ODESSA, Texas (AP) — At least five people were dead in West Texas after a man who was stopped by state troopers when his vehicle failed to signal a left turn opened fire and fled, shooting more than 20 people before he was killed by officers outside a movie theater, authorities said Saturday. Three law enforcement officers were among the injured.
The shooting began with an interstate traffic stop in the heart of Texas oil country where gunfire was exchanged with police, setting off a chaotic afternoon during which the suspect hijacked a U.S. Postal Service vehicle and began firing at random in the area of Odessa and Midland, hitting multiple people. Cell phone video showed people running out of a movie theater, and as Odessa television station KOSA aired breaking developments on live TV, their broadcast was interrupted by police telling them they had to clear the area.
Gerke described the suspect as a white male in his 30s. He did not name him or a motive but said he has some idea who the gunman is.
The terrifying chain of events began when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car mid-Saturday afternoon on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman 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 innocent people,” including two police officers.
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 mass more shootings in Texas. He said he would visit the area Sunday.
The West Texas shooting Saturday brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018
The West Texas shooting Saturday 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/USA TODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of victims also has reached the level reached in all of last year at either 139 or 140 depending on whether the West Texas suspect was one of the five police say are dead.
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.”
Trump has offered contradictory messages in reacting to recent mass shootings. Days after the El Paso and Ohio shootings he said he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks” and told reporters there was “tremendous support” for action. He later backed away from those changes, 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.
Odessa is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southwest of Midland. Both are more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) west of Dallas.