Seven people are now dead and 19 injured the day after a shooting rampage in West Texas that started police attempted routine traffic stop for failing to signal.
The suspect, who was later killed exchanging gunfire with police, gunned down motorists indiscriminately with an AR-style rifle before heading to a crowded movie theater where police now suspect he’d intended to go all along.
In a press conference on Sunday, Odessa Police Chief said that the victims’ ages ranged between 15 and 57 years old. A 17-month-old girl was shot in the face, and is among the injured victims.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott read a message aloud from her mother, which said the girl will undergo surgery to remove shrapnel from her chest, as well as reconstruction of her lips and mouth. “Her mouth is pretty bad,” her mother wrote. “But thankfully it looks like her jaw wasn’t hit.” Her tongue and teeth were impacted by the gunfire.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke offered a rough timeline for the shooting and said that the suspect was pulled over at 3.15 p.m on a highway between the cities of Midland and Odessa for failing to properly signal a turn. The suspect then shot the state trooper, and fled in the direction of Odessa.
“Initially it was thought there may have been multiple shooters. That’s because at some point this subject changed vehicles,” Gerke said. “We are now confident there was just the one actor.”
The suspect allegedly hijacked a U.S. Postal Service van, and then made his way toward the Cinergy movie theatre complex in Odessa. Gerke believes that the suspect, described as a white male in his 30s, intended to continue his rampage inside the movie theatre.
“Why go to the theater if you don’t plan to enter the theater,” said Gerke. “It’s one of the most crowded places to be on a Saturday afternoon in Odessa.”
Gerke said that the suspect, who was killed exchanging gunfire with police outside the movie theater complex, has been positively identified — however, law enforcement refused to release the name. Gerke said that investigators are trying to determine whether he owned his gun legally, which was reportedly a 223 AR-15 style weapon.
Law enforcement stressed the complexity of investigating this particular crime, noting that they are dealing with 15 different crime scenes.
“Please understand that this is a different type of active shooter than we have been involved with because he was mobile, which creates some special type of issues,” said Gerke.
Gov. Abbott made an impassioned speech about the need for change, pointing to the number of mass shootings in Texas in recent years — a church in Sutherland Springs, a high school in Santa Fe, and most recently, at a Walmart in El Paso that left 22 people dead.
“The status quo in Texas is unacceptable and action is needed,” Abbott said. “We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of people like the killer in Odessa while also ensuring we safeguard Second Amendment rights and we must do it fast.”
Abbot stopped short of calling for any specific gun control measures.
His response to mass shootings is under particularly close scrutiny: as he addressed the public on Sunday, a package of measures loosening gun laws in Texas (allowing guns in schools and churches, for example) went into effect.
Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs said that they don’t believe that the suspect has a connection to domestic or foreign terrorism.
Cover: A city of Odessa police car, left, and a U.S. mail vehicle, right, which were involved in Saturday's shooting, are pictured outside the Cinergy entertainment center, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, in Odessa, Texas. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)