Mere hours after being dismissed from his job as a trucker, a man with an assault-style weapon wreaked havoc on two West Texas towns, leading law enforcement on a high-speed chase that ultimately resulted in the death of eight people, including the gunman.
West Texan police initially refused to name the shooter, with Odessa police chief Michael Gerke saying that the man deserved, “no notoriety for what he did.” However, a statement was later released identifying the perpetrator as Seth A. Ator of Odessa, Texas.
The 36-year-old shooter left a path of destruction between Midland and Odessa, two generally quiet cities with about 15 miles between them. While driving, he fired randomly at motorists and police officers with an AR-15-style rifle, killing seven people and injuring 22 more. Authorities are still sifting through the damage of more than 15 crime scenes along the shooter’s path, including a shopping mall, a car dealership, bullet-ridden cars along the highway and the scene of the wrecked postal van that Ator used to carry out his crime.
Ator was shot by authorities in the parking lot of a movie theater in Odessa following a high-speed chase. Odessa had led police on the chase following their attempt to pull him over for failing to use his turn signal. Although officials said that they had not identified a particular motive for the killing spree, they acknowledged that he had in fact been fired from his trucking job the day that the shooting occurred.
“There are no definite answers as to motive or reasons at this point,” said Gerke to the press, “but we are fairly certain that the subject did act alone.”
Despite the fact that it was not immediately known whether or not the gunman legally purchased the weapon he used to carry out the shooting, it was later determined that he had purchased the gun from a private dealer in order to evade a background check. The assault-style rifle bore a resemblance to the weapons used in the deadly massacres at a music festival in Las Vegas, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and recently, in Dayton, Ohio. Military-grade weapons like the one used in the Texas shooting were widely prohibited from 1994 until 2004, but have maintained their place at the center of the U.S. debate surrounding gun control.
When troopers attempted to pull over Ator the day of the shooting, there were no open warrants for his arrest, but the gunman did have a criminal record; he was arrested in 2001 on charges of evading arrest and trespassing.
The shooter evaded state troopers for miles, managed to hijack a USPS van, killing the driver, then firing at cars on the road as he drove. USPS made a statement that they were “shocked and saddened” by the mail carrier’s death, and have been working closely with investigators. Including driver Mary Granados, 29, the victims’ ages ranged from 15 to 57.
Amongst the 22 injured were three law enforcement officers and a 17 month-old toddler, who is currently recovering from removal of shrapnel from her chest. The child was identified by family and friends as Anderson Davis; her mother said that she was released from the hospital on the evening of Sept. 1, but that Anderson’s front teeth had been knocked out, and that she will be undergoing surgery at a later date to correct damage to her lip and tongue, which were hit by shrapnel.
Officials reported that the rampage began at 3:13 pm on Aug. 31, following their attempt to pull Ator over, and continued across Interstate 20 and East Loop 388, which connects Midland and Odessa. He ultimately stopped in the movie theater lot off of Highway 91, firing several shots at the responding officers, who fired and killed him.
“This is a different type of active shooter that we were involved with, because he was mobile, and that creates some very special type of issues,” said Gerke.
Authorities executed a search of Ator’s residence, which was in a remote mobile home park in Ector County. His neighbor described him as a “loner” who made her nervous because he was, “always firing guns.”
“Although I feel bad about the situation, I feel at ease knowing that he was killed,” said Rocio Martinez. “That tells me the threat has been removed, and my family is safe again.”
The shooting sparked panic across Texas. The Aug. 31 attack came only four weeks after El Paso was terrorized by a gunman killing 22 people in an anti-Hispanic attack on a Walmart store.
The debate over gun regulations has continued in the wake of the shootings, and the West Texas attack came only a day before several laws loosening gun restrictions in Texas were set to take effect. Republican Governor Greg Abbott and the National Rifle Association praised the legislation and its, “protection of Second Amendment Rights.”
“I’m tired of the dying of the people of the State of Texas,” said Abbott. “Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable and action is needed.”
President Trump also released a statement on the incident, praising first responders and calling the gunman a, “very sick person.” When questioned on the topic of strengthening background checks for gun purchases.
“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,” said President Donald Trump to the press. “So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem.”
The city of Odessa remains on edge in the aftermath of the attacks. Resident Stephanie Stonecliffe, who recently moved to Odessa from College Station, Texas, told reporters that she, “always knew [a mass shooting]was going to happen closer to home,…it just tells me the world is getting a little more dangerous.”