Washington: The death toll in a chaotic mass shooting in Texas has risen to seven, the local police chief confirmed Sunday, adding that it might have been far worse had the shooter not been stopped before entering a crowded movie theatre.
On Sunday, police identified the shooter as a local man named Seth Aaron Ator, age 36.
Police had said Saturday that five people died in the frantic shootout spread out over several miles on roads between the cities of Midland and Odessa in the west of the state.
They said Sunday that two more people had died. The dead ranged in age from 15 to 57, and the 22 injured included three police officers and a 17-month-old girl who was shot in the mouth but was recovering.
At the end of the shooting spree, the assailant — whose identity police said they were not ready to release — died in a shootout with police outside an Odessa movie theatre.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told reporters Sunday that he could not be absolutely certain of the suspect’s intent, but then added, “He showed up at a movie theatre, which would tend to show his motives.”
Gerke said that on a Saturday afternoon in Odessa, the theatre would have been one of the most crowded venues.
At the time, the chief refused to publicly name the shooter so as not to give him notoriety. He said there was “some criminal record attached to his driver’s license,” but no active warrants.
On Sunday afternoon Odessa police, on their Facebook page, named the shooter as Ator and said he was from Odessa.
Gerke said the shooter used an “AR-type” weapon — an assault-style arm such as has been used in several other mass shootings.
Reports said Ator is a white man in his mid-30s. Police gave no details, only his name and age.
Firing at random
FBI special agent Christopher Combs said at the briefing that authorities did not believe there was any connection to domestic or international terrorism.
The incident began when troopers tried to pull over a gold-coloured passenger vehicle on the Interstate 20 highway. Gerke said the driver had failed to signal a left turn.
Before the vehicle stopped, “the male driver (and only occupant in the vehicle) pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots toward the DPS patrol unit,” the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement.
One trooper was wounded, and the suspect fled, leading police on a wild chase during which he hijacked a US postal truck and opened fire at random.
Coming less than a month after a gunman killed 22 people in the Texas city of El Paso — less than 480 kilometres west of Odessa — the latest bloodshed has ignited fresh calls for steps to stem the US scourge of mass shootings.
‘Tired of the dying’
Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke repeatedly at the briefing about what he said were urgent legislative efforts to reduce gun violence.
“I have been to too many of these events,” he said, listing four mass shootings in the state. “I’m tired of the dying... too many Texans are mourning.”
US President Donald Trump, in a tweet Sunday, congratulated law enforcement and first responders for their response to “the terrible shooting tragedy yesterday.”
But later, speaking to reporters on the White House lawn, he said that while discussions on curbing gun violence were underway with lawmakers, “This really hasn’t changed anything.”
While he himself spoke after the El Paso shooting of requiring “strong background checks” to prevent unstable people from purchasing guns, Trump said Sunday that recent history showed that “as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it.”
But former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, bluntly disagreed, telling CNN that “if we’re not able to act decisively, then we will continue to have this bloodshed.”
Combs, the FBI agent, noted that this was not the first mass shooting his team had responded to.
Once the Odessa investigation concludes, he said, “We’ll get ready (for) the next active shooter, which is an unfortunate statement to make — but it seems like that’s what we do.”