Shared from the 9/1/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Shooting spree kills 5 near Odessa

Gunman killed after terrorizing West Texas sister cities, injuring more than a dozen others and 3 law enforcement officers

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Tim Fischer / Midland Reporter-Telegram

Authorities surround the area behind the Cinergy movie theater in Odessa where a gunman in a hijacked mail truck was killed. The shooter, who fired randomly at drivers and pedestrians, was a white man in his 30s, officials said.

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Mark Rogers / Associated Press

A man prays outside of the Medical Center Hospital emergency room Saturday in Odessa.

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Photos by Mark Rogers /Odessa American via AP

Authorities cordon off a part of the sidewalk along East 42nd Street in Odessa on Saturday. Several vehicles were shot at on the street, including a young girl in a car seat, according to witnesses nearby. Seven people are in critical condition, officials said.

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A law enforcement officer stands in the middle of East 42nd Street in Odessa. Initially there were reports of a possible second shooter, but authorities said they were later determined to be false.

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Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said officials did not have a motive for the mass shooting but that the attack began with a traffic stop by state troopers around 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

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Five people were killed and more than a dozen others injured after a man whom state troopers tried to pull over for failing to use his turn signal fled and then opened fire on motorists and law enforcement during an hourslong shooting spree that terrorized two West Texas towns Saturday afternoon. Three law enforcement officers were among the injured.

Department of Public Safety troopers attempted to pull over the gold sedan on Interstate 20 around 3:15 p.m., according to Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke. The driver — described as a white man in his mid-30s — used a rifle to fire several shots through his rear window, hitting one of the troopers, Gerke said.

He then sped off, firing at cars on Interstate 20 and Texas 191, including at Midland and Odessa police officers. At some point, he ditched the gold sedan and hijacked aU.S. Postal Service truck, killing its driver, according to social media reports from coworkers.

About three hours after the terrifying ordeal started, Midland police reported on Face-book that the gunman had been killed in a shootout with authorities in a movie theater parking lot in Odessa.

Gerke said that in addition to the injured officers, there were at least 21 civilian shooting victims. He said at least five people died. He did not say whether the shooter was included among those five dead, and it was not clear whether he was including the five dead among the at least 21 civilian shooting victims.

The shooter’s identity also wasn’t released as of late Saturday and his motive was unclear, but authorities said they had an idea who the gunman was.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who plans to visit Odessa on Sunday, said he was heartbroken over the “cowardly attack.”

“We offer our unwavering support to the victims, their families, and all the people of Midland and Odessa,” Abbott wrote.

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.

Reports of multiple shooters swirled through the West Texas towns Saturday afternoon, with active shooter incidents also reported at Music City Mall, Midland Park Mall and Midland Memorial Hospital. All of the others were false, according to local police departments.

“Once this individual was taken out of the picture, there have been no more victims,” Gerke said.

Junior Bejarano, 20, who works at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Odessa, said he had just finished cleaning a table when he heard gunshots.

“It was chaos in a matter of seconds,” he said. “People were screaming, flipping chairs, dropping plates.”

Witnesses saw cars with bullet holes at a nearby intersection and found a baby girl in a car seat covered in blood. One of Bejarano’s co-workers, who is also a paramedic, said she appeared to have been shot in the shoulder.

“She was conscious, but she was just covered in blood,” Bejarano said. “It was horrible to see something like that.”

Inside another car in the turning lane, Bejarano said, an older woman was hyperventilating after a bullet had apparently passed through her car’s passenger window and then through her driver’s side window, just missing her.

“She was just shaking,” he said. She was bleeding, but the injuries appeared to be from the glass breaking, not a bullet. “She really couldn’t talk,” he said.

The shooting rattled Bejarano and others, who said they never expected to see their town’s name on national news and trending on social media.

Another witness, Ernest Villanueva, 24, said he was driving westbound on Interstate 20 from Midland to Odessa when he approached a blue pickup and asilver sedan riddled with bullet holes. The vehicles were empty, Villanueva said, adding that he saw Midland police vehicles heading toward Odessa.

Dustin Fawcett, 28, was sitting in his truck at a Starbucks in Odessa when he heard at least six gunshots ring out less than 50 yards behind him.

At first, he thought it might have been a tire blowing but he heard more shots and spotted a white sedan with a shattered passenger window. That’s when he thought, “Oh man, this is a shooting.”

Fawcett, 28, an Odessa transportation consultant, “got out to make sure everyone was safe” but found that no one had been struck by the gunfire nearby. He said a little girl was bleeding, but she hadn’t been shot, and that he found out she was grazed in the face.

Fawcett said authorities responded quickly and when police pulled out their rifles and vests he knew that “this is not a drive-by. This is something else; this is something bigger.”

Medical Center Hospital System CEO Russell Tippin said 13 people were brought to his hospital, including seven in critical condition and two in serious condition. A17-month-old was airlifted to a hospital in Lubbock, he said.

“Grasp onto loved ones and hold onto them and pray for this town and family and victims involved,” Tippin said. “This is a scary incident, and no one is guaranteed tomorrow. Give thoughts and prayers to families and victims in this tragic incident.”

Matt Collins, an incident commander at MCH, said the hospital spent much of the evening in lock-down for the safety of its employees and patients.

“The community needs your prayers. Victims need your prayers. Families need your prayers. The hospital staff needs your prayers,” he said.

Hospital officials did not release any of the victims’ names.

President Donald Trump tweeted that he has been briefed about the shooting. “FBI and Law Enforcement is fully engaged,” he wrote.

The attack came just four weeks after one of the deadliest mass shootings in Texas history, when a 21-year-old gunman opened fire at aWalmart in the border city of El Paso on Aug. 3 and killed 22 people.

“Our hearts are with Midland, Odessa, and everyone in West Texas who has to endure this again. More information is forthcoming, but here’s what we know: We need to end this epidemic,” presidential candidate and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke tweeted Saturday.

Faith Sanchez, 20, a sophomore at Odessa College, said in a phone interview that the El Paso shooting had been weighing heavily on her mind. On Saturday, she was eating at a Texas Roadhouse with her family when word of the shooting spread.

“While we were eating, everyone was just kind of panicking and wondering if we should go outside,” Sanchez said. “They informed us that there was a lock-down.”

“We never thought this would happen here,” Sanchez said. “So many people are just in shock. We’re scared.”

“While we were eating, everyone was just kind of panicking and wondering if we should go outside. … We never thought this would happen here. So many people are just in shock. We’re scared.”
Faith Sanchez, student at Odessa College

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