Seven people have been killed and 21 injured in a daylight drive-by mass shooting in Midland and Odessa, Texas, on Aug. 31, 2019. The gunman drove on the highways and streets opening fire on anyone he passed.
The Labor Day weekend attack terrified the sister cities 20 miles apart, less than a month after other gunmen killed 31 people in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, in back-to-back massacres.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke stated in a news conference held on Saturday, that the attack began after a traffic stop. The gunman fled from the police and hijacked a postal truck. He fired at civilians as he drove to Odessa.
Three members of law enforcement and a toddler where among the wounded. Police shot and killed the gunman. He was killed near a movie theater on the outskirts of Odessa. The man was in his mid-30s. Police are unsure about the motives of the gunman.
Since 2017, in Texas, there have been four mass shootings, including the one on Saturday. Initially, it was believed there were multiple gunmen.
Police officers and state troopers worked to move people off the highways, and businesses across the two cities closed their doors. Universities were on lockdown. A TV station in Odessa evacuated the studio, and reporters covered the breaking news story live on the air.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters “our hearts break.” He was preparing to depart for Poland at Andrews Air Force Base. Pence stated that he and Donald 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 mas atrocities.”
The shooting refueled a debate over gun control that was prompted by the El Paso shooting but seemed to fade after Trump appeared to defer Congress. Currently, Congress is in recess. The shooting occurred a week before Congress reconvenes and a day before Texas is working to make it easier to carry handguns in churches and schools.
A multitude of Democratic presidential candidates took to Twitter. They expressed their sadness and anger, wanting legislative action. Beto O’Rourke is a former Texas congressman who is from El Paso. He wrote, “More information is forthcoming, but here’s what we know: We need to end this epidemic.”
According to Odessa police officials, the shooting began late Saturday afternoon at 3:25 p.m., when a state trooper on Interstate 20 pulled the suspect over between Midland and Odessa. The driver opened fire on the officer and fled westbound on the highway. He shot someone at I-20 and Loop 338. After that, the man “proceeded on a shooting spree in the City of Odessa.” He stole a postal truck and drove to the Cinergy movie theaters on Highway 191. He shot an Odessa and a Midland police officer, they returned fire, killing the shooter.
According to Mayor Jerry Morales of Midland, a rifle was used in the shooting.
A worker at the Twin Peaks Restaurant in Odessa, Junior Bejarano, 20, said he had just finished washing a table when he heard a gunshot at 4:30 p.m. He reported: “IT was chaos in a matter of seconds. People ere screaming, flipping chairs, dropping plates.”
A few minutes later, Bejarano and his coworkers were outside. There were several cars with bullet holes at a nearby intersection, in the turning lane of E. 42nd Street near Parkway Boulevard. Bejarano and his coworkers ran to help a woman they heard screaming. When they looked inside her vehicle, they say a baby girl in her car seat, covered in her own blood. One of his coworkers is also a paramedic. When the on-duty paramedics arrived, they said it appeared she was shot in the shoulder.
Bejarano said, “She was conscious, but she was just covered in blood. It was horrible to see something like that.”
Inside another car in the turning lane, an older woman was hyperventilating after a bullet passed through the car’s passenger window and through her driver’s side window, just missing her, according to Bejarano.
He said that she was trembling and bleeding. However, her minor injuries appeared to be from the broken glass, not a bullet.
The shooting shook many residents who did not believe their town’s name would be on the national news and trending on social media.
Ernest Villaneuva, 24, was a witness driving westbound on Interstate 20 from Midland to Odessa. He approached a blue pickup truck and a silver sedan that had been riddled with bullet holes. The vehicles were empty, but Midland police were headed to Odessa.
During the chaos, police responded to a call of shots fired at the Music City Mall, where TV news station CBS 7 has its studios. At the time, reporters were reporting on the shooting live on the air. Authorities ordered the reporters to leave the studio.
The reporters continued to report on the incident through their microphones. They described a scene of trash and bags left behind by shoppers who were running from the mall.
Chief Executive of Medical Center Health System, Russel Tippin, said 13 people were treated at the hospital, including one who died and a patient under the age of 2 who was transported to another hospital. It is not clear if the person who died was included in the total given by the Odessa police.
Seven of the patients who were at the Medical Center Health System were in critical condition from gunshot wounds Saturday night. Most of those patients had already undergone surgery. Two victims were in serious condition. The toddler was in satisfactory condition.
This Labor Day weekend shooting came four weeks after one of the deadliest mass shootings in Texas history. A 21-year-old gunman opened fire at an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3. Odessa is almost 300 miles east of El Paso.
The El Paso shooting is still raw in Texas. The shooting on Saturday rekindled some of the anxiety and fears for many, including leaders and law enforcement officials.
A handful of those who were wounded in the Walmart shooting are still hospitalized. The newly formed Texas Safety Commission had its second meeting on Thursday. They discussed how to combat domestic terrorism and extremist groups in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott formed the commission after the El Paso shooting. The governor was making plans to be in Odessa on Sunday morning.
“We’re not nearly past El Paso and then here it happens again,” reported State Senator Kel Seliger, a Republican whose district includes Odessa. He stated the shooting forces people to not think, “Is this going to happen again?” but think, “When is this going to happen again?”
Pete Zubia watched as police cordoned off cars and trucks that had been shot by the gunman Saturday night. “I think you can definitely feel the stress and the confusion.” Zubia moved from El Paso to Odessa several months ago, however, his El Paso family kept in touch with him throughout the day. He said they were taking the shooting “very hard.”
By Jeanette Smith
The New York Times: Texas Shooting Leaves 7 Dead and At Least 21 Injured Near Odessa
USA Today: 7 dead, more than a dozen injured in Odessa, Midland, Texas shooting: Here’s what we know now
Action News 4: Death toll rises to 7 after man stopped by Texas troopers goes on shooting rampage
Image Courtesy of Nicholas Henderson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License