The moment leading up to the fatal shooting of an armed Black Lives Matter protester in Texas over the weekend has been revealed in a newly surfaced photograph, hours after the suspect was released from custody having told investigators he shot the demonstrator in self-defense.
Garrett Foster, 28, was shot dead in Austin on Saturday evening after he confronted the driver of a car who had driven his vehicle toward a hundred-strong crowd of protesters marching in the city center.
Foster, who was carrying an AK-47, was shot three times by the driver who then fled the scene. The motorist later told police he fired his handgun at Foster after the activist pointed his assault rifle at his car.
A photograph circulating on social media on Monday shows Foster standing at the driver’s window moments before the fatal shots rang out. The barrel of his AK-47 appears to be pointing towards the floor, however he is leaning towards the car with right arm raised and his hand seemingly placed around the weapon’s grip.
Police, who declined to identify the driver, have released the suspect as they continue their investigation.
‘We are heartbroken over the loss of Mr. Foster last night,’ Austin Police Chief Brain Manley told reporters Sunday. ‘It is actively being investigated and ongoing in conjunction with the Travis County district attorney’s office.’
Officers also brought in a second gunman who shot at the car as it sped off. Both of the suspects’ have a license to carry and both of their guns were seized for evidence, Manly said.
Foster had been crossing 4th Street on Congress Avenue with his wheel-chair bound fiancee Whitney Mitchell, 28, and hundreds of other demonstrators when a motorist sped towards the crowd and began blaring its horn.
Protesters – who have been marching for 60 days – say the car swerved towards them and Foster was trying to protect Mitchell, who was left wheelchair-bound after a mystery infection forced surgeons to amputate her limbs.
The majority of the demonstrators scattered, however Foster, who was dressed in a military green T-shirt, baseball cap, bandanna, and wielding an AK-47, approached the driver’s side window.
Within a matter of seconds, the driver of the car fired five shots and sped away from the scene, leaving Foster to bleed out in the street.
The motorist called 911 as he fled, telling dispatchers he had ‘just been involved in a shooting and driven away.’
Foster, who did not fire his weapon, received first aid at the scene before being transported to Dell Seton Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead around 10:30pm Saturday night.
Hundreds gathered at the scene of the shooting on Sunday evening to mourn Foster’s death in a vigil led by Mitchell.
Marchers chanted ‘say his name, Garrett Foster’ and raised their fists in a silent tributes during the vigil, KVUE reported.
Mitchell, who had been engaged to Foster since she was 18, closed her eyes as she held back her emotions and was comforted by other members of the crowd.
Some people embraced and wept as marchers blocked off streets with bikes and cones, and began directing traffic away.
Others carried signs reading ‘rest in power Garrett Foster’ and ‘justice for Garrett’. They were laid at the spot where he died, along with candles and flowers.
Following the vigil, the sea of protesters made their way to the Texas State Capitol to finish the march that had been disrupted the night before.
Foster’s mother Sheila said her son had been participating in the Black Lives Matter protests for more than 50 days in support of Mitchell, who is African-American.
She added: ‘He was doing it because he felt really strongly about justice and he was very heavily against police brutality.’
Foster had served in the military for a time, but left in order to take care of Mitchell after she fell sick with what initially appeared to be flu in November 2010.
Mitchell’s condition quickly worsened and she landed in intensive care, where the virus caused circulation to her limbs to shut down.
Doctors were able to save her, but only after amputating all of her limbs in order to stop them turning septic, the Dallas Morning News reported.
After the operation, Mitchell took up sewing as a form of therapy, before turning it into a career designing and making clothes. Foster worked full-time as her carer.
The couple had put the business on hold for the past several weeks, Mitchell’s mother Patricia Kirven said, so that they could attend the protests.
Foster often went armed, which is common at protests in Texas because it is an open-carry state.
Before he was fatally shot, Foster was seen speaking to local media about why he was carrying his AK-47.
In video shot by a local independent journalist, he says: ‘They don’t let us march in the streets anymore so gotta practice some of our rights.’
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirmed that Foster was carrying a rifle when he approached the vehicle that the person suspected of shooting him was in.
Manley said the suspect shot out of their car at Foster and then called 911 to report that they had shot someone who pointed a gun at their vehicle.
Investigators heard conflicting reports of what happened next, Manley told reporters on Sunday.
‘His account is that Mr. Foster pointed the weapon directly at him and he fired his handgun at Mr. Foster,’ Manley said of the motorist.
However, witnesses told police that Foster did not threaten the driver with his weapon, insisting he kept it pointed down before the fatal shots rang out.
‘He was not aiming the gun or doing anything aggressive with the gun,’ Michael Capochiano, a witness, told the New York Times. ‘I’m not sure if there was much of an exchange of words. It wasn’t like there was any sort of verbal altercations. He wasn’t charging at the car.’
Sheila Foster, Garrett’s mother, said she was told her son was pushing his fiancee, who uses a wheelchair, through an intersection when the suspect was driving ‘erratically’ through the crowd.
She said her son had previously served in the military and described him as a man committed to social justice, who had peacefully protested almost every night for the past 50 days with Mitchell.
‘He was doing it because he feels really strongly about justice and he’s very heavily against police brutality, and he wanted to support his fiancee,’ Foster told GMA.
Black Lives Matter protests have been taking place in cities across the US for weeks in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who suffocated while being arrested in Minneapolis in May.
They have since expanded to call for wholesale reform of the US justice system, including defunding police services and reinvesting in struggling communities.
Tensions have been rising in recent weeks after the Trump administration deployed federal agents to try and force marchers off the streets, most visibly in Portland, Oregon.
Police are now investigating a shooting in that city which left one person wounded after witnesses said a fight broke out between several armed individuals.
The Portland Police Department confirmed that two people had been taken into custody following the incident and said one person was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.
In Alexandria, Virginia, protesters flocked to the home of Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to decry the deployment of federal officers in cities including Portland, Seattle and Oakland.
The protest was organized by ShutDownDC, a group which considers Wolf to be responsible for the actions of the federal agents and is demanding that they be removed from every city in the US.
In Seattle, another city with a large presence of federal agents, thousands of people took to the streets of the Capitol Hill neighborhood on Sunday afternoon for largely peaceful protest.
Tensions between protesters and police officers reached a boiling point hours earlier as the latter group retreated into a precinct station after midnight following large demonstrations in the area surrounding the Capitol.
Some demonstrators lingered after officers filed into the department’s East Precinct at around 1am, but most cleared out a short time later, according to video posted online.
Rocks, bottles, fireworks and mortars were fired at police during the weekend unrest, and police said they arrested at least 45 people for assaults on officers, obstruction and failure to disperse.
Twenty-one officers were hurt, with most of their injuries considered minor, police said.
Meanwhile hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Los Angeles for a march in solidarity with the people of Portland on Sunday.
The marchers carried signs attacking the actions of federal protesters on the ground in US cities, as well as repeated pleas to defund LA’s own police department.
Sunday’s march shut down a major roadway in the heart of the city but remained peaceful as police kept a safe distance.