SULLIVAN CITY — The city is reeling from the death of one of their commissioners who was killed during a five-hour standoff with Mission police that began Thursday night.
Gabriel Salinas, 39, barricaded himself in his Mission home after exchanging gunfire with Mission police officers and a deputy from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, Mission Police Chief Robert Dominguez said during a news conference Friday.
Following the news of his death, Sullivan City canceled a city commissioners meeting scheduled for Friday evening.
“It is with a heavy heart that we report the loss of City Commissioner Gabriel Salinas,” read a statement issued by the city. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Salinas Family as well as with the members of his household that were injured in last night’s tragic events.”
“We are praying for a full and speedy recovery and ask everyone to do the same,” the statement continued. “Due to an ongoing investigation, and the sensitive nature of these events, we will not be commenting further at this time.”
The loss of one of their elected officials ends a week of devastation for the city that began with damage to their municipal building.
Hurricane Hanna, which rolled through the Rio Grande Valley last weekend, caused the roof of their building to cave in which led to the closure of city hall until further notice.
Parked next to city hall on Friday were two mobile units out of which staff and the police department are working, said City Secretary and interim City Manager Veronica Gutierrez.
Hearing about Salinas’ death was shocking, she said, but also painful because it was another life that was lost.
The city and staff are taking time to come to terms with the tragedy, she said, but the canceled commissioners meeting will likely be rescheduled for early next week.
Salinas, an engineer, was elected to the city commission in May 2017. He previously served on the La Joya school board in which his brother-in-law, Oscar “Coach” Salinas, currently serves as a trustee.
His family has remained publicly silent on the tragic incident that began at about 9:16 p.m. Thursday, when the Mission police dispatch center received a 9-1-1 call.
A neighbor called the police after Salinas’ 39-year-old girlfriend showed up to his home “bleeding profusely.”
She displayed several lacerations which had either been caused by a knife or a machete, Dominguez said during the news conference.
Two police officers tried to approach the home in the 1400 block of Viejo Lane via a garage after making contact with the victim. When they neared the home, her 4-year-old son approached them, visibly injured.
Police immediately removed him from the home and when they tried to go back in, Salinas allegedly started shooting at them, forcing them to take cover behind a police unit. They managed to retrieve a rifle from the unit and exchanged gunfire with the suspect, who then went into the home and locked himself in.
Sometime later, police called Salinas’ family and had them come to the scene to try to talk Salinas out of the residence. At one point, police also sent in a robot from the Texas Department of Public Safety Special Response Team with a cellphone his sister gave police so Salinas could speak to them.
When the robot went into the home, it moved around the house and found two doors were closed.
Because the robot was holding the phone on the “hand,” it could not open the door. So police took the robot out of the home, taped the cellphone to it and sent it back in.
At that point, the robot opened the bedroom door and found Salinas lying in a pool of blood in a bedroom.
“I think he died as a result of being hit between (the exchange of gunfire),” Dominguez said, noting three law enforcement officers discharged their weapons: two Mission policemen and one Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputy.
Dominguez said Salinas also suffered from hemophilia which likely contributed to his death.
“Obviously, that didn’t help,” Dominguez said.
The chief said the Texas Rangers had taken over the investigation, which was confirmed early Friday morning by DPS spokesperson Maria Montalvo. This is standard protocol when there is an officer-involved shooting, Dominguez said.
Thursday’s incident is the second deadly shooting in the Rio Grande Valley that began as a domestic disturbance call this month, alone.
On July 11, two McAllen police officers were shot and killed responding to a domestic disturbance that afternoon. The suspect later killed himself.
Dominguez noted the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a factor in the incidents.
“People have been in quarantine in their homes trying to avoid the virus and so forth, and tempers flare and sometimes, unfortunately, people don’t know how to deal with situations like that,” he said.
He acknowledged, however, that their statistics from March, April, May and June don’t necessarily reflect an uptick in the number of incidents.
“Actually, we have less assaults this year than we had last year,” he said.
Salinas was previously arrested in September 2019 for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend.
During that incident, Mission police responded to a call on Sept. 21 regarding a domestic dispute at the home on Viejo Lane, The Monitor previously reported.
Officers made contact with the victim but she did not wish to file charges.
Salinas was facing class A misdemeanor assault but Municipal Court Judge Mauro Reyna dropped the charge to a class C due to insufficient evidence. The judge sentenced Salinas to time served, and he was released later that same day.
Because of the injuries she sustained on Thursday, she underwent surgery that night at McAllen Medical Center and remains in critical condition inside an intensive care unit, Dominguez said. She is expected to recover.
Her son was also treated for minor injuries to the head and knee but was released from the hospital Thursday night.
Concluding his summary of the overnight events, Dominguez lamented the loss of Salinas, regardless of whether he was the suspect in the case.
“He is a human being, and we’re with the family at this time. I know it’s really hard,” the chief told the media in Spanish. “To have to tell his mother and his sisters that he died … in this profession, unfortunately, it’s one of the things we have to do.”
Monitor staff writer Naxiely Lopez-Puente contributed to this report.