Public affairs student identified as shooter in standoff with APD police officers in North Campus

Jordan Rudner

The subject involved in an armed standoff with Austin Police Department on Sunday night has been identified as Gene Phillip Vela, a graduate public affairs student.

Vela, a member on the Senate of College Councils leadership team and a representative for the Graduate Public Affairs Council, was shot in the torso by police Sunday after pointing a handgun and laser at them through his apartment window.

Members of the Senate of College Councils were instructed by the executive board not to comment.

Vela was treated at the University Medical Center Brackenridge and released into police custody Monday, and was booked at 3:26 a.m. at the Travis County Jail on charges of aggravated assault on a police officer.

The two policemen who fired at Vela, Leo Cardenas and Adrien Chopin, were put on administrative leave until the investigation concludes, which APD Assistant Chief Raul Munguia said is standard procedure. Cardenas has been on the force for three-and-a-half years, while Chopin has been on the force for two.

Police were summoned to Vela’s apartment at 2900 Cole Street, close to St. David’s Medical Center, on Sunday night after Vela called a friend, requested help and hung up abruptly, at which point the friend called 911.

“[When the officers arrived], the subject started pointing the gun at the officers, so the officers naturally tried to take cover,” Munguia said Sunday night.

After an officer discharged a round, Vela retreated into his apartment, and police heard what they believed to be Vela loading and discharging more firearms, Munguia said.

When Vela returned to his apartment window, he pointed his handgun, which was equipped with a laser, directly at the officers’ chests, at which point Cardenas and Chopin fired.

“Within a few minutes, the subject in the apartment said he was bleeding and that he needed help,” Munguia said. “At that point, he came to the front door with his hands up and pretty much gave up. The officers took him into custody and helped him into the ambulance.”

Vela is one of two teaching assistants for Introduction to International Relations and Global Studies, taught by government lecturer Stephanie Holmsten. Government graduate student Cathy Wu, the other teaching assistant, said working with Vela has been an entirely positive experience so far. 

“I didn’t know him before this semester at all, but at least in my experience, he is always very nice,” Wu said. “I saw him at most once a week, maybe twice, but we’ve shared our experiences teaching — he gave me some good suggestions about leading discussion. We share our ideas.”

Wu said she was entirely taken aback by news of Vela’s arrest.

“Absolutely, of course I am surprised,” Wu said. “I didn’t expect this — not at all, honestly.”

Click here to read the full story of the standoff.