Update: Gunman identified in West Texas shooting rampage
ODESSA, Texas (AP) — Authorities said Sunday they still could not explain why a man with an AR-style weapon opened fire during a routine traffic stop in West Texas to begin a terrifying, 10-mile (16-kilometer) rampage that killed seven people, injured 22 others and ended with officers gunning him down outside a movie theater.
Authorities identified the shooter as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa. Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and evading arrest. He entered guilty pleas in a deferred prosecution agreement where the charge was waived after he served 24 months of probation, according to records.
That brush with the law would not have prevented Ator from legally purchasing firearms in Texas, although authorities have not said where Ator got his weapon.
Ator acted alone and federal investigators believe the shooter had no ties to any domestic or international terrorism group, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said. Authorities said those killed were between the ages of 15 and 57 years old but did not immediately provide a list of names. The injured included three law enforcement officers, as well as a 17-month-old girl who sustained injuries to her face and chest.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke refused to say the name of the shooter during a televised news conference, saying he wouldn’t give him notoriety, but police later posted his name on Facebook. A similar tack has been taken in some other recent mass shootings.
Gerke said there were still no answers pointing to a motive for the chaotic rampage, which began Saturday afternoon when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn. Police said Ator had no outstanding warrants. His arrest in 2001 was around Waco, hundreds of miles east of Odessa.
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, according to Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger. The gunshots struck a trooper, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting. He fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, two cities in the heart of Texas oil country more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) west of Dallas. At one point, he hijacked a mail carrier truck, killing the lone postal worker inside.
U.S. Postal Service officials identified her as Mary Granados, 29.
Police used a marked SUV to ram the mail truck outside the Cinergy Movie Theater in Odessa, disabling the vehicle. The gunman then fired at police, wounding two officers. Combs said the gunman might have entered the theater if police had not killed him.
“In the midst of a man driving down the highway shooting at people, local law enforcement and state troopers pursued him and stopped him from possibly going into a crowded movie theater and having another event of mass violence,” Combs said.
The shooting came at the end of an already violent month in Texas, where on Aug. 3 a gunman in the border city of El Paso killed 22 people at a Walmart. Sitting beside authorities in Odessa, Abbott ticked off a list of mass shootings that have now killed nearly 70 since 2016 in his state alone.
“I have been to too many of these events,” Abbott said. “Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable, and action is needed.”
But Abbott, a Republican, remains noncommittal about imposing any new gun laws in Texas at a time when Democrats and gun-control groups are demanding restrictions. And even as Abbott spoke, a number of looser gun laws that he signed this year took effect on the first day of September, including one that would arm more teachers in Texas schools.
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.
Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections
Dr. Nathaniel Ott was working at an Odessa emergency care center where he is the medical director when he heard gunshots. He rushed outside to find a woman in the driver’s seat of an SUV bleeding from a gunshot wound in the arm. Ott said that as he and a paramedic were working on the woman, the shooter drove back by.
“The shooter drove within 30 feet of us and drove up that road,” Ott said Sunday, pointing to one of the streets leading past the shopping center where his facility is located. “The shooter was driving. It was insane. He was just everywhere.”
Daniel Munoz, 28, of Odessa, was headed to a bar to meet a friend when he noticed the driver of an approaching car was holding what appeared to be a rifle.
“This is my street instincts: When a car is approaching you and you see a gun of any type, just get down,” said Munoz, who moved from San Diego about a year ago to work in oil country. “Luckily I got down. … Sure enough, I hear the shots go off. He let off at least three shots on me.”
He said he was treated at a hospital and is physically OK, though bewildered by the experience.
“I’m just trying to turn the corner and I got shot — I’m getting shot at? What’s the world coming to? For real?”
Weber reported from Austin. Associated Press journalists Jeff Karoub in Detroit; Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Meghan Hoyer and Michael Biesecker in Washington; and Tim Talley in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
Police identify gunman in Texas shooting rampage that killed seven
A Texas mass shooter powered his deadly rampage with an “AR-type weapon” when he killed seven people and wounded 22 in a wild rampage — but the motive for his shooting spree remained a mystery on Sunday.
Authorities identified the shooter as Seth Ator, 36. His wild Saturday afternoon shooting frenzy through Odessa and Midland terrified the twin cities in the West Texas oil patch and was the state’s second mass shooting of August.
Officials released few new details at a Sunday news conference, noting the investigation is still active and that a motive hasn’t been determined. Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said the shooter acted alone.
Initially, the police chief declined to name him. “I refuse to. I’m not going to give any notoriety for what he did,” Gerke said, adding that the name would be released at another time. Authorities later confirmed the shooter was Ator.
The bloodshed began after Ator was stopped by state troopers around 3 p.m. Saturday for failing to signal a left turn on a highway between Odessa and Midland, officials said. He then opened fire and fled the scene, randomly shooting at people, including three law enforcement officers, according to police.
All three officers were expected to recover.
During the chase, Ator ditched his car and hijacked a U.S. Postal Service Jeep, killing letter carrier Mary Granados, 29, the Post Office confirmed. Ator was eventually trapped in the parking lot of a movie theater in Odessa, where he was gunned down and killed by police.
Police said those killed in the carnage were between 15 to 57 years old. Among the wounded is a 17-month-old baby who was hit in the face by a bullet fragment.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott read a text message from the child’s mother during the news conference.
“This is all of our worst nightmares, but thank God she’s alive and relatively well,” the text read.
Abbott also said he was “heartbroken” and “tired” by the wave of mass shootings in his state.
The deadly spree, which erupted over a 10-mile area, took place some 300 miles east of El Paso, where a massacre last month left more than 20 people dead at a local Walmart.
“I have been to too many of these events,” Abbott said. “Too many Texans are mourning. Too many Texas have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable and action is needed.”
In 2018, eight students and two teachers were killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in the Houston metro area. Just months earlier, in November 2017, a gunman killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio.
The Aug. 3 El Paso mass shooting is being investigated as a terrorist attack. The suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, reportedly admitted to targeting “Mexicans” and posted an anti-immigrant screed online moments before opening fire. Crusius is in custody on capital murder charges.
The Republican governor said he’d work with legislators to consider all possible solutions to reduce gun violence “while safeguarding” Texans’ Second Amendment rights.
The latest bloodshed came one day before a series of new laws loosening restrictions on firearms went into effect in Texas. The changes include laxer restrictions on weapons on school grounds, places of worship and foster homes.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, described the mass shooting in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday as “extraordinarily concerning” and “devastating.”
“We’re very concerned about it and we’re following up aggressively,” he said, adding that mass shootings “are absolutely a homeland security threat.”