Austin Salyer was just 20 years old in 2021, a young man who was studying criminal justice and military science and had just signed a contract with the Army in September 2021, ready to serve his country. But despite having his whole life ahead of him and being a bright young man with a shining future, he was killed in his apartment by a bullet fired by Gabriel Brown.
Announcing the death of Salyer in a Facebook post, the police department said, “A preliminary investigation by the Criminal Investigation Division determined Salyer likely suffered a gunshot wound while he slept as a result of a firearm that was negligently discharged from a neighboring apartment.”
It then added, “A suspect, whose identity is being withheld pending further investigation and review by the District Attorney’s Office, has been identified and interviewed related to Salyer’s death.”
Salyer’s mother, describing the night her son was killed in court, said, “Austin texted me at 8:53 p.m. and said, ‘I’m going to bed,’ you know, ‘good night, sweet dreams. I love you.’ And I said, ‘ok, I love you too.’ And then I waited about three minutes and I said, ‘keep making us proud’ and that was the last text I got from him.”
The next morning, she saw that his phone was still in his apartment when he should’ve been headed to his platoon for a road march with his platoon. “I saw that his phone was still inside his apartment, and I thought, ‘oh my gosh, he overslept.’ And so I started calling him, I started pinging him,” she said. But he had not overslept. He had been shot and died in bed.
“I thought maybe he just was in a hurry, he left his phone, which I knew in my heart that wasn’t true because nobody leaves their phone behind, right, it’s become part of our, literally part of our bodies. And so about 7:30 I kind of started to panic, panic started to set in,” Bonnie Salyer said.
She then texted one of his friends a little after 11 in the morning. Describing that, she said, “I can’t get a hold of Austin, and I’d like to know if you can please go knock on his door, see if you can wake him up. He was all on it. He was like, oh, yeah, I’ll go scare him.”
Instead of hearing from her startled son, she heard from the police. “A police officer called and said, you know, what’s your son’s full name? What’s his date of birth? And then he said, I’m sorry to tell you over the phone, but we found your son deceased in his apartment this morning,” she said.
Gabriel Brown, Austin’s neighbor, claimed that he accidentally fired his gun while modifying it and talking on the phone with his father at around midnight. He then turned himself in but wasn’t arrested and his bond was set at only $3,000 despite his being indicted on criminally negligent homicide. Brown ended up getting sentenced to only 90 days over Salyer’s death.
Salyer’s father, Rodney, was furious. He said, at the time of the trial, “As a victim, you’re so handcuffed and disadvantaged compared to what the criminal has available to them for loopholes. They get to control things, they get to hire whatever, defense attorney they want, whereas the victim is stuck with whatever judge, whatever prosecutor, whatever. You don’t have any control over that at all. They don’t have to provide any information back to you, but anything you provide has to be provided to them. It is so lopsided against the victim to be able to get any kind of justice.”
He added, “Everything gets diluted. You have to start up here just so by the time everything’s diluted, there’s some sort of punishment. In our case, they’re starting down at the bottom. They’re literally starting at the lowest felony that they could possibly start with.”
Describing Brown only getting 90 days, Rodney added, “We were like, how can that be? We weren’t involved, nobody’s told us anything about this. Well, the change to 90 days is this, the document was correctly typed up with 18 days. Someone scratched it out and wrote in nine. No, no initials. No, nothing.”
Featured image credit: Hays County Jail
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