 2018 displaced several students and their families for weeks as Atmos replaced ancient gas lines beneath communities on both sides of Marsh Lane.

On October 20, 2019, an EF3 tornado barrelled through Northwest Dallas and Preston Hollow, destroying the campus and displacing students who lived in the tornado’s path. That tornado also displaced the entire school, which was forced to move to the shuttered Edison Middle School. (The campus on Walnut Hill reopened in January). The pandemic closed schools statewide just five months after the tornado, sending students home and creating further turmoil.

“It didn’t hit me until I was driving home,” Romano said of that Tuesday evening. “The kids—(that) is what I just kept thinking about, how they can’t catch a break. It’s like the last couple of years, everything’s just been a mess. We just really want the kids to be able to just be kids.”

All three insisted, however, that their school should be known for much more than a series of catastrophes, and that their motto, “TJ Strong,” is meant to reflect more than just how they bounce back from hardship.

“Look out for us in the future,” Romano said. “We are on the rise.”

“Don’t sleep on us,” Elder agreed. “We have some amazing kids, and when I tell you they are going to perform, that’s what they do, through it all. Through COVID, through anything, they’re going to perform. We thrive off each other, so understand that is what we are going to do as a TJ community.”


Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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