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Videos: US Air Force veteran, protester shot to death during downtown Austin protest

Police car lights. (Alexandru Cuznetov/Dreamstime/TNS)

Family and friends of Garrett Foster, 28, are reeling after he was shot to death at a Saturday night protest on Congress Avenue and police took the shooter into custody.

According to multiple witnesses, the incident began around 9:50 p.m. when a driver on Fourth Street honked at the protesters, turned right and sped down Congress Avenue, driving through the crowd. He appeared to hit an orange barrier in the road and came to a stop, witnesses said.

Several protesters — including Foster, who was holding a rifle — approached the car, and Foster had his rifle pointed at the ground, witnesses said. Others said Foster shot at the driver. The driver pointed his gun outside the window, fired several shots, then sped away, witnesses said.

Other protesters with rifles also fired shots after the driver did, said witness Julian Salazar.

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Austin police said they detained the person who fired the fatal shots. Police gave a brief statement at the scene and said the victim, who may have been carrying a rifle, approached the vehicle before the driver fired shots. Investigators confirmed they detained the suspect and said he cooperated with officers. The driver was later released.

Police also said a person in the crowd may have opened fire on the car as it drove away.

Medics performed CPR on Foster, but he later died at Dell Seton Medical Center, officials said.

No other injuries were reported.

In a Facebook Live video of the hourslong march, a car honking is heard before eight gunshots were unleashed. Several screaming protesters immediately took cover.

Foster grew up in Plano and had been living in Austin with his fiancé, Whitney Mitchell, for about two years. Mitchell was at the protest with him at the time, and the two of them had been attending the protests in downtown Austin against police violence for months, according to protesters and Foster’s family.

Mitchell is Black and Foster is white, and issues of racial injustice were incredibly important to him, his family said.

“They’ve experienced so much hate just for their relationship in general,” said his sister, Anna Mayo. “From day one, he’s fought to end that.”

Mitchell and Foster started dating about a decade ago. Foster enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in his late teens and had to leave for bootcamp two months after Mitchell had all four of her limbs amputated due to a medical condition.

Foster worked in the Air Force as a flight mechanic until he was 19, when he was discharged to be Mitchell’s full-time caretaker, his family said.

“That time when he was gone was so detrimental to both of them, because they were very much in love, and he had cared for her so well,” said his aunt, Karen Sourber. “He’s been her primary caretaker ever since. He just loved her unconditionally and took care of everything.”

Protesters said they got to know the couple well throughout the many protests this summer.

“I lot of us haven’t slept — I haven’t been asleep,” protester Julian Salazar said Sunday morning, after he witnessed the shooting. “It’s been heartbreaking. A lot of us are angry, depressed, sad to learn that his wife now is going to be struggling. The one person she had here in Austin, who was always going to be there for her, is now gone.”

Foster did often talk to protesters about his rifle, which he often brought to the protests, Salazar said. Mayo said Second Amendment rights were important to him.

“My brother would have never, ever pointed a gun at somebody,” Mayo said. “He always carried his guns with him. He had a license to carry in Texas — we’re an open carry state. He always would exercise his right to carry, but he would never threaten somebody. He was one of the most kind-hearted people — that was the whole reason he was out there.”

By early Sunday morning, about 50 protesters had returned to Austin Police Department headquarters, where protesters had convened hours earlier. Mitchell joined the protesters and was visibly grieving. Protesters surrounded her to give her their condolences while chanting Foster’s name.

“A good man stripped from this earth, stripped from his fiance literally hours ago,” a protester told the Statesman outside of police headquarters; he declined to provide his full name, as many protesters have done, citing fear of retaliation. “This is fresh. I’m numb, to be honest. The fact that you can go from being five feet away from this man at the beginning of the march, him marching, him yelling, him chanting to being lifeless. It’s a messed-up reality.”

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©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.