Authorities had previously responded to reports of gunfire around the South Texas middle school where two teen boys were shot last week on an outdoor basketball court, the school district's lawyer said Tuesday.
The local sheriff's office, constable and school district police responded to Harwell Middle School on the earlier occasion, but only confirmed that shots from afar had been heard, said Renee Rodriguez-Betancourt, attorney for the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District.
"There were shots heard from afar," Rodriguez-Betancourt said. "There weren't shots at the school or anything of that matter." Reached while out of town, she said she did not recall the exact date of the earlier incident.
After the boys were shot Dec. 12, investigators questioned three men who were found on adjacent ranchland. Two were practicing target shooting and were in line with the students. A third was an illegal immigrant with an assault rifle who was trespassing.
Nicholas Tijerina, 13, was left with no movement in his legs after the bullet passed through a lung, his liver and a bone in his spine. The 14-year-old boy's identity has not been released, but he was reportedly stable. The boys were among about 50 kids trying out for the school's basketball team in a parking lot converted to a basketball court behind the school.
The McAllen Monitor first reported the earlier incident Tuesday.
On that occasion school administrators contacted the superintendent, who sent another administrator to investigate, Rodriguez-Betancourt said. The Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office was the first agency to respond, but the school district police and constable were also involved, she said.
"We spoke to the landowner, he assured us that he wasn't going to allow hunting and that the hunting that was previously done wasn't going to be done anymore and he wasn't going to allow it because of the school area being around there," Rodriguez-Betancourt said.
Sheriff Lupe Trevino said he would neither confirm nor deny the earlier incident. Generally, he said if his deputies respond to a school they defer to police unless it appears to be a major crime involving injuries or significant loss of property.
If something did occur "days and days" before the Dec. 12 shooting, it would not be part of their evidence so someone else would have to release it, he said.
School district Superintendent Rene Gutierrez did not immediately respond to messages left on his cell phone seeking comment. The school district police chief also did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. The district offices are closed this week for the winter break.
School board President Carmen Gonzalez declined to comment, citing an open investigation.
Investigators are awaiting the results of ballistic testing in hopes of matching one of the bullets fired to one of the rifles.
"We've identified the exact location where the shots came from," Trevino said. He had previously said investigators believed the target shooters were about 800 yards or nearly a half mile from the students, but Tuesday Trevino said their location was just short of a mile from the school.
"We've identified the people who might be responsible for it. I think we even identified the weapon," he said. "The only thing that we are lacking at this point is being able to match the projectile to a weapon. Once we do that then that pretty much drives that last nail."