6 months after teen lesbian couple’s shooting, police aren’t ruling out what many in the LGBT community suspect — an anti-gay hate crime
PORTLAND, Texas —Things will never be the same in this hamlet across the bay from Corpus Christi.
June 23 will forever be remembered as the day teenage lesbian couple Mary Kristene Chapa and Mollie Olgin were attacked and shot.
Visitors to the serene Violet Andrews Park found the teens the next morning.
Olgin, 19, had succumbed to a gunshot wound to the head. But Chapa, 18, was still breathing and was rushed to the hospital.
News of the shooting shook the LGBT community near and far.
Police initially downplayed the possibility that the murder was a hate crime, but after several weeks, leads went cold, leaving little information to go on.
Six months later, new Portland police Chief Gary Giles said the department hasn’t ruled out a hate crime. Giles said police have identified other possible motives, but he declined to discuss them.
“At this point we still don’t have any indication that it was a hate crime,” he said. “We don’t want to concentrate on any one direction because if we concentrate on the fact that it’s a hate crime based on their relationship, then we may miss something else. So, we’re not discounting that possibility.
It’s just that we can’t just concentrate on that alone.”
Giles came to Portland from Utah and has only been on the job since Nov. 20. Shortly before his arrival, Tri-County Crime Stoppers released a video about the attack on Chapa and Olgin.
The video included new information about the crime, detailing how the girls walked to a point in the park where they overlooked the beach late Friday, June 22. They noticed a man walk by. A few moments later the suspect, wearing a hat and gloves, approached them with a handgun, forcing them to a secluded area. He assaulted them before shooting them in the head and fleeing.
Giles said the video led to more tips coming in about possible suspects, some of which investigators are still working.
“Some of them may be dead ends, but hopefully at least one or two will generate something that may lead to something else,” Giles said.
Portland police are working with Crime Stoppers, as well as the FBI and the Texas Rangers. Giles said the agencies meet often to discuss tips and evidence in an effort to brainstorm tactics.
“We have investigators that are swamped because of the fact that they are just working on this case on a nonstop basis,” he said. “That is one of my personal goals as the new chief of police that this is going to be a case that we can solve and get whatever resources we need to get it solved.”
Chapa underwent several surgeries before finally gaining consciousness in the week after the shooting. Police released an initial sketch of the suspect after a witness came forward, and officers were able to communicate with Chapa to revise the sketch in July.
The suspect is described as a white male in his 20s, 5 feet, 8 inches tall with a thin build, weighing 140 pounds, with brown hair and a scruffy beard.
Although she was unable to speak initially, Chapa wrote Olgin’s name several times. Family members said they waited to tell her that her girlfriend died in the attack until she was strong enough to hear the news, and she was devastated. The teens were only together five months.
In September, Chapa took to Facebook to speak about her recovery in a rehabilitation facility.
“I still need time but I am happy,” Chapa wrote. “I’m moving on.”
Although Chapa mentioned that Olgin will remain in her heart and memory forever, she wrote that she had been dating again to help her heal.
“I know people deal with things different and I’m not gonna sit in my room and cry over what happened,” she wrote. “I was heartbroken but I’m not gonna be single for the rest of my life … she’s in my heart but I needed something else. I wanted a girl to be there for me and understand what I’m going through.”
Chapa declined a request for an interview.
Giles said he hasn’t met Chapa but he’d like to meet her soon so she knows that he and the department are committed to finding her assailant.
“I’d just like to get to know her,” he said. “This is a big story for our agency and our city. It’s a very important investigation that we’re not going to give up on. We’re going to continue until we have this thing solved.”
Chapa is still assisting police with the investigation, he said, adding that she recalls a lot of what happened the night she was attacked.
The shooting took the local and national community by storm. Vigils remembering Olgin and praying for Chapa’s recovery took place around the country, including Dallas, California and Washington, D.C.
Giles said the local community has begun to heal, despite constant inquiries on what the investigation is uncovering.
“When this kind of thing happens, it definitely changes a community, especially a small town like this that doesn’t see this very often,” he said. “I think things are starting to relax a bit…but it is still on people’s minds.”
LGBT community responds
Daniel Williams, field organizer for Equality Texas, attended the vigil in Portland. Walking through the park and overlooking the beach like the couple did, he said he could see why a young gay couple cherished the view of nearby Corpus Christi. Now, the park has an eerie feeling for visitors.
“Being a 15- or 16-year-old queer kid and being so close to a large city, I can understand why you might go there and look across the bay,” he said.
“It’s a haunting place now.”
Williams has returned several times to conduct trainings for Equality Texas and said the LGBT community in surrounding areas has become more visible following the shooting.
“The nation and indeed the entire world was mourning the event in Portland, but for the people in Portland, this was a personal matter,” he said.
“This was their private pain.”
Another LGBT advocate who attended the vigil was Wayne Besen, executive director of Vermont-based Truth Wins Out, who said he traveled to Texas out of a sense of helplessness.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “You just felt so bad for the families and the girls. It really stood out how much people really cared for them.”
Besen said the shooting sounded like a typical hate crime when the news reached him. He said police need to keep bias at the top of their list for motives and worries police will miss clues if they don’t focus on possible bias.
“That should certainly be the No. 1 motive and that’s what they should look into,” Besen said. “And to not do that is negligence and a total misunderstanding of the violence faced by LGBT people.”
People have donated money for a reward for information, including North Texans. Currently $20,000 in reward money is being offered for information.
Kris Wong, a Youth First Texas Collin County teen, helped raise almost $1,400 for the organization’s donation to the Crime Stoppers fund with a bowling event in July. Wong, 18 and now a college student in New York, said the shooting affected her because she was near the teens’ ages.
“It’s not something you should have to think about at 18,” Wong said about the investigation. “You should be going to college and having fun. It’s not fair.”
Wong said she thinks the large reward will definitely help people come forward with information to find the shooter.
‘Somebody’s going to talk’
Besen said his time in Portland showed a devastated community that lost two beautiful young women who were very much in love and had so much potential to offer the world. The community now mourns that June day constantly, at least until the man responsible is captured.
“With something like this that justice may not be served makes me very sad,” Besen said. “It’s depressing that it’s not solved yet. … I don’t even know them and I would like some kind of closure, and I imagine the people who are there who actually knew them that this has been incredibly painful for them, and I’d like to see them get that closure.”
But Giles, still new to the town and in his role as chief, said the town’s constant questions about the investigation give him comfort that citizens aren’t forgetting the tragedy that will only be solved with their help.
“What it takes is community involvement,” Giles said. “I think people know or at least have suspicions on who may have done this or who would be in the area. … Somebody’s going to talk.”
Anyone with information should call the Tri-County Crime Stoppers at 800-245-TIPS (8477) or submit a tip online at TinyURL.com/crbgtjb.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 14, 2012.