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Police Say No Explanation Yet for Texas Shooting Frenzy

Authorities have no definitive answers yet about a motive in Saturday's shooting; FBI does not believe there is a terrorism connection

What to Know

  • At least 8 are dead, including gunman, and 25 injured in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa.
  • The shooting began when suspect was stopped for failing to signal a left turn while driving.
  • The gunman acted alone and federal investigators believe the shooter had no ties to any domestic or international terrorism group: FBI.

A lone gunman armed with an AR-style weapon opened fire during a routine traffic stop in West Texas and began a terrifying, 10-mile rampage that killed seven people, injured more than 20 and ended with officers gunning him down outside a movie theater.

Those killed were between 15 and 57 years old, but authorities did not immediately provide a list of names.

Family and employers, however, said that among the dead were Edwin Peregrino, 25, who ran out of his parents' home to see what the commotion was; mail carrier Mary Granados, 29, slain in her U.S. Postal Service truck; and 15-year-old high school student Leilah Hernandez, who was walking out of an auto dealership.

The shooter, identified as 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator of Odessa, was behind the wheel of a gold car on Interstate 20 in Midland when he was pulled over for failing to signal a left turn, authorities 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, 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 around Odessa and Midland.

Getty Images
A damaged police vehicle and U.S. Postal Service van blocked off with tape nearby to where a gunman was shot and killed at Cinergy Odessa movie theater following a deadly shooting spree on Aug. 31, 2019 in Odessa, Texas. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)

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 before he was killed.

"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," FBI special agent Christopher Combs said.

Authorities said they were processing more than 15 scenes as part of their investigation.

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 rampage that killed seven people, injured 22 others and ended with officers gunning him down outside a movie theater.

Police initially reported possible multiple shooters, but Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke later said there was only one male suspect.

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 approach has been taken in some other recent mass shootings in an effort to deny shooters notoriety.

Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections.

Rosie Granados was on the phone with her twin sister, Mary Granados, when the postal carrier's truck was hijacked by shooter Ator.

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"She was just screaming and I was desperate. I was just desperate to go where she was at, go help her, you know," she told NBC 5. "I was trying to call her name, but she wouldn't answer. She wouldn't answer, so I didn't know if she was okay."

Eventually, Rosie made it to where Mary was left lying unresponsive on the ground. Bystanders told her about the moment her van was hijacked before the shooter killed her.

U.S. Postal Service officials said in a statement Sunday that they were "shocked and saddened" by the events, but were "especially grieving the loss of our postal family member."

Shauna Saxton was driving with her husband and grandson in Odessa and had paused at a stoplight when they heard loud pops.

At a Sunday press conference in Odessa, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott listed off recent mass shootings that have happened in the state and called for lawmakers to "broaden our efforts" to prevent such tragedies.

"I looked over my shoulder to the left and the gold car pulled up and the man was there and he had a very large gun and it was pointing at me," she told TV station KOSA.

Saxton said she was trapped because there were two cars in front of her. "I started honking my horn. I started swerving and we got a little ahead of him and then for whatever reason the cars in front of me kind of parted," she said, sobbing. She said she heard three more shots as she sped away.

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?"

The shooting came at the end of an already violent month in Texas following the El Paso attack at a Walmart that left 22 people dead. 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."

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On Sunday, a number of looser gun laws that Abbott 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.

Hundreds of people gathered at a local university in the Permian Basin region known for its oil industry Sunday evening for a prayer vigil to console each other and grieve the loss of life.

Hundreds of West Texas residents stood and bowed their heads together, reciting the Lord's Prayer at a vigil for those killed in Saturday's mass shooting.

In Spanish and English, pastors asked those gathered at the University of Texas Permian Basin on Sunday night to pray for the dead and the injured. Together they gave thanks for the police, nurses and others who responded to the tragedy in Odessa and Midland, Texas.

Throughout the day, residents had struggled to understand how their remote communities in the heart of Texas oil country about 350 miles west of Dallas, could be the site of such violence. With law enforcement yet to offer a motive for the shootings, Midland Mayor Jerry Morales echoed the frustration.

Morales said: "We're out here in the middle of nowhere." He added: "All we've talked about is oil forever. And then this happens."

Odessa Mayor David Turner said: "We will get through the tragedy. We will show our beloved state and nation what it means to be Permian Basin strong."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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