Nearly 4 years later, families still waiting for accused Santa Fe gunman Dimitrios Pagortzis to face trial

Families speak out ahead of key decision

Nearly four years after a Santa Fe High School student was accused of murdering eight classmates, two teachers, and wounding more than a dozen others, no trial date has been set in the case.

Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 21, was charged with capital murder and aggravated assault on a peace officer, but was ruled incompetent to stand trial in October 2019.

Eighteen months after Pagourtzis was charged, defense attorneys said his mental health deteriorated. Experts for the defense, the prosecution, and an independent expert brought in by the judge determined Pagourtzis was incompetent to stand trial.

Judge John Ellisor initially ordered Pagourtzis be committed to a state psychiatric hospital for 120 days so doctors could work to restore his competency. That period of commitment has twice been extended. The latest term will end next month and doctors will have to inform the court whether Pagourtzis is again competent to stand trial or if more time and further treatment is needed.

Pagourtzis’ attorney, Nicholas Poehl, declined to comment.

Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady sent the following statement to KPRC 2 Investigates:

“We’re nearing the end of the most recent 12-month competency restoration order, and we’re hopeful that the defendant will be found competent and returned to Galveston County soon. We’re ready to try this case, and we know the victims and their families are ready as well. We stand with them in wanting justice done.”

Court records indicate Pagourtizs will plead not guilty by reason of insanity to the murders of Christopher Jake Stone, Sabika Sheikh, Cynthia Tisdale, Shana Fisher, Jared Black, Christian Riley Garcia, Angelique Ramirez, Kimberly Vaughan, Glenda Ann Perkins and Aaron Kyle McLeod.

However, his current state of incompetency is separate from what a jury may eventually have to consider was his mental state leading up to the murders.

Since Pagourtzis has not gone to trial, victims and family members of those killed have not gotten many of the answers they’ve sought since the day of the shootings. Information such as the evidence gathered against Pagourtzis, the details of exactly what happened the day of the shootings, or what may have prompted the rampage remains shielded from victims and families. Texas law limits what information the public can see prior to trial.

“What was so important to you and so compelling to just erase my wife from my life?” asked Steve Perkins, husband of Ann Perkins, a substitute teacher who was killed during the shootings. “I would like to know exactly what went on and happened that day. I would like to know if my wife suffered. I would like to know if some of this could have been avoided, but wasn’t.”

A lack of answers and years of waiting for trial has further exacerbated victims and family members’ pain. Some worry Pagourtzis will never face trial.

“It’s been challenging. I have really significant PTSD,” said Flo Rice, a former substitute teacher who was wounded during the May 2018 shooting.

Rice was shot in both legs, and it has taken years of surgeries and physical therapy to help her walk again.

“If you have a trial and you get past that and there’s some type of closure and you feel like there’s something, some justice was done,” said Rice.

Rice, her husband Scot and Perkins were part of an effort to see the law changed when it came to sharing information with relatives of homicide victims. Last legislative session, State Reps. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville and Greg Bonnen, R-Friendwood, jointly authored a bill that would have amended the Texas Public Information Act to give family members access to information regarding a loved one’s murder. Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady supported the measure, but it failed to pass.

“It’s terribly unfair, it’s our information to begin with,” said Perkins.

Flo Rice also worries that without all the information coming to light, there won’t be a chance to learn how to spot red flags in the future.

“If we don’t learn from this, then this whole horrific ordeal is for nothing,” said Flo.

Scot said he’s become increasingly frustrated with how Pagourtzis’ case is being handled. While the two cases have different sets of circumstances, Scot applauded Michigan prosecutors move to charge a recent school shooter with terrorism.

“We want every mass shooter classified as a domestic terrorist,” said Scot.

Santa Fe ISD police officer John Barnes saw Flo and Ann Perkins get shot. He was shot in the arm as he rounded a corner trying to find the shooter. The bullet shredded an artery and Barnes nearly bled to death.

“All he had to do was wait until I came around that corner and pull the trigger, which is what he did,” said Barnes, who joined Santa ISD police after retiring from HPD. “There is just a justice gap here, there is a ‘let’s put this guy away so we can stop worrying about him,’” said Barnes.

Barnes said it is important for Pagourtzis to stand trial so families can find some measure of peace. However, he doubts Pagourtzis will ever fully explain his motives.

A criminal complaint filed against Pagourtzis reads he admitted to the shootings and “he did not shoot students he did like so he could have his story told.”

“If you want to do something like it, you’re an evil, murdering (expletive), period. What else matters?” said Barnes. “What he’s not going to do is come out and say ‘I’m an evil (expletive), and I wanted to murder people.’ Right?”

Pagourtzis was also charged in federal court over the shootings, but the details of the government’s case are sealed. While he is considered an adult under Texas law, since he was 17 at the time of the shootings, he is considered a juvenile in federal court, therefore his records remain sealed in that venue.

Also, his age at the time of the murders prevents Pagourtzis from being given the death penalty or a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”