From linking one woman to 20 shootings to the arrest of a man wanted for killing a man on Easter, NIBIN, a federal database, matches bullet casings to the gun used.
HOUSTON — From violence in Houston neighborhoods to rage-induced shootings on roads across the Greater Houston area, law enforcement agencies across the area are chasing down leads and working overtime, literally, to make arrests.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, better known as the ATF, works to analyze bullet casings found at crime scenes in an effort to trace the exact gun used in the crime.
“Somebody somewhere has to know something,” Patricia Williams said about the road rage shooting that left her 9-year old granddaughter, Ashanti Grant, in a medically-induced coma. “I’m asking Houston to come together. If you see anything, let them know. Right away. Because they’ve got to be found.”
Williams is hopeful Houston police will catch a break and find the shooter, who police described as a Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s who was driving a white 2017 GMC Denali truck along 59 north between the Sam Houston Tollway and Fondren on Feb. 8. There’s a chance HPD investigators could get a lead from the shell casing retrieved from the crime scene.
While neither the Houston Police Department nor the ATF can comment on the investigation into Ashanti’s death, police across Houston are prioritizing getting casings processed and into the ATF’s database — NIBIN.
“So, NIBIN stands for the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network,” Noel Rangel said.
Rangel, a native Texan, is the Assistant Special Agent In-Charge of the ATF’s Houston Field Office. NIBIN, Rangel explained, is a national record of bullets recovered from across scenes across the country.
“So we know that criminals do not stop at jurisdictional boundaries. Right? They are going into the city. They are going into the county. They are going into other parts of the Greater Houston area and are committing violent crimes,” Rangel said.
If a match is made through NIBIN, investigators know the person they’re looking for could be a serial shooter. In one case, Rangel said NIBIN was able to connect one gun to 20 different shootings. Rangel said a woman was arrested and charged in connection with the string of violence. In 2021, AFT Houston helped to make 93 arrests with the use of NIBIN.
“I live here in the Houston area. My wife and kids live in this Houston area. So absolutely it’s personal,” Rangel said.
The cases against innocent Houstonians are personal for the federal agents who are teaming with local and state agencies through an ATF gun violence strike force.
Cases like the death of Michael Vasquez are personal. Vasquez, a 37-year old father, was ambushed outside a Dave & Buster’s along the Katy Freeway on Easter Sunday in 2021. His young daughter witnessed a gunman ambush her father as the two walked out of the business and into the parking lot.
“He was then robbed, shot and killed. Initially, there were no suspects identified and there were no leads. Four days later, a 3-year old gets ahold of his father’s gun and accidentally shoots himself,” Rangel said.
Rangel said NIBIN connected the father of the 3-year old, Nicolas Thomas, to the shooting death of Vasquez. Thomas was arrested, charged with capital murder and is currently out on a $150,000 bond.
Sometimes, law enforcement seizes guns. When those weapons are not fired during the commission of a crime and there are no bullet casings to collect, the ATF will fire the weapon at its test range.
“It has recently become highly relevant in combating violent crime,” he said.
While KHOU 11 News was getting a behind-the-scenes tour of the test range last Wednesday, police from the cities of Galveston and Pasadena brought in seized guns to be fired. The casings were processed and uploaded into NIBIN.
“At the end of the day, we have to work together,” Rangel said.
He said it starts by using all possible technology to help solve cases of gun violence against the youngest of victims.
Follow the original story here by Melissa Correa