Texas shooting: death toll rises to seven, with 17-month-old among 22 wounded | US news
As the death toll in a mass shooting in Texas on Saturday rose to seven and details emerged of how a 17-month-old child was shot in the face, Beto O’Rourke used an appearance on live television to denounce America’s epidemic of gun violence as “fucked up”.
The former congressman from El Paso who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination told CNN’s State of the Union the polite rhetoric deployed by most politicians, of “thoughts and prayers”, was no longer adequate.
He was speaking hours after a chaotic shooting spree in Odessa and Midland ended with seven people and the gunman dead and a 17-month-old child among 22 people injured. Odessa’s police chief said the ages of the seven victims ranged from 15 to 57.
Texas’ governor, Greg Abbott, said he had been sent a text by the child’s mother.
“Thank you all for praying,” he read. “This is all of our worst nightmares but thank God she’s alive and relatively well. Toddlers are funny because they can get shot but still want to run around and play. We are thanking God for that.
“For now it’s pretty bad … it doesn’t seem like her jaw was hit, just lip, teeth and tongue. She’s having surgery tomorrow. We’re thanking God for healing her.”
Soon after 3pm on Saturday a man was stopped by state troopers for failing to signal a turn. The man opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle then fled, hijacking a mail truck and shooting people at random.
It was the second mass shooting in Texas in a month. O’Rourke, who has been at the forefront of calls for tougher gun laws since 22 people were killed at a Walmart in his home town on 3 August, recited the stark statistics.
On average, he said, the US was suffering 300 mass shootings a year. In a New York Times survey, 51 people were recorded to have died in such events in August alone.
“So yes, this is fucked up,” he said. “If we are not able to call it out we will continue to have this kind of bloodshed.”
In Texas, eight new gun laws came into effect on Sunday, dramatically loosening already lax controls. O’Rourke is calling for universal background checks on all gun sales, a ban on the sale of AR-15-style rifles and a mandatory buy-back of those weapons.
The latest suspect, described as a white male in his 30s, was chased and shot dead outside a cinema more than 10 miles from where he was pulled over.
Odessa police chief Michael Gerke said “no definite answer as to motives or reason” was known. But he did speculate that the gunman may have intended to carry out a mass shooting at the cinema, adding: “He showed up at a movie theatre, which would tend to show his motives.”
Gerke would not name the gunman, because he was “not going to give him any notoriety”. He did say the suspect had a criminal record, raising questions about how he obtained an AR-15-style rifle.
Police initially thought there were two suspects because the suspect changed vehicles, Gerke said.
Later on Sunday police named the shooter as Seth Ator, from Odessa. Public records held by the Texas Department of Public Safety showed he was 36 and had two criminal charges dating back to 2001, one for criminal trespass and one for evading arrest. He pled guilty and was put on two years’ probation.
The shooting began when state troopers pulled over a gold car on Interstate 20, a Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman told reporters. The driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots”, striking one trooper. The gunman fled and two other officers were shot later.
Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and intersections. Shauna Saxton said she was at a stoplight when she 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, sobbing. “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.”
On CBS’s Face the Nation, O’Rourke made reference to a video which spread on social media.
“I also just watched a video on Twitter of a family that is pinned to the ground, the children are crying,” he said. “They’re all Mexican American in a part of our country where Mexican Americans were targeted and hunted for their very ethnicity.”
The suspect in the El Paso shooting has been linked to a “manifesto” posted online which detailed far-right positions. Authorities said no connection to domestic or international terrorism had been seen in the Odessa shooting.
“People are living with fear,” O’Rourke said, “feel like they have targets on their backs right now. Kids afraid to go to school tomorrow morning. This is not right. Unacceptable. And I won’t accept it.”
In Washington, Donald Trump repeated a line heavily criticised by experts: that mass shootings are caused almost exclusively by mental illness and not by access to guns.
The president said: “I will say that for the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five, going back even five or six or seven years – for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it. So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem. It’s a big problem.”
Trump said a “package” of measures was being prepared to put before Congress but gave no details. His deflection was in tune with his behavior over recent weeks. Days after El Paso, Trump said he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks”. He later backed off.