CRIME
08/31/2019 17:43 EDT | Updated 09/01/2019 18:08 EDT

At Least 7 Killed, More Than 20 Shot In West Texas Shooting Spree

Police shot and killed one suspect who they say went on a shooting spree in the Midland and Odessa areas shortly after a traffic stop.

A shooting spree in Odessa, Texas, left at least seven people dead and more than 20 injured on Saturday afternoon during Labor Day weekend, officials said.

Police believe the white male suspect, who is now dead, acted alone when he led police on a citywide chase while firing at people in multiple locations with an AR-style weapon. The man was confirmed to be a 36-year-old with an address in the county that encompasses Odessa.

Odessa police Chief Michael Gerke refused to name the suspect at a televised press conference Sunday afternoon, stressing he would eventually release the information but not at a publicized media event.

“You’ll notice that I’m not naming the subject. There’s a reason for that. I refuse to,” Gerke told reporters. “I’m not gonna give him any notoriety for what he did.”

At the press conference, Gerke said police don’t yet have a definitive motive for the suspect’s attack, and are still investigating how he obtained an AR-style weapon.

Investigators believe the suspect had no ties to any domestic or international terrorism group, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said at the conference.

Police said on Sunday morning that the death toll from the attack rose from five to seven people not including the suspect, and that at least one person remained in “life-threatening” condition, the Associated Press reported. Gerke said Sunday afternoon that the victims’ ages range from 15 to 57 years old.

At the time of the incident, an Odessa police spokesperson told HuffPost that shootings had been taking place “literally all around town.”

“We’re just telling everyone to stay in their house right now,” she said.

The shooting began shortly after a traffic stop when a state trooper attempted to pull over the suspect, who was driving a gold Honda, at around 3:17 p.m., Gerke said.

When the Honda stopped, the suspect shot at the trooper and continued to drive westbound toward Odessa, the chief said. During the chase, the suspect shot at multiple victims at various places, according to police.

The suspect then abandoned the car and hijacked a U.S. Postal Service vehicle.

The Odessa Police Department had warned residents on Facebook that there was a gunman “shooting at random people.”

Law enforcement officers with the Odessa and Midland police departments and the state Department of Public Safety eventually confronted the suspect in the parking lot of Cinergy, a movie theater in Odessa, where they shot and killed him.

“It has been confirmed that the active shooter was shot and killed at the Cinergy in Odessa,” police in Midland, a neighboring city, announced on Saturday evening. “There is no active shooter at this time. All agencies are investigating reports of possible suspects.”

In addition to the seven dead, more than 20 people were wounded in the attack, including a 17-month-old baby and three law enforcement officers. A hospital spokesperson told HuffPost that the 17-month-old is in “satisfactory condition,” and authorities at the Sunday press conference said the child will undergo surgery Monday to remove shrapnel from her body.

The Midland Memorial Hospital received six patients from the shooting, three who were in critical condition and three who were stable, a hospital spokesperson told HuffPost. There were 13 injured victims being treated at the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, the hospital’s CEO, Russell Tippin, said during a news conference.

Of those 13 victims, two were treated and released; seven were in critical condition, yet stable after undergoing surgery; and two were in serious condition. One victim was transferred to a pediatric center because they were under the age of 2, and one victim died at the hospital.

Gerke said there will be a prayer vigil Sunday evening at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin at 7 p.m. local time.

Initial police reports suggested that there were two shooters in separate cars, though Gerke later clarified that there was likely only one suspect involved in the shootings. 

“Once this individual was taken out of the picture, there have been no more victims,” Gerke told reporters.

Law enforcement later told AP on Sunday that the suspect’s name was Seth Ator. Court records obtained by AP reveal that police arrested him 18 years ago in McLennan County, Texas. He was allegedly charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and evading arrest, and pleaded guilty in a deferred prosecution agreement where the charge was waived after two years of probation served.

In a statement, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called the shooting a “senseless and cowardly attack” and said state officials were working closely with local law enforcement.

Abbott also appeared at the Sunday afternoon press conference in Odessa, where he thanked first responders and gave the update on the 17-month-old baby, whose mother texted him about the child’s health status. 

The Republican governor also cited other mass shootings in Texas he’s had to face during his tenure, including in Sutherland Springs, at Santa Fe High School and in El Paso.

“We know that words alone are inadequate,” said Abbott, a National Rifle Association favorite. “Words must be met with action.”

When reporters asked if Abbott would consider banning assault rifles given the frequency of their appearance in mass shootings, the governor said, “It’s one of the things legislators are already talking about.”

Abbott’s comments came the same day several new Texas laws went into effect that make it easier to carry firearms in public places, such as schools and churches.

President Donald Trump told reporters on Sunday that the Odessa shooting “really hasn’t changed anything” about how lawmakers are approaching gun control legislation. He also said strong background checks on gun purchases “wouldn’t have stopped any of it.”

As the shooting was taking place, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a Texas native, tweeted his support to the people of Midland and Odessa.

At an event later Saturday, O’Rourke, a former member of Congress, said he didn’t know the exact details of the shooting in Western Texas, but he was clearly disgusted.

“We do know this is fucked up,” he told his supporters. “We do know that this has to stop in our country.”

Four weeks earlier, O’Rourke took a break from his campaign to return to his hometown of El Paso after a mass shooting there left 22 dead.

Less than 24 hours after the massacre in El Paso, another mass shooting left nine people dead in Dayton, Ohio. 

This story has been updated to reflect the most recent death toll.

Hilary Hanson, Sebastian Murdock, Kimberley Richards and Dominique Mosbergen contributed to this report.