HOUSTON, Sep 1, 2019, NYT. Five people were killed and at least 21 others were injured in a brazen daylight drive-by mass shooting in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa on Saturday, as a gunman drove on the highways and streets opening fire on residents, motorists and shoppers, the authorities said, reported The New York Times.
The attack at the start of Labor Day weekend terrified sister cities 20 miles apart with a combined population of 263,000, less than a month after gunmen killed 31 people in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, in back-to-back massacres that stunned the nation and revived the debate in Washington over gun control.
The chief of the Odessa Police Department, Michael Gerke, said at a news conference on Saturday that the attack had begun after a traffic stop. The gunman fled the police and hijacked a postal truck, firing at civilians as he made his way into Odessa.
Three law enforcement officers and a toddler were among those wounded, before the police shot and killed the gunman, a man in his mid-30s, near a movie theater on the outskirts of Odessa. The police said the gunman’s motive was not immediately clear.
It was, in some ways, a sadly familiar scene of panic in America, as people suddenly ducked for cover or fled businesses as gunshots rang out. In Texas alone since 2017, there have been four mass shootings including the one Saturday. And yet in other ways it was unique, as the panic typically concentrated in one school or store spread for miles across the Texas flatlands amid early reports that there were multiple gunmen.
Police officers and state troopers warded drivers off the highways as businesses across the two cities shut their doors. Universities went on lockdown. A television station in Odessa evacuated its studio while its reporters were covering the breaking news live on the air.
“Our hearts break,” Vice President Mike Pence told reporters Saturday as he prepared to depart for Poland at Andrews Air Force Base, adding that both he and President Trump “remain absolutely determined to work with leaders in both parties and the Congress to take such steps so that we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities.”
The shooting rekindled a debate over gun control that had been prompted by the El Paso attack but had faded when Mr. Trump appeared to defer to Congress, which went into recess. It comes a week before Congress reconvenes and just one day before Texas is set to ease some gun restrictions, making it easier to carry handguns in churches and schools.
A host of Democratic presidential candidates took to Twitter, expressing sadness and anger and demanding legislative action. Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who is from El Paso, wrote, “More information is forthcoming, but here’s what we know: We need to end this epidemic.”
Odessa police officials said the incident began late Saturday afternoon at 3:25 p.m., when a state trooper on Interstate 20 between Midland and Odessa tried to pull the suspect over. The driver opened fire on the state trooper and fled westbound on the highway, shooting at a person at I-20 and east Loop 338. From there, the suspect “proceeded on a shooting spree in the City of Odessa” and stole a postal truck, the Odessa police said in a statement.
The suspect then drove to the Cinergy movie theater on Highway 191, shooting an Odessa officer and a Midland officer. Officers returned fire, killing the suspect, the authorities said.
Mayor Jerry Morales of Midland said a rifle had been used in the attack.
Junior Bejarano, 20, a worker at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Odessa, had just finished cleaning a table when he heard a gunshot outside at about 4:30 p.m. “It was chaos in a matter of seconds,” he said. “People were screaming, flipping chairs, dropping plates.”
A few minutes later, he and other workers walked outside and saw several cars with bullet holes at a nearby intersection, in the turning lane of E. 42nd Street near Parkway Boulevard. He heard a woman screaming and ran to her car with his co-workers.
Inside, he said he saw a baby girl in a car seat whose face, shirt and lap were covered in blood. One of his co-workers, who is also a paramedic, checked on the child until on-duty paramedics arrived and said that she appeared to have been shot in the shoulder.
“She was conscious, but she was just covered in blood,” Mr. Bejarano said. “It was horrible to see something like that.”
By Manny Fernandez, Neil Vigdor and Christopher Mele