EL PASO, Texas (AP) — At least 20 people were killed in a shooting Saturday in a busy shopping area in the Texas border town of El Paso, and a 21-year-old man was taken into custody, law enforcement officials said.
Two law enforcement officials identified the gunman as Patrick Crusius of the Dallas area. The officials were not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation publicly, and both spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
More than two dozen people are injured.
Most of the victims were shot at a Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall, El Paso police Sgt. Robert Gomez said at a news conference. He said the store was packed with as many as 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school shopping season.
“This is unprecedented in El Paso,” said Gomez, who added that many of the injured had life-threatening injuries.
Police responded in the midmorning to an active shooter scene at the mall, near Interstate 10 on the east side of the city, and were advising people to stay away from the area and to look for missing family members at a school being used as a reunification area.
The mass shooting in El Paso came less than a week after a gunman opened fire on a California food festival. Santino William Legan, 19, killed three people and injured 13 others last Sunday at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Ryan Mielke, a spokesman for University Medical Center of El Paso, said 12 people were brought to the hospital with injuries, including one that died. Two of the injured were children who were being transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital, he said. He declined to provide additional details on the victims.
Eleven other victims were being treated at Del Sol Medical Center, according to hospital spokesman Victor Guerrero. He said those victims ages ranged from 35 to 82.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the shooting “a heinous and senseless act of violence” and said the state had deployed a number of law enforcement officers to the city.
A family of three was among a dozen people waiting outside a bus station. They were trying to return to their car that was in a blocked-off Walmart parking lot.
“I heard the shots but I thought they were hits, like roof construction,” said Adriana Quezada, 39, who was in the women’s clothing section of Walmart with her two children.
Quezada said she saw four men, dressed in black, moving together firing guns indiscriminately. Police confirmed only one gunman.
Quezada’s 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son threw themselves to the ground, then ran out of the Walmart through an emergency exit. She said they were not hurt.
Police said by midafternoon that a suspect was in custody and the public was no longer in danger. Gomez said the suspect, who used a rifle, was arrested without incident. Police believe he was the “sole shooter” but are continuing to investigate reports that others were involved.
White House staff said President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting and spoke about it with Attorney General William Barr and Gov. Abbott. “Reports are very bad, many killed,” the president tweeted.
Presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke appeared a bit shaken as he appeared at a candidate forum Saturday in Las Vegas shortly after news of the shooting in his hometown was reported.
O’Rourke, who said he had called his wife before taking the stage, said the shooting shatters “any illusion that we have that progress is inevitable” on tackling gun violence.
The Democrat said he heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon, saying we need to “keep that (expletive) on the battlefield and do not bring it into our communities.”
“We have to find some reason for optimism and hope or else we consign ourselves to a future where nearly 40,000 people a year will lose their lives to gun violence and I cannot accept that,” O’Rourke said.
El Paso, which has about 680,000 residents, is in West Texas and sits across the border from Juarez, Mexico.
The city has become a focal point of the immigration debate, drawing President Donald Trump in February to argue that walling off the southern border would make the U.S. safer, while city resident and O’Rourke led thousands on a protest march past the barrier of barbed-wire topped fencing and towering metal slats.
O’Rourke stressed that border walls haven’t made his hometown safer. The city’s murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. Before the wall project started, El Paso had been rated one of the three safest major U.S. cities going back to 1997.