On the afternoon of March 3, Dora Vela was in the middle of her shift as a mail carrier when a message on her phone popped up with news about her 14-year-old son. Ms. Vela immediately called back.
“Juan is dead,” a woman’s voice told her, referencing her son, Juan Herrera, who had run away from home late last year.
“How do you know this?” Ms. Vela recalled shouting back. “What happened? Where is my son? I freaked out.”
The caller, who said she had been sheltering Juan as well as at least four other youths, went on to tell her that her son was fatally shot after a local sheriff’s deputy responded to a call about a burglary in progress at an upscale apartment complex in Midland, a midsize city in West Texas.
his remains in Dallas, some 330 miles away, where his body was sent to facilitate the identification of his dental records, she said.
“I have so many questions,” Ms. Vela, who also has three daughters, said last week at her modest home. “And no one’s telling me what happened.”
The result is both a fog, with a 14-year-old youth dead, and a reminder of the struggles that many families, particularly those without means, can face in finding out even the most basic facts about officer-involved deaths.
identified via dental records. He was not carrying identification at the time of his death, which might help explain why his remains were sent to a medical examiner in a bigger city, Ms. Vela said.
But the mystery surrounding the case is eating away at Ms. Vela and others in Midland, in the heart of the West Texas oil patch. While the case has received little attention outside Texas, state civil rights activists have raised questions about the use of police force during encounters with Black and Latino people and the lack of information that often follows fatal encounters with the police.
Rodolfo Rosales, a state director with the Texas branch of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the oldest and one of the largest Latino civil rights organization in the United States, urged the authorities to release any relevant footage and details about the shooting.
“The family deserves answers, the community deserves answers,” said Mr. Rosales, who is known to colleagues as Rudy. “There needs to be transparency.”
Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas State Police said no further information will be released to the public until the case has been presented to a Midland County grand jury.