by BRAD ROLLINS
A man police say they stopped from shooting up a Wal-Mart in Austin is a former Hays County resident who made frequent visits to the courthouse that unnerved some employees.
Armed with a 9mm handgun and a cache of ammunition, Edward Eberle, 51, was arrested May 1 when he tried to enter the store where he had been fired in March. Earlier in the day he left a note to his wife saying he had chosen a life in prison and asked her to return a library book and walk his dog, Cassie. A text message to his sister said: “Turn yer tv’s on!”
Before he could follow through on what police say were plans for a massacre, an officer spotted Eberle leaning against a vending machine in front of the Wal-Mart at Slaughter Lane and Interstate 35 in the South Park Meadows retail center. He was knocked to the ground and taken into custody as he tried to enter the store, police say.
“But for the actions of this team, we would have had a tragedy,” Austin police chief Art Acevedo said in a press conference the next week.
Eberle is charged with making a terroristic threat and carrying a weapon in an establishment licensed to sell alcohol, both third-degree felonies each punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Current and former Hays County employees who saw Eberle’s photo splashed on newspapers and newscasts say the same man used to regularly make the rounds to government offices, cornering employees and talking for hours.
“He believed he had Aztec pyramids buried on his property and was always trying to get us to buy the land to preserve what he thought were these historical treasures,” said Brad E. Bailey, the former county coordinator. “He was just a very odd character.”
Former grants administrator Richard Salmon said he thought Eberle was among a number of questionable figures who routinely visited the courthouse: “This was years ago and I can’t be completely sure it’s the same guy but there were people who came in and caused you to wonder. … After a while, you kind of have to put [the threat] out of your mind and focus on doing your job.”
Eberle’s visits prompted some employees to ask that hazard buttons be installed in county offices for alerting law enforcement of problems. Former County Judge Jim Powers relocated the precinct 1 constables office to the courthouse from the justice center so there would be a law enforcement presence in the building.
“We thought that was a good compromise between having some law enforcement presence at the courthouse and creating a really restricted environment that discourages people from coming and going,” Bailey said.
Before the constables office was moved, Jacqueline Cullom Murphy, the former special counsel to the commissioners court, recalls that she was responsible for asking unwanted visitors to leave or diffusing tense situations, often stemming from a family court held in the commissioners courtroom on the third floor.
“Here I’d be this short lady without a gun or a badge asking vagrants camped out downstairs to leave if they didn’t have any business,” Murphy said. When the constables office was moved, she said, “it was helpful but it certainly wasn’t like having comprehensive security.”
Pct 1 Constable David Peterson, who took office last month after he won the Democratic Party primary and his predecessor resigned, said his office is working toward involving the county’s law enforcement agencies in a County Facilities Security Committee to review who guards public buildings like the courthouse, Justice Center, Courthouse Annex and Records Building.
“This is something Hays County’s been needing to look at a long time,” said Bill Kuykendall, Peterson’s chief deputy.
Although she does not remember Eberle, county treasurer Michelle Tuttle said her office has dealt with agitated visitors who alarmed her employees. Less than a year ago, she said, an apparently mentally ill man followed one of her employees into the office early in the morning and began raving about police killing his girlfriend.
“She picked up the phone to call 911,” Tuttle said, “and he assured her that she did not want to call the police.”
After he left, Tuttle called police who told her later the same man had previously been arrested at what was then the All-Niter Diner for causing a disturbance.
“They said he was in a halfway house from a state mental facility and that he wasn’t completely balanced,” Tuttle said.Email | Print