SAN ANTONIO — A Texas woman who for months was unable to qualify for food stamps pulled a gun in a state welfare office and staged a seven-hour standoff with police that ended with her shooting her two children before killing herself, officials said Tuesday.
The children, a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, remained in critical condition Tuesday. The shooting took place at a Texas Department of Health and Human Services building in Laredo, where police said about 25 people were inside at the time.
Authorities identified the mother as Rachelle Grimmer, 38, and children Ramie and Timothy. Laredo police investigator Joe Baeza said Grimmer had recently moved to the border city from Zanesville, Ohio, about 30 miles east of Columbus.
Grimmer first applied for food stamps in July but was denied because she didn't turn in enough information, Texas Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said.
Goodman said it wasn't immediately clear what information the mother was missing.
"We were still waiting, and if we had that, I don't know if she would still qualify or not," Goodman said.
Goodman said the Grimmer's last contact with the agency appeared to a phone call in mid-November. When the family entered the Laredo office on Monday shortly before 5 p.m., Goodman said Grimmer asked to speak to a new caseworker, and not the one whom she worked with previously.
Shortly thereafter, Goodman said, Grimmer was taken to a private room to discuss her case. She said it was there the mother revealed a gun and the standoff began.
Police negotiators stayed on the phone with Grimmer throughout the evening, but she kept hanging up, Baeza said. She allegedly told negotiators about a litany of complaints against state and federal government agencies.
Despite those complaints, Baeza said it wasn't clear what specifically triggered the standoff.
"This wasn't like a knee-jerk reaction," said Baeza, adding that Grimmer felt she was owed restitution of some sort.
She let a supervisor go unharmed around 7:45, but stayed inside the office with her children. After hanging up the phone around 11:45, police heard three shots, and a SWAT team entered the building. Inside, they found Grimmer's body and her two wounded children.
The children were "very critical" and unconscious when taken from the scene, Baeza said.
Goodman credited an office supervisor, a 24-year veteran of the agency, for ensuring the release of the other employees.
"He had told her he would try to help her, and that if she would let everyone else leave, he would talk to her," Goodman said.
Goodman didn't know whether Grimmer had a job, or whether her children were covered under Medicaid or the state children's health insurance program. The family had no history with the Texas Department of Child Protective Services.
The family's move from Ohio may have complicated Grimmer's application if the family had no Texas records the agency could check electronically, Goodman said. Grimmer would have also been denied benefits if she was receiving welfare assistance.
Goodman said the agency would try to answer why Grimmer, after having been denied food stamps in early August, waited until mid-November to call back and check on her case.
"The indications she had she was dealing with a lot of issues," Goodman said.
State welfare offices have come under scrutiny in the past for being overburdened, but Goodman said the agency has made significant strides in the past three years. She said wait times are shorter, and that Grimmer was scheduled for her initial interview just one day after applying. Grimmer didn't make the appointment, she said.
Goodman said it's not unusual for caseworkers to confront angry or confused benefit-seekers, but that it's very rare for a situation to escalate to violence.