Community ‘devastated’ following tragic death of police officer


Jaden Edison

(Left to right) James and Mache Canchola sit near fallen SMPD officer Justin Putnam's vehicle memorial to pay their respects, Monday, April 20, 2020, near San Marcos City Hall on East Hopkins Street. Putnam was killed April 18 while responding to a domestic disturbance call.

Jaden Edison, Multimedia Editor

On the evening of April 18, Kiara Echevarría heard initial reports of a shooting involving San Marcos police officers at the Twin Lake Villas Apartments and hoped they were not true.

“When they said officers were shot, I was kind of like, ‘I hope it’s none of the officers I know because I know quite a few,'” Echevarría said. “(I prayed) that it was nobody I (knew).”

That night, the San Marcos Police Department confirmed that a man shot and killed an officer, wounded two others and died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at the apartments on Hunter Road.

The next morning, the City of San Marcos released the names of the deceased and two wounded officers: Justin Putnam, Franco Stewart and Justin Mueller, respectively. Echevarría’s prayers were not answered.

Echevarría got a chance to speak to officers Putnam and Mueller throughout her time working at Tommy Hilfiger. She said people would often steal from the store, and the two were on-call to help.

“They were honestly so nice,” Echevarría said. “My boss was messaging us because we have a group chat for work, and we were just talking about how (Putnam) was so nice; he always came in just happy, and it’s just really sad; we are all kind of devastated.”

Sadness and devastation are shared throughout the entire community. Since the April 18 incident, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter to Mayor Jane Hughson allowing flags in San Marcos and across Texas to be lowered. People also gathered at a procession from Austin to San Marcos and a police vehicle memorial at City Hall to pay their respects to the fallen officer.

“I urge all Texans to remember and honor the public service of Officer Putnam to the City of San Marcos and the State of Texas as a brave and distinguished peace officer,” Abbott stated in the letter.

The April 20 procession featured hundreds of Hays County residents in face masks standing and conversing in the heat, waving Texas and American flags and eventually standing in silence, watching Putnam’s hearse pass through the roads. On Wonder World Drive in San Marcos, New Braunfels first responders stood on the side of the road, saluting SMPD police cars and motorcycles accompanying the hearse.

“On one hand it’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to bring unity within the community, but the silver lining is that it is a show of unity and it is a show of support that brings people together,” said Art Guerra, City of New Braunfels police chaplain.

Guerra did not know Putnam, but he said recognizing his service to the community was important. He believes when someone dies in the line of duty, they have given their all and it should be respected.

“Emotionally, (Putnam’s death) is upsetting; 31, 32, years old, you’re just really starting life,” Guerra said. “It’s jarring because you know what it takes for someone to put their life on the line every single day.”

At Putnam’s vehicle memorial, people have left behind balloons, stuffed animals, cards, crosses, wristbands and more. Visitors range from those who have lived in the community for decades to people who heard about the incident from elsewhere.

A wristband that says "Blue Lives Matter" sit on a police vehicle memorial dedicated to a fallen officer.
Jaden Edison
A “Blue Lives Matter” wristband sits on fallen SMPD officer Justin Putnam’s police vehicle memorial, Monday, April 20, 2020, near San Marcos City Hall on East Hopkins Street. People throughout the community have left items like balloons, stuffed animals, cards, crosses and more.
A woman stands near a police vehicle memorial filled with balloons, cards and other items for a fallen officer killed in the line of duty.
Jaden Edison
Austin resident Susan Ashworth visits fallen SMPD officer Justin Putnam’s police vehicle memorial, Monday, April 20, 2020, near San Marcos City Hall on East Hopkins Street.

Austin resident Susan Ashworth said when she read about Putnam’s death, it saddened her and prompted her to stop by the memorial. She wrote a card for his family and fiancè and placed it in the driver car door windshield.

A card sits in the windshield of a police vehicle.
Jaden Edison
Austin resident Susan Ashworth left a card for fallen SMPD officer Justin Putnam’s family, Monday, April 20, 2020, at Putnam’s vehicle memorial located near San Marcos City Hall.

“(The situation is) horrible; it’s horrible,” Ashworth said. “It’s such a waste of a life of a young man with all sorts of promise, hope and people who loved him—people who he loved; there was just something about this situation that felt particularly painful.”

The pain of Putnam’s death also resonated with James and Mache Canchola, a married couple who have lived in San Marcos since 1999. James said the news of Putnam’s death was shocking.

“We don’t lose police officers like that,” James said. “We worked in the restaurant business for years, so we knew all the cops; we were familiar with all the police officers here in town, so it’s just sad.”

Putnam is the first SMPD officer killed in the line of duty since officer Kenneth Copeland was shot and killed on Dec. 4, 2017, while serving an arrest warrant.

San Marcos resident Keith Giles said tragedies like Copeland and Putnam’s deaths make him view the city differently. He said the vibration of the community is not what it once was.

“We’re seeing the city get big, and these are the kind of tragedies that happen,” Giles said.

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