Five people were killed and another 21 were injured in the West Texas cities of Odessa and Midland after a gunman fled a traffic stop, hijacked a mail truck and opened fire indiscriminately on officers and civilians as he sped down Interstate 20 and Highway 191, police said.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said that the shooter — a white man in his 30s — fled a police traffic stop before hijacking a U.S. Postal Service truck and shooting randomly at drivers and pedestrians.
The spree ended when the gunman was shot and killed by police at the Cinergy movie theater in Odessa.
At least three police officers were among the wounded, Gerke said, and it remains unclear if the shooter had any political motive.
The shooting 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 gunman. 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 may be multiple, simultaneous gunmen at different locations.
But Gerke told reporters early Saturday evening that they believe there was only one shooter and there was 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 CEO Russell Tippin, who told reporters that the hospital had spent much of the day locked down for safety.
Jen Ramos, 27, was in the middle of a weekend retreat for Texas Young Democrats in Midland, Texas, when she learned about an active shooter nearby. She scurried to the hotel’s ballroom — far from the entrance, and away from windows — where she stayed hiding alongside dozens of co-workers for more than an hour and a half before they received word that the lockdown had been lifted.
“The fact that our plans to grow and develop leaders turned into a lesson on gun safety,” she said. “Nothing is safe anymore.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) 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.”
This is the second mass shooting in Texas this month. On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire on a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22 people and wounding a dozen 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 incident.
President Trump tweeted Saturday night that he had been briefed by Attorney General William P. Barr. “FBI and Law Enforcement is fully engaged,” he wrote.
A spokeswoman for the FBI’s field office in El Paso said 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 suburban Maryland, Vice President Pence said “our hearts break” for the shooting victims.
He said 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.