Five people were dead and a child under two years old was among more than 20 wounded after a man stopped by Texas state troopers for failing to signal a turn opened fire, hijacked a mail truck and went on a rampage, shooting people at random. The shooting happened between Odessa and Midland on Saturday afternoon.
Hospital officials said the child, a boy, was shot in the face. It was the second mass shooting in Texas in a month, prompting renewed and angry calls for meaningful gun reform.
Among responses from contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, Beto O’Rourke, formerly a congressman for El Paso, where a gunman killed 22 people a Walmart on 3 August, told an audience in Virginia: “This is fucked up.”
The suspect was described by Odessa’s police chief, Michael Gerke, as a white male in his 30s. He was chased down and shot and killed in a parking lot outside a cinema between Odessa and Midland.
Police did not say if the number of dead included the gunman. An update was expected on Sunday morning.
Seven people remained in critical condition at one hospital, said Russell Tippin, chief executive of Medical Center hospital in Odessa.
Tippin said one person the hospital received had died. It was unclear if that victim was among the five dead. Tippin said 13 victims were being treated at the hospital on Saturday.
In the aftermath of the shooting, confusion reigned. Police in Midland and Odessa issued statements which said two suspects were on the loose. The location of the shooting was wrongly announced.
The terrifying chain of events began when Texas state troopers pulled over a gold car on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said.
Before the vehicle came to a stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots”. The shots struck one of two troopers inside a patrol car, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled.
Two other officers were shot. The condition of the three officers was not immediately released.
Multiple witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections. A driver, Shauna Saxton, said she was driving with her husband and grandson in Odessa and had paused at a stoplight when they heard loud pops.
“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.
Gerke did not go into detail about the chase, but the cinema where the suspect was killed is more than 10 miles from where the troopers pulled over the gunman.
Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, this week held two meetings with lawmakers about how to prevent mass shootings. He said he would visit Midland-Odessa on Sunday.
The vice-president, Mike Pence, in Poland for commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the start of the second world war, said Donald Trump and his administration “remain absolutely determined” to work with both parties in Congress to “address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities in our country”.
Trump was monitoring Hurricane Dorian from Camp David in Maryland and his golf club in Sterling, Virginia. He said he had spoken to the attorney general, William Barr.
Democrats pursuing the nomination to run against Trump issued angry statements, calling for gun reform.
In a less formal manner, O’Rourke told an audience in Virginia: “Not sure how many gunmen. Not sure how many people have been shot. Don’t know how many people have been killed. The condition of those who have survived. Don’t know what the motivation is, do not yet know the firearms that were used or how they acquired them. But we do know this is fucked up”.
Trump has offered contradictory messages. Days after El Paso he said he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks” on guns and told reporters there was “tremendous support” for action. He later backed away, saying the current system of background checks was “very, very strong”.
Most recently, Trump has called for greater attention to mental health, saying new facilities are needed for the mentally ill as a way to reduce mass shootings.
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.
In Odessa, Dustin Fawcett told reporters he was sitting in his truck at a Starbucks when he heard at least six gunshots ring out less than 50 yards behind him. He spotted a white sedan with a passenger window that had been shattered. That’s when he thought: “Oh man, this is a shooting”.