The cities of Odessa and Midland grieved and searched for answers after a shooter killed at least seven people and wounded 19 more as he drove through West Texas roads on Saturday.
At around 3:13 p.m. local time, state troopers attempted to stop a gold sedan on Interstate 20, police said. Before stopping the vehicle, the driver pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots at the officers, hitting one of them, and then sped off. Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said the shooter — a white man in his 30s — continued to shoot out of the vehicle, striking random drivers and pedestrians, and later hijacked a U.S. Postal Service truck.
The rampage ended when the gunman was shot and killed at the Cinergy movie theater in Odessa.
At least three police officers were among the wounded, Gerke said, and it remains unclear whether the shooter had any political motive.
Dustin Fawcett, 28, was sitting in his truck at the Starbucks at 42nd and JBS Parkway around 3:30 p.m. when he heard a series of loud blasts. At first, he thought it might be a truck backfiring or a tire blowing out. But when the pops continued at least half a dozen times, he knew they were gunshots.
He ducked low while diving toward the back seat, where his 3-week-old daughter was in her car seat. When the gunfire stopped, he jumped out of his truck to see whether anyone had been hurt, and he saw at least three cars that had been shot up as the gunman had sped by.
That’s when he saw a young girl, just 17 months old, who had been struck in the face by a bullet.
“She took a bullet through her bottom lip, so she was bleeding pretty good,” Fawcett said. The gunshot had knocked out the child’s teeth, but volunteers were able to slow the bleeding, and the girl was awake, held in her mother’s arms. Within minutes, the scene was swarming with officers and paramedics, who rushed the child away in an ambulance.
“I just had this deeply disturbing feeling,” said Fawcett, who at the time assumed it must have been an isolated drive-by shooting. “I didn’t comprehend yet that some evil man was on the loose.”
The attack thrust the region into chaos much of Saturday afternoon, as it remained unclear where the shootings were taking place and whether they were being committed by more than one person. Odessa and Midland were placed on lockdown for much of the afternoon, and students at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin were ordered to shelter in place.
One local television station, KOSA-TV in Odessa, evacuated its studio live on air. Various municipalities and police departments publicly announced that there was an active shooter, fueling speculation that there were multiple gunmen at different locations.
But Gerke told reporters early Saturday evening that authorities believe there was only one shooter and no ongoing threat.
“There are a lot of people hurt and a lot of people scared,” Odessa Mayor David Turner said in a brief phone interview Saturday afternoon as he raced back to the city from a holiday weekend trip to Fort Worth. “In a situation like this, prayer is the most important thing. We’ll get through this.”
Fourteen of the victims were taken to Permian Regional Medical Center, according to chief executive Russell Tippin, who told reporters that the hospital had spent much of the day locked down for safety.
This is the second mass shooting in Texas this month. On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire at a shopping center in El Paso, killing 22 people and wounding dozens more. In a missive published online, the suspect said he had driven to El Paso to target Hispanics. Patrick Crusius is in custody in that shooting.
Juan Josue Martinez, 18, was in the middle of a weekend retreat for the Texas Young Democrats in Midland when he learned about an active shooter nearby. He and his peers scurried to the hotel’s ballroom — far from the entrance, no windows in sight.
Just over three weeks ago, Martinez had sheltered in his church in El Paso as SWAT cars filled its parking lot and a shooter tore through a shopping center a mile away. Saturday night, he called his mom to again tell her that he was safe but that there was a shooting nearby.
“It really felt like another El Paso,” he said of the moment he found out there was a shooter nearby. “And I can tell you as an El Pasoan, it doesn’t just affect you in the day or in the week. It continues, and you think about it, and you think about it, and you think about it.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said in a statement that he was “heartbroken over this senseless and cowardly attack.”
“We offer our unwavering support to the victims, their families and all the people of Midland and Odessa,” he said. “I want to remind all Texans that we will not allow the Lone Star State to be overrun by hatred and violence. We will unite, as Texans always do, to respond to this tragedy.”
President Donald Trump tweeted Saturday night that he had been briefed by Attorney General William Barr. “FBI and Law Enforcement is fully engaged,” he wrote.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s field office in El Paso said that federal investigators were on the scene and that as of Saturday evening, it was still not certain whether the incident had any nexus to international or domestic terrorism.
Speaking to reporters at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, Vice President Mike Pence said “our hearts break” for the shooting victims.
He said that he and Trump had spoken about the shooting and that the administration remains “absolutely determined to work with leaders in both parties and the Congress to take such steps so that we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities.”
He offered no specifics.
Washington Post writers Lana Straub, Robert Costa and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.