At least 20 people have been killed in a mass shooting at a busy Walmart store packed with families shopping for the new school year in the Texas border city of El Paso.
Texas governor Greg Abbott said 20 “innocent people from El Paso” had lost their lives, and more than two dozen more were injured.
“Texas grieves for the people of El Paso today,” Abbott said.
A 21 year-old white male from Allen, a suburb of Dallas more than 600 miles away, was taken into custody after surrendering to officers. El Paso police chief Greg Allen said a “manifesto” was being investigated in connection with the suspect, and the shooting was being investigated as a potential hate crime.
“Right now we have a manifesto from this individual, that indicates to some degree, it has a nexus to potential hate crime,” Allen said at an evening press conference on Saturday evening, adding that he would not name the suspect.
El Paso is located in western Texas, right on the border with Mexico. The diverse city has around 680,000 residents, and its population is 80% Latino. Its Mexican twin city Ciudad Juárez, sits directly across the large barrier that divides their downtown areas. More than 23,000 pedestrians cross from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso to work every day.
Police started receiving reports of a shooting at 10 am local time on Saturday, Gomez said. Soon after, the police department tweeted that officers were responding to an active shooting scene and that people were advised to stay away from the area around Cielo Vista Mall, located south of El Paso international airport.
The Walmart store, which is part of the mall complex, was busy with families shopping for the new school year. Gomez estimated there were up to 3000 customers and 100 staff in the store.
Initial reports suggested that the weapon used was a rifle, but that was not confirmed, Gomez said.
A University Medical Center of El Paso official told the Associated Press that one of 12 people who were rushed to the hospital after the attack had died.
Ryan Mielke, a hospital spokesman, said all of the victims suffered traumatic injuries. He declined to provide additional details about the victims, including the one who died.
Mielke said two children, ages two and nine, were stabilized at the medical center before being transferred to the neighboring El Paso children’s hospital. Del Sol Medical Center said it was treating 11 other patients.
“It’s an absolute tragedy,” El Paso’s mayor, Dee Margo, told KTSM, a local television station.
Texas’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, told Fox News that between 15 and 20 people were shot at the Walmart in El Paso. Local television station KTSM earlier reported earlier that 18 people were shot or injured inside the Walmart store.
Cellphone footage broadcast by KTSM showed a person lying flat on the ground, with the sound of at least 10 gunshots in the background.
A Walmart employee described hearing gunshots and trying to get as many people as she could out of the store, and seeing customers and employees tumbling over each other in their rush to escape. One of her co-workers was shot in the hand, the employee said.
Another woman interviewed described seeing at least two or three bodies lying on the ground.
A man who had been at a store in the mall nearby told KTSM that he had heard gunshots and taken out his own gun as he ran towards the parking lot. He said police had briefly questioned him, thinking he was the shooter.
Jazmin Salas and her mother, Miranda Salas, who had been doing back-to-school shopping together described having to hide together inside a nearby store, before being escorted outside by law enforcement.
“It was very triggering,” Jazmin Salas told KTSM news. The teenager said she felt like she could not trust anyone. “There are crazy people everywhere.”
A family reunification center had been set up at a nearby middle school center, police said.
White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves issued a statement saying: “The President has been briefed on the shooting in El Paso, and we continue to monitor the situation. The president has spoken with Attorney General [William] Barr and [Texas] Governor [Greg] Abbott.”
Donald Trump tweeted about the “terrible shootings” and that reports were “very bad, many killed”. Law enforcement have not yet confirmed the number of fatalities.
The Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who previously represented El Paso in Congress, tweeted that the news was “truly heartbreaking”, and said he would leave the campaign trail to return to the city.
Fellow 2020 Democratic candidate and former San Antonio mayor, Julián Castro, said: “My heart is with the people of El Paso today as they cope with a devastating mass shooting … This attack is a tragic reminder of our government’s failure to do its most basic duty: to protect American lives. We need gun reform now.”
The shooting in El Paso comes less than a week after a shooting at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, left three people dead and fifteen injured.
Law enforcement authorities said a 19-year-old who had previously lived in town cut his way through a fence to get inside the festival, then opened fire with a military-style rifle.
Two Walmart employees were killed in a shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi last week.
Everyday, 100 people are killed with firearms in the US, and hundreds more injured, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.