Wednesday 18 September 2019

Texas gunman had been fired from job and called FBI before killing seven

Seth Aaron Ator was killed by police outside a busy cinema in Odessa.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

By Paul J Weber and Jake Bleiberg, Associated Press

A gunman who killed seven people after a routine traffic stop in Texas had been fired from his job and called police and the FBI before the shooting began, authorities have said.

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator had been fired over the weekend from Journey Oil Services.

Mr Gerke said both Ator and the company called 911 after he was fired on Saturday but he was gone by the time police showed up.

FBI special agent Christopher Combs said Ator’s statements on the phone were “rambling”.

Authorities said Ator killed seven people and injured at least 22 others on Saturday before officers killed him outside a busy cinema in Odessa.

Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 for a misdemeanour offence that would not have prevented him from legally buying guns in Texas, although authorities have not said where he got the “AR-style” weapon he used.

Texas governor Greg Abbott tweeted on Monday that “we must keep guns out of criminals’ hands” — words similar to his remarks that followed another mass shooting in El Paso on August 3, when he said firearms must be kept from “deranged killers”. But Mr Abbott, a Republican and gun rights supporter, has been noncommittal about tightening Texas gun laws.

He also tweeted that Ator failed a previous gun background check and did not go through one for the weapon he used in Odessa.

Authorities said those killed were aged 15 to 57 but did not provide a list of names.

Family and employers said the dead included Edwin Peregrino, 25, who ran out of his parents’ home to see what the commotion was; mail carrier Mary Granados, 29, killed in her US Postal Service truck; and 15-year-old high school student Leilah Hernandez, who was walking out of a car dealership.

Hundreds of people gathered at a university in the Permian Basin region known for its oil industry on Sunday evening for a prayer vigil to console each other and grieve the loss of life.

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A vigil for victims (Jacy Lewis/Reporter-Telegram/AP)

“We’re out here in the middle of nowhere,” Midland mayor Jerry Morales told the crowd. “All we’ve talked about is oil forever. And then this happens.”

The attack began on Saturday afternoon when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots” towards the patrol car stopping him, according to Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

The gunshots struck a trooper, Ms Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting. He fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, two cities more than 300 miles west of Dallas.

Police used a marked SUV to ram the mail truck outside the Cinergy Movie Theatre in Odessa, disabling the vehicle. The gunman then fired at police, wounding two officers before he was killed.

“Local law enforcement and state troopers pursued him and stopped him from possibly going into a crowded movie theatre and having another event of mass violence,” Mr Combs said.

Police said Ator’s arrest in 2001 was in the county where Waco is located, hundreds of miles east of Odessa.

Online court records show he was charged then with misdemeanour criminal trespass and evading arrest. He entered guilty pleas in a deferred prosecution agreement where the charge was waived after he served 24 months of probation, according to records.

The shooting came at the end of an already violent month in Texas following the El Paso attack at a Walmart that left 22 people dead.

Sitting beside authorities in Odessa, Mr Abbott ticked off a list of mass shootings that have killed nearly 70 since 2016 in his state alone.

“I have been to too many of these events,” he said. “Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable, and action is needed.”

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