A gunman armed with an assault rifle killed 20 people on Saturday, August 3 when he opened fire on shoppers at a packed Walmart store in El Paso, the latest mass shooting in the United States.
As residents of the southern border town of El Paso in Texas tried to absorb the full horror of what is being treated as a potential “hate crime,” fresh calls rang out to end the nationwide “epidemic” of gun violence.
One suspect was taken into custody and authorities were studying an extremist manifesto purportedly written by the gunman.
Video shot on camera phones appeared to show multiple bodies lying on the ground in the store’s parking lot, and terrified shoppers running out of the store as gunfire echoed.
Manifesto indicates potential hate crime
“Twenty innocent people from El Paso have lost their lives,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott told a press conference.
Police chief Greg Allen confirmed that in addition to the 20 confirmed fatalities, there were 26 wounded.
Various news reports said the ages of victims being treated at hospitals ranged from two to 82 years.
Allen said the first 911 call was received at 10:39 a.m. and the first officer was on scene six minutes later.
Police said that between 1,000 and 3,000 customers were inside Walmart at the time.
After officials initially said three people had been detained, police confirmed that a 21-year-old white male from Allen, Texas, was the only person in custody.
Allen, Texas is around nine hours ago away from El Paso.
“Right now we have a manifesto from this individual that indicates to some degree, it has a nexus to potential hate crime,” Allen said.
The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation alongside the Texas state investigation, CNN reported, citing a source familiar with the investigative process. The federal agency has jurisdiction over hate crime and terrorism cases.
U.S. media named the suspect as Patrick Crusius.
The anti-immigration “manifesto” purportedly written by Crusius that was posted on a website often used by white nationalists includes passages railing against a “Hispanic invasion” of Texas and “race mixing.”
The author makes clear that he expected to be killed during his attack.
A still captured from CCTV showed the gunman carrying a rifle that looks like an AK-pattern assault rifle. The purported manifesto mentions this type of weapon.
The manifesto also declared a “general” support for the “Christchurch shooter,” a reference to shootings at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch on March 15. A 28-year-old Australian, Brenton Tarrant, a self-avowed white supremacist, faces 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder, and of engaging in a terrorist act over the Christchurch attacks, New Zealand’s first prosecution under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
‘Random shooting’ at Walmart
Witnesses said the gunman appeared to be shooting at random when he opened fire around 10:30 a.m.
One woman, who gave her name as Vanessa, said she had just pulled into the Walmart parking lot when the shooting began.
“You could hear the pops, one right after another and at that point as I was turning, I saw a lady, seemed she was coming out of Walmart, headed to her car. She had her groceries in her cart and I saw her just fall,” she told Fox News.
The witness said the gunman wore black t-shirt, combat trousers and was wearing ear muffs.
“He was just shooting randomly. It wasn’t to any particular person. It was any that would cross paths.”
Another shopper described how he managed to avoid being hit by hiding along with his mother between two vending machines just outside the store.
“That’s where the individual tried to shoot at me, which he missed cause I kind of ducked down,” Robert Curado told the El Paso Times.
‘How you doing, brother’
Video captured by a witness in the parking lot in the immediate aftermath of the shooting showed three people lying motionless on the ground.
One had fallen next to a truck, while two were on the sidewalk outside the store entrance. ” Ambulance! Help!” people cried as they rushed to the victims.
“How you doing, brother, how you doing,” one man was heard saying on the recording.
President Donald Trump, who is spending the weekend at his golf club in New Jersey, condemned the “terrible” shooting after being briefed by Attorney General Bill Barr and Abbott.
It has been a particularly bad week for gun violence in the United States.
On Tuesday, two people died and a police officer was wounded at a Walmart in Mississippi, and last Sunday a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a food festival in northern California, killing three people, including two children.
Beto O’Rourke, a former U.S. congressman for El Paso who is now running for president, cut off his campaigning in the wake of the shooting.
“I’m incredibly saddened and it’s very hard to think about this. But I tell you El Paso is the strongest place in the world, this community is going to come together,” he told supporters.
Elizabeth Warren, a senator who is among the frontrunners for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, said “far too many communities have suffered through tragedies like this already.
“We must act now to end our country’s gun violence epidemic,” she said.
Another presidential hopeful Cory Booker said the U.S. had “to end this national nightmare” and “find the moral courage to take action to end this carnage.”
With reporting from AFP