Wheelchair-bound fiancée of slain BLM protester leads vigil in Austin

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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. 

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A newly surfaced photograph shows Garrett Foster at the driver’s window. The barrel of the rifle is pointed towards the ground, while his right arm is high with his hand seemingly placed on the grip of the weapon

Mitchell and Foster Mitchell and Foster at the protest

Protesters say Foster (pictured left with Mitchell, and right together on the night he was killed) was trying to protect Mitchell after a car drove towards them – but the driver has claimed he shot in self defense after Foster pointed a rifle at him

First responders are seen preparing to transport Foster to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead

First responders are seen preparing to transport Foster to a local hospital where he was later pronounced dead

Whitney Mitchell, 28, led Black Lives Matter protesters in a vigil march for finace Garrett Foster, also 28, who was shot and killed during demonstrations in Austin, Texas, on Saturday night

Whitney Mitchell, 28, led Black Lives Matter protesters in a vigil march for finace Garrett Foster, also 28, who was shot and killed during demonstrations in Austin, Texas, on Saturday night

Mitchell choked back tears as marchers held a moment of silence on the street where Foster was shot and killed as he approached the driver of a vehicle who opened fire

Mitchell choked back tears as marchers held a moment of silence on the street where Foster was shot and killed as he approached the driver of a vehicle who opened fire

Mitchell - who had all four of her limbs amputated in 2010 after contracting a mystery virus - was supported by members of the crowd as she held a vigil on the spot where Foster died

Mitchell – who had all four of her limbs amputated in 2010 after contracting a mystery virus – was supported by members of the crowd as she held a vigil on the spot where Foster died

Other members of the crowd embraced and some broke down in tears as protesters chanted 'say his name, Garrett Foster' during the Sunday-night vigil

Other members of the crowd embraced and some broke down in tears as protesters chanted ‘say his name, Garrett Foster’ during the Sunday-night vigil

Marchers carried signs reading 'Justice for Garrett' and laid them at the spot where he died along with candles and flower. Police have interviewed the man who shot Foster, but have released him pending further investigation

Marchers carried signs reading ‘Justice for Garrett’ and laid them at the spot where he died along with candles and flower. Police have interviewed the man who shot Foster, but have released him pending further investigation

Protesters knee and raise their fists in a silent tribute to Foster, who was fatally shot in downtown Austin on Saturday night

Protesters knee and raise their fists in a silent tribute to Foster, who was fatally shot in downtown Austin on Saturday night

Foster, who had been in the military for a time before becoming his fiancee's carer, had been participating in marches for more than 50 days when he was killed (pictured, protesters honor his memory with a silent tribute)

Foster, who had been in the military for a time before becoming his fiancee’s carer, had been participating in marches for more than 50 days when he was killed (pictured, protesters honor his memory with a silent tribute)

A protester carries a sign reading 'I can't breathe' with a noose around their neck during a vigil for Garrett Foster in Austin

A protester carries a sign reading ‘I can’t breathe’ with a noose around their neck during a vigil for Garrett Foster in Austin

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 has jumped in front of Mitchell, a quadruple amputee, fearing she was a target.

Police declined to say why the driver was where he was and whether his intent was nefarious. Witnesses told the Austin American-Statesman that the car sped through the protesters before it apparently hit an orange barrier and came to a stop.

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 aimed his handgun out of the window and fired five shots before speeding 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. 

Foster, who previously worked as a flight mechanic in the Air Force after enlisting as a teen, began dating Mitchell about ten years ago. The couple first met in an online chat room and became engaged a year later.

The following month, Mitchell was struck down by a mysterious illness and later had to have all four of her limbs amputated following sepsis. 

Foster had to leave for basic training two months later but was discharged from the Air Force, aged 19, to become her full time carer. 

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

Hundreds gathered at the scene of the shooting on Sunday evening to mourn Foster’s death in a vigil led by Mitchell. 

Cell phone footage captured the moment the fatal shots rang out The vehicle is seen above

Foster had been crossing 4th Street on Congress Avenue with Mitchell and hundreds of other demonstrators when a motorist sped towards the crowd and began blaring its horn. Cell phone footage captured the moment the fatal shots rang out

Whitney Mitchell chokes back tears as she takes part in a vigil for her fiance, Garrett Foster, who was shot dead in Austin

Whitney Mitchell chokes back tears as she takes part in a vigil for her fiance, Garrett Foster, who was shot dead in Austin

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 was originally from Plano but had been living with Mitchell in Austin for the last two years. His 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.’

Crediting her late son as ‘one of the best young men you would ever know’, Shelia also tearfully recounted the unconditional love Foster had for Mitchell. 

 ‘I saw my son at 19 years old brush this girl’s teeth, comb her hair. He would put her on the toilet and clean her up, and he would make sure that she got bathed and make sure that she was able to get dressed and took her everywhere that she needed to go. And he’s been doing that ever since,’ Sheila told GMA.  

‘On top of grieving for my son, I worry about Whitney. Because who’s going to do that for her now?’ she continued. ‘She just lost the love of her life, because somebody just randomly fired shots and killed my son. And I don’t mean to say that anybody else’s life is less valuable. I don’t believe that. But I don’t know why it had to be my son.’  

Two attendees embrace at a vigil for Garrett Foster, who was shot and killed after a chaotic altercation with a motorist who allegedly drove into the crowd

Two attendees embrace at a vigil for Garrett Foster, who was shot and killed after a chaotic altercation with a motorist who allegedly drove into the crowd 

A woman clutching flowers breaks down in tears during a vigil for Garrett Foster in downtown Austin

A woman clutching flowers breaks down in tears during a vigil for Garrett Foster in downtown Austin

 

Protesters raise their fists and a sign reading 'I can't breathe' in tribute to Garrett Foster in downtown Austin, Texas

Protesters raise their fists and a sign reading ‘I can’t breathe’ in tribute to Garrett Foster in downtown Austin, Texas

The couple were planning on getting married, but were waiting until Mitchell mastered her prosthetics before they walked down the aisle.  

Mitchell’s mother, Patricia Kirven, told the Dallas Morning News she warned her daughter about going to the protests, because she was ‘afraid something would happen.’

‘She physically is OK, but mentally she is not. “Inconsolable’” is the only word I can think of, because she’ll talk for a bit and then break down,’ Kirven added.

Mitchell fell sick with what initially appeared to be flu in November 2010. However, her 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.

Shelia Foster, Garrett's mother, 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

Shelia Foster, Garrett’s mother, 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

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.     

His sister, Anna Mayo, said that her brother ‘would have never, ever pointed a gun at somebody.’

‘He always carried his guns with him. He had a license to carry in Texas — we’re an open carry state,’ Mayo continued. ‘He always would exercise his right to carry, but he would never threaten somebody. He was one of the most kindhearted people — that was the whole reason he was out there.’

Following the vigil, protesters continued to march on the Texas State Capitol to finish the demonstration which was cut short by Foster's death

Following the vigil, protesters continued to march on the Texas State Capitol to finish the demonstration which was cut short by Foster’s death

Demonstrators march on the Texas State Capital in Austin as part of Black Lives Matter demonstrations which have now been ongoing for 60 days

Demonstrators march on the Texas State Capital in Austin as part of Black Lives Matter demonstrations which have now been ongoing for 60 days

Activists including Whitney Mitchell, the wheelchair-bound fiancee of Garrett Foster, take part in a sit-in demonstration in downtown Austin on Sunday night

Activists including Whitney Mitchell, the wheelchair-bound fiancee of Garrett Foster, take part in a sit-in demonstration in downtown Austin on Sunday night

People sit in the street at a vigil for Garrett Foster on July 26, 2020 in downtown Austin, Texas

People sit in the street at a vigil for Garrett Foster on July 26, 2020 in downtown Austin, Texas

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.  

Marchers carry a Back Lives Matter banner through the streets of Austin, Texas, during a march on Sunday night

Marchers carry a Back Lives Matter banner through the streets of Austin, Texas, during a march on Sunday night

People hold up signs outside Austin Police Department after a vigil for Garrett Foster on July 26, 2020 in downtown Austin

People hold up signs outside Austin Police Department after a vigil for Garrett Foster on July 26, 2020 in downtown Austin

Protesters walk down 7th street in Austin after a vigil for Garrett Foster

Protesters walk down 7th street in Austin after a vigil for Garrett Foster

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. 



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