‘I was shocked’: Port Aransas photographer captured images of a crowded beach. Then came the hate mail

TPWD: No citations issued despite large crowds seen at rivers, beaches

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Courtesy, Neesy Tompkins/Port Aransas Beaches

Photographer Neesy Tompkins captured images of the beach in Port Aransas, Texas on Saturday, May 2, 2020.

SAN ANTONIO – The comments flooded her Facebook page as quickly as Texans flocked to the Port Aransas beach.

What began as a day to document the scene near the Horace Caldwell Pier led to shock for photographer Neesy Tompkins.

"Being kind of a history buff, I felt it very important to document the first weekend of the opening of our Texas beaches,” she told KSAT, not aware of the scolding she would receive after posting the images.

She captured scenes during the peak time of beach activity — a Saturday afternoon — when dozens of people gathered for a break from the confinements on their homes.

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While a decent crowd could be expected, Tompkins said it “looked like the Fourth of July out there.”

Those on the pier, she said, weren’t following social distancing recommendations. And only one man, a local, was wearing a facemask.

“I was just a little alarmed at the vast amount of people," she said, adding that there was “very little” social distancing.

Claims of fake news

The images were posted on her Facebook page over the weekend, and they have since been shared across social media and by news organizations.

The “hate mail" soon followed.

“I was shocked because ... a lot of people said my photographs were fake,” she said.

On her Port Aransas Beaches Facebook page, which normally consists of nature photography, commenters urged people to report her page, with the goal of having Facebook take it down.

She explained that she did zoom in to capture activity further down the beach, where it was still “very crowded.”

“I don’t know if they’re family, I don’t know if they’re friends. What I know is that it didn’t appear that anyone was practicing social distancing," she said. “That was what I wanted to reflect in those photos.”

“There’s no reason for me to lie.”

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She said she would “invite” anyone to look at her camera and stills to prove they’re not doctored.

Her main concern, she said, is that COVID-19 cases could spike up as restrictions on Texans are eased.

‘Ridiculously unmanageable’

The beach at Port Aransas, which Tompkins called “ridiculously unmanageable,” wasn’t the only destination that saw high volumes of people.

A KSAT.com reader submitted a photo captured Saturday of a crowded Guadalupe River at its intersection with U.S. Highway 281.

“I have seen folks there on earlier weekends but never like this,” they said.

Guadalupe River on Saturday, May 2, 2020. (Courtesy)

While Texas officials continue to urge people to maintain six-feet distance during the pandemic, the Texas Parks and Wildlife says it hasn’t reprimanded anyone for close interactions.

“Currently, we are focused on educating the public about the restrictions currently in effect in state parks,” a spokesperson with TPWD told KSAT.com.

Those restrictions include the recommendation of face coverings, requirement of a six-foot distance between groups of individuals, and a ban of groups larger than five people not part of the same family or household.

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No citations have been issued as of Monday evening.

As state peace officers, Texas Game Wardens can enforce state laws and regulations across the state, inside and outside of state parks.

‘I want the town to be open safely’

The Port Aransas beach along with several businesses reopened over the weekend as Gov. Greg Abbott initiated the first phase to reopen the economy.

Malls, dining areas in restaurants and movie theaters were allowed to reopen Friday under 25% capacity.

Explained: How Abbott plans to reopen Texas and differences from San Antonio, Bexar County orders

As a worker in the tourism industry, Tompkins said she understands the importance of a healthy economy.

“I want to work this summer, I want to make money, and it’s not going to happen if the coronavirus spikes up,” she said.

“I want the town to be open, but I want the town to be open safely.”

About the Author:

Rebecca Salinas joined KSAT in the fall of 2019. Her skills include content management, engagement and reporting.