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Death Toll In West Texas Shooting Rampage Now At 7

Sep 1, 2019
Originally published on September 1, 2019 3:01 pm

Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET

The death toll from a mass shooting carried out by a gunman in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa has risen from five to seven, and 22 others remain injured, officials said on Sunday.

Authorities said a man armed with an "AR-type weapon" was killed by police just moments before heading toward a crowded movie theater, preventing what investigators said could have been an even deadlier rampage.

"I have been to too many of these events," said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at a media briefing about the shooting. "I'm tired of the dying of the people in the state of Texas. Too many Texans are mourning. Action is needed," he said. "And we must do it fast."

The shooting began after state troopers attempted to pull over a vehicle Saturday around 3:15 p.m. on a Texas interstate for failing to signal a left turn.

Police say the gunman, described as a man in his mid-30s with a history of traffic infractions, fled police and then stole a postal vehicle and began firing indiscriminately at people along the highway and streets around Midland and Odessa.

Officials in Odessa did not name any of the victims but did say that a postal worker is among the dead.

A 17-month-old girl and three law enforcement officials were among the nearly two dozen wounded. Abbott said the law enforcement officers are in stable condition.

The governor said that he has been communicating with the mother of the toddler and that the girl is expected to recover from her injuries. During the news conference, he read aloud a text message he received from the toddler's mother.

"This is all of our worst nightmare, but thank God she is alive and relatively well," the mother wrote to the governor. "Toddlers are funny because they could get shot and still want to run around and play."

Christopher Combs, the FBI's special agent in charge, said the shooting appears to have been perpetrated by a sole gunman and does not have any connection to terrorism.

Little is known about the gunman or his motivations. Police have deliberately withheld the shooter's name.

"You'll notice that I'm not naming the subject. And there's a reason for that. I'm not giving him any notoriety for what he did," said Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke.

State and federal investigators are now sifting through 15 active crime scenes that are associated with the shooting spree and are spread throughout West Texas, officials said.

"I want to express my deepest sorrow for families that have lost a loved one and for all the victims who have been wounded. The hurt you feel is incalculable, but you must hold on to the hope that you must also have," Abbott said.

New laws that would keep guns out of the hands of criminals while also safeguarding Second Amendment rights are needed, said Abbott. "We must do it fast," he said.

But Abbott did not outline specific legislation or policy proposals. When asked if AR-style weapons should be banned, the governor pointed out that not every mass shooting has been committed with such a weapon.

"We need solutions to keep guns out of the hands of criminals while protecting Second Amendment rights," Abbott said.

Abbott's comments came on the same day that eight new gun laws took effect in Texas. The laws ease restrictions on guns, permitting firearms to be carried in places of worship, during disasters and in rented and leased properties. The measures have been praised by the National Rifle Association.

Speaking from Washington on Sunday, President Trump said he is committed to stopping "the menace of mass attacks."

"This includes strong measures to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous and deranged individuals and substantial reforms to the nation's broken mental health system," Trump said, noting that the administration will try to balance public safety with also trying to "protect our Second Amendment."

Trump has given conflicting reactions in response to recent mass shootings. After back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, left 31 people dead in early August, the president said he was looking to push for "meaningful background checks" on gun purchases. But he later backpedaled, saying existing background checks are already thorough.

As the Odessa community searches for answers about what motivated the gunman, the city's mayor, David Turner, said in an interview with NPR that the focus needs to be on the families of victims.

"We covet everyone's prayers for those who were injured and for those loved ones who were lost and for the community as a whole," Turner said.

In particular, the mayor said the victim recovery effort needs to include support beyond just healing gunshot wounds.

"Physical injuries are there, but there are also emotional injuries. And so, we'll have to watch them close," Turner said.

The communities jolted by the massacre are in need of support right now, according to the Odessa mayor.

"In West Texas, we're known for being strong and independent," Turner said. "It's time for us to come together and love on those who need our love that have lost friends and family."

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