UTRGV fraternity involved in an armed standoff with police

ALTON — Members of a University of Texas Rio Grande Valley fraternity were involved in an armed standoff with police Thursday after multiple reports of shots fired at a ranch with various exotic animals prompted a multiagency response, according to police.

More than 50 members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity were gathered about 12:45 a.m. in the 1400 block of North Glasscock Road when police received calls from neighbors saying they were hearing what they described as a gunfight inside the seven-acre ranch.

“Officers arrived and shined their spotlight on them, but as soon as they activated the patrol lights, the officers heard three or four shots that rang out from inside the ranch,” said Alton Police Chief Enrique Sotelo. “We were not able to determine from the investigation if the officers were targeted, but that was a deliberate act to their lights being activated.”

More than 25 law enforcement officers responded, including deputies with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety, which assisted with aerial support. The officers used loudspeakers to try and communicate with the gunmen, but they failed to comply, Sotelo said.

“This could have been an extremely horrible situation but, luckily, the composure was there, and we were able to take care of the situation peacefully,” Sotelo said. “A justifiable response would have been to open fire as soon as you heard the shots fired, but our guys hunkered down and called for assistance.”

After being held up in the ranch for more than 45 minutes, officers entered the property and ordered the more than 54 men, aged 19-24, to surrender. The men claimed to be members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, and four of them came forward and took responsibility for the shots fired.

“They were scared about what they had done, and they knew there were some consequences, and that’s what kept them from complying and answering to the commands,” Sotelo said. “They told officers there was some sort of initiation to the new members of the fraternity. Whether or not that has anything to do with the shots being fired, we don’t know.”

Officers seized two rifles and one shotgun believed to be registered to one of the members and legally owned. Investigators were able to match some of the casings found around the dimly lit ranch to the three firearms, according to Sotelo.

That is not the only thing officers found in the dark ranch. Toward the back of the property, officers noticed cages with wolves, monkeys and exotic cats inside. Sotelo said the animals were also legally owned.

“We couldn’t really see the whole range of animals that were there because it’s a dimly lit ranch,” Sotelo said. “It’s not your typical petting zoo animals.”

Officers issued four citations for disturbing the peace, a Class C misdemeanor, to the fraternity members who took responsibility for the shots fired. One of the suspected gunmen was the nephew of the ranch owner, Sotelo said.

UTRGV Spokesman Patrick Gonzales said the university has opened an investigation on the matter and sent two police officers to the Alton Police Department to gather more information on the incident.

“We are going to do our due diligence to try to complete the investigation in a timely manner,” Gonzales said.

At this point, university officials are not sure whether all 54 people are in fact UTRGV students, but a cease and desist letter was sent to the fraternity, prohibiting it from conducting any business on or off campus without permission from the dean of students, Gonzales said.

“The safety of our students is a top priority for UTRGV, and we take these matters very seriously,” Gonzales said in a written statement. “UTRGV is conducting its own investigation to ensure that this situation is handled appropriately.”

Sotelo said no further charges or citations are expected in the case.

“It would be extremely difficult to determine whether or not we had an intention towards the officer or an intention to purposely not comply,” he added. “The citation is really not that big of a deal, but it was more so the intensity of the situation because things could have gone awry really rally fast.”