The death toll in a West Texas shooting rampage increased to seven Sunday as authorities investigated why a man stopped by state troopers for failing to signal a left turn opened fire on them and fled, shooting more than 20 people as he drove, before being killed by officers outside a movie theatre.
Those killed ranged in age from 15 to 57, Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said at a news conference.
Authorities have no definitive answers yet about a motive in Saturday’s shooting, he said. Gerke also refused to publicly name the gunman during a national televised news conference Sunday, saying he did not want to give the shooter notoriety.
Two law enforcement officials later identified the shooter as Seth Ator, who records show is 36 years old. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Authorities said Ator was known to police.
The firearm used in the shooting was an “AR-type weapon,” Gerke said.
“There are no definitive answers as to motive or reasons at this point, but we are fairly certain that the subject did act alone,” he said.
Police initially reported possible multiple shooters, but police later said there was only one male suspect.
FBI agent Christopher Combs said Sunday that federal investigators believe the gunman had no connection to terrorism.
Victims shot ‘all over Odessa’
The terrifying chain of events began when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car on Saturday afternoon on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots” toward the patrol car stopping him. The gunshots struck one of two troopers inside the patrol car, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting.
The suspect shot “at innocent civilians all over Odessa,” according to a statement from Odessa police.
Two other police officers were shot before the suspect was killed. Authorities say the trooper was in serious but stable condition, and the other officers were stable.
Gerke said there were at least 22 people injured. At least two patients remained in critical condition at Odessa Regional Medical Centre, while others were hospitalized elsewhere.
Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections.
Shauna Saxton was driving with her husband and grandson in Odessa and had paused at a stoplight when they heard loud pops.
“I looked over my shoulder to the left and the gold car pulled up and the man was there and he had a very large gun and it was pointing at me,” she told TV station KOSA.
Saxton said she was trapped because there were two cars in front of her. “I started honking my horn. I started swerving and we got a little ahead of him and then for whatever reason the cars in front of me kind of parted,” she said, sobbing. She said she heard three more shots as she sped away.
Chase leads to movie theatre
Gerke did not go into detail about the chase, but the movie theatre parking lot where the suspect was killed is more than 16 kilometres from where state troopers originally pulled over the gunman.
The shooting comes just four weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week held two meetings with lawmakers about how to prevent more mass shootings in Texas.
Watch: A man talks about fleeing the theatre in Odessa
Ethan Baeza, his brother and their mother had to evacuate a theatre in Odessa, Tex., because of gunfire nearby 1:49
Saturday’s shooting brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018, according to The AP/USAToday/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of people killed this year has already reached 142, surpassing the 140 people who were killed of all last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.
Dustin Fawcett said he was sitting in his truck at a Starbucks in Odessa when he heard at least six gunshots ring out less than 46 metres behind him.
He spotted a white sedan with a passenger window that had been shattered. That’s when he thought, “Oh man, this is a shooting.”
Fawcett, 28, an Odessa transportation consultant, “got out to make sure everyone was safe” but found that no one nearby had been struck by the gunfire. He said a little girl was bleeding, but she hadn’t been shot, and that he later found out she was grazed in the face.
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said following the shooting that President Donald Trump and his administration “remain absolutely determined” to work with leaders in both parties in Congress to take such steps “so we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities in our country.”
Pence said Trump had spoken to the attorney general and that the FBI was assisting local law enforcement.
Trump has offered contradictory messages in reacting to recent mass shootings. Days after the El Paso shooting, he said he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks” on guns and told reporters there was “tremendous support” for action. He later backed away, saying the current system of background checks was “very, very strong.”
Most recently, Trump has called for greater attention to mental health, saying that new facilities are needed for the mentally ill as a way to reduce mass shootings. However, some mental health professionals say such thinking is outdated, that linking mental illness to violence is wrong, and that the impact of more treatment would be helpful overall but would have a minor impact on gun violence.