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HOUSTON -- A retired Houston police officer who has used a wheelchair since she suffered a stroke in 2006 was wounded Monday when gunmen fired more than 25 rounds at a southeast-side apartment, officials said.
Velia Ortega, 77, was visiting relatives at the Plum Creek Apartments, 6969 South Loop East, about 1:30 p.m. when two men drove up and began firing, police said.
"Several rounds hit the exterior of the apartment," said HPD Sgt. John Chomiak. "Many entered the apartment through the door and the window."
Ortega, known as "Belle," was taken to Ben Taub General Hospital in critical condition, police said.
The barrage of gunfire peppered the front door and left more than two dozen shell casings scattered along the parking lot outside the apartment. The gunmen fled in a gray four-door Chevrolet Tahoe and remain at large, police said.
Officers at the scene said the men may have been involved in a dispute about a car with someone who lived in the apartment where Ortega was shot.
Ortega was such a frequent visitor to the apartment that some residents believed she lived there. Roosevelt Hayes Jr. said he often exchanged greetings with the retired HPD officer.
"She always kept a smile on her face," Hayes said. "This is a shock because everybody always tries to look out for each other."
Ortega was the first Hispanic woman hired as a Houston police officer, Chomiak said.
She joined the force in 1957 after spending about three years working in the jail. Ortega retired in 1989 but then spent 10 years working for the department as a civilian, Chomiak said.
In November, a group of HPD officers built a wheelchair ramp at Ortega's southeast Houston home, officials said.