AUSTIN, TX. Sept. 12, 2016 — Governor Abbott awarded the Star of Texas Award to 57 Texans, including Jacinto City’s recipient Sgt. Jennifer Simpson-Castañeda.
The Star of Texas Award, created by the 2003 Legislature, go to first responders, peace officers and firefighters who have demonstrated remarkable courage and heroism in serving and protecting their communities and who have been seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.
Following is Sgt. Castañeda recollection of the March 20, 2013 shooting where she and Lt. Dennis Walker was shot.
“I and another police unit were going to a resident to interview the suspect on an un-related case but it evolved into a domestic disturbance and the shooting. A family member who had earlier called the police prior to my arrival said there wasn’t any weapons present.
I arrived at the location first and upon doing so I observed two females and a male at the doorway, they were screaming and pushing each other. As I ran to the house, they went back inside and out of my sight. Upon immediately entering the doorway of the house, I was shot without warning; I never had a chance to talk to him or pull my gun out. I struck my head and was dazed briefly. I felt as if I was going to die and be shot in my head as I lay on the floor. My feelings was correct because Lt. Dennis Walker said afterwards when he arrived and heard gun shots he entered the doorway and he saw the suspect standing over me with his gun pointed at my head. The suspect then turned his gun at Lt. Walker, they both exchanged gunfire over me. Lt. Walker sustained several life threatening gun shots to his upper chest area. The shooting stopped, I then gained full awareness of the situation. The suspect had run into an adjoining room and was screaming something I couldn’t understand. I could not see or feel my right arm; I thought it was shot off. But I then realized I was laying on it. I suffered a severed radial nerve and my right humorous bone was shattered extensively. I tried but could not reach my gun with my left hand at the time. I realized he was going kill me if I stayed in the house, so I got up and ran out of the house.”
Lt. Walker last year received the same award for his bravery and actions after his receiving serious gun fire injuries as he returned gun fire to distract the suspect from shooting Sgt. Castañeda in the head.
Police Chief Joey Ayala said, “The gunman, Edgar Omar Cuellar, in 2015 pled guilty and received a 50-year prison sentence. It was a privilege and honor to witness both Sgt. Castañeda and Lt. Walker receive the awards from the Governor which they surely deserved.”
Senator Sylvia Garcia said, “It was a honor to represent Senate District 6 at the ceremony and be there with the families who’ve made such a sacrifice for our safety. I was moved by all of the stories of our brave first responders across Texas.” Senator Garcia’s district includes the city of Jacinto City.
Governor Greg Abbott said, “Today, Texas honors the extraordinary few – those who have demonstrated the character and the courage to repeatedly put their lives on the line to serve and protect their communities.” “Today we recognize acts of uncommon valor – by first responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers – willing to put everything on the line to keep us safe. All of the men and women who protect and serve, and the families who stand by their sides, deserve our deepest respect. They represent the very best of Texas.”
Jacinto City’s City Manager Lon Squyres said, “It was great to see Sgt. Castañeda being recognized for her service to the citizens of Jacinto City. It stands in stark contrast to the lack of respect for law enforcement officials that has become so popular in today’s world. In addition to the event in Austin we have seen a large outcry of local support for the entire Police Department. Having a close relationship with our police is just another benefit of living in a small town like Jacinto City.”
After the ceremony Castañeda said, “I am so honored to have received the award. Although it was because I was shot in the line of duty, receiving the Star of Texas was a humble experience. I am grateful for the support and out pouring of love from all.” She misses the honorable profession of police work; after numerous surgeries she has permanent impairments to her arm and hand which prevents her from ever returning to the duties of a police officer.
State Representative Ana Hernandez and Senator Sylvia Garcia will recognize and honor Sgt. Castañeda at the October 13th 6 PM Jacinto City Council meeting.