Mass shooting tips to FBI surge 70% after El Paso, Dayton massacres

FILE PHOTO: FBI police vehicles sit parked outside of the J. Edgar Hoover Federal Bureau of Investigation Building in Washington, U.S., February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – The number of calls to an FBI tip line designed to head off mass shootings and other attacks surged by 70% in the week after twin massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, federal officials said on Monday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation fielded more than 38,000 phone and online tips during the week after the shootings, up from the 22,000 tips it typically receives on a weekly basis.

The surge is evidence of an America public made jittery by a steady drumbeat of mass shootings.

“Such increases are often observed after major incidents,” the FBI said in a statement. “As always, the FBI encourages the public to remain vigilant and report any and all suspicious activity to law enforcement immediately.”

FBI officials said the number of tips the center receives each week fluctuates and not all are actionable. Some tips turn into FBI investigations while others are forwarded to local authorities. The number of FBI tips also does not include the thousands of tips that state and local law enforcement agencies have received since the shootings.

Several people have been arrested and charged across the United States in recent weeks as a result of tips.

They have included an employee at a Wisconsin distribution center who called police after a coworker threatened to carry out a workplace shooting and an Alabama resident who alerted authorities after his friend, a Florida trucker, sent him messages about his plans for a shooting at a Memphis church.

In Michigan, a person told authorities that a former classmate threatened to shoot 200 police officers during a phone and text conversation while a woman in Florida told police that her ex-boyfriend texted her about his plan to kill 100 people in a mass shooting, according to police.

“The general public are definitely taking these more seriously,” said John Mina, the sheriff in Orange County, Florida and on the board of directors of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Mina is no stranger to mass shootings. He was the police chief in Orlando, Florida, the night of June 12, 2016, when a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub, killing 49 and wounding 53.

Mina also said there has been an increasing amount of resources devoted in local law enforcement agencies to access tips and threats found online, even when the person may not be serious about carrying out the attack.

“Law enforcement has always acted upon it. The difference is now we are being a little more vocal about it,” he said. “Agencies are pushing the message out. It’s not a joke. We are going to arrest you.”

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Shumaker)

Between gun massacres, a routine, deadly seven days of U.S. shootings

FILE PHOTO: A man walks down a street past a handmade sign posted in the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, United States, July 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo

By Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – A boy accidentally killed by his father during a fishing trip in Montana. A woman dead and her husband behind bars after a single gunshot in a Dallas hotel room. A teenager cut down on his porch on a warm day in Washington state.

During the week bookended by mass shootings in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio, in which gunmen killed 34 people, hundreds of others were shot to death across 47 U.S. states, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that uses local news and police reports to track gun incidents.

The deaths were the sort of everyday murders, suicides and accidents that may not grab the headlines of mass shootings, but in many ways show the true toll of the gun violence endemic to the United States.

FILE PHOTO: A man places an American flag in the pile of flowers that has gathered a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A man places an American flag in the pile of flowers that has gathered a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare/File Photo

More than 36,000 people are shot to death every year on average in America, according to U.S. government data compiled by the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. That works out to about 100 a day, or one every 14-1/2 minutes. Suicides account for more than 60 percent of those deaths. Slightly more than a third are homicides.

Here are some of the victims of deadly shootings during the week between the attack in Gilroy and the attack in Dayton:

SUNDAY, JULY 28

Soon after a gunman opened fire at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Steven Parsons was sitting in a parked car with two other people 1,500 miles away in an alley in Kansas City, Missouri.

The 27-year-old died there along with another man, Montae Robinson, shot by a gunman who is still at large, police said. The third person in the car is being sought by police for questioning but is not a suspect.

“I have a wedding dress in my closet that I will never wear,” Marissa Tantillo said during Parsons’ funeral service on Wednesday evening at a chapel in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

They had two daughters together and planned to marry in a few months. She urged mourners never to take their loved ones for granted. “All I want you to do is hold your husband a little closer, hold your wife a little tighter,” she said.

Tantillo recalled a romance that began when she and Parsons were barely teenagers.

“So many of us don’t believe in love anymore,” Tantillo told the gathering. “In Steven, I knew I found my soul mate.”

Parsons had a sense of adventure as a boy, his father, Steve Parsons, said at the service. “We’d be cruising along in the old white van and he’d say, ‘What’s that way?’ and so we’d turn and go that way,” Parsons said.

People should remember the years his son lived, not the day he died, he said. “Do not let the last day destroy all the good days you had with him.”

MONDAY, JULY 29

Guests at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas heard a commotion and screams from the room where Jacqueline Rose Parguian and her husband, Peter Nicholas, were staying on Monday night.

When hotel security staff knocked on the door, no one answered. Paramedics, responding to a 911 call about a woman loudly in distress and a report of a possible drug overdose, listened to the commotion outside as they waited for police to arrive, per department rules. A noisy hour passed. A gunshot rang out. The arguing stopped. Parguian was dead.

“Jackie had a passion for beauty,” an obituary published by Parguian’s family said. She pursued a degree in cosmetology and graduated from a Dallas beauty school in 2016.

She loved ’90s pop music, especially the boy band NSYNC, and collected concert tickets in a box of memories. One of six children, she was known for checking in frequently with her younger siblings.

She was 32. Her sons are 2 and 8.

“How do we explain to those little angels that their parents are both not going to be there anymore, ya know?” Parguian’s mother said in an interview. Friends and relatives had soon pledged more than $25,000 in donations to a GoFundMe fundraiser in support of the boys’ uncertain future.

When their father, known to some Dallas music fans as DJ Pete Mash, opened the hotel room door on Monday night to police, he had blood on him and an extension cord wrapped around his neck, according to the Dallas Police Department.

Police said he seemed high on drugs and that they had to subdue him with a stun gun after he began screaming and fighting. They found a handgun in a backpack in the room near Parguian’s body.

Explaining the delayed response, police later said officers were responding to higher-priority calls that night before reports of a gunshot came through.

Nicholas, 30, was arrested and charged with his wife’s murder. He was later released on a $250,000 bond. An attorney for Nicholas did not respond to a request for comment.

“Peter is a nice young man,” Parguian’s mother, Tess Parguian, told a local ABC television affiliate. “He’s very polite, and that’s why I cannot believe he could do such a thing.”

TUESDAY, JULY 30

It was a warm day in Tacoma, Washington, and Jamone Pratt was out on a friend’s front porch when he was shot in the head. Witnesses told police they saw at least two cars speeding away. Pratt was 16 years old.

Police have made no arrests. Jamone’s mother, Kyndal Pierce, has filled her Facebook page with anguished posts, saying she’s finding it hard to go on without her eldest son, a “tall and skinny” kid the family called Junior and who was inseparable from his sister.

“He made some bad choices, you know, got involved with the wrong people,” Pierce said in an interview with a local news channel. “I don’t know what happened, but I know my baby didn’t deserve this.”

A schoolmate of Jamone’s who makes music under the name KiingCalebb recorded a rap tribute to his friend called “MonesWrld.” The lyrics include oblique references to gang rivalries.

“Thought you were going to make it to 18,” the lyrics went. “All you wanted were your dreams / but now you fly high.”

WEDNESDAY, JULY 31

Growing up in the Miami area as a black transgender woman, Kiki Fantroy faced a lot of bullying – but that never altered her natural inclination to trust and forgive other people, her mother said.

Fantroy, 21, was shot several times early in the morning after leaving a house party, becoming the 13th black transgender woman killed in the United States this year, activists say.

The killing prompted several events in her memory, including a “Take Back the Night” event held by a local transgender women’s group and a candlelight vigil.

In an interview, Fantroy’s mother, Rhonda Comer, switched back and forth between using her daughter’s preferred name, Kiki, and her birth name, Marquis, and between masculine and feminine pronouns.

Comer said she supported Fantroy’s decision to begin transitioning as a teenager.

Fantroy always had a flair for fashion, Comer said.

“He would make clothes, he would tell me what to wear, what he wanted to wear, and he would always put his twist on things,” said Comer, 44. “Kiki could take a shirt and a skirt and make it a whole different outfit; you can’t ask me her favorite color because, honey, she wore it all.”

Fantroy loved and trusted people implicitly, Comer said, a trait that sometimes worried her – especially after Fantroy was sexually assaulted and “dumped in a tomato field” at age 16 by someone she had met online.

Fantroy had just left a house party with a friend, another transgender woman, and Comer said she was convinced they were deliberately targeted. Police in Miami-Dade County have declined to call the shooting a hate crime.

Police later arrested a 17-year-old boy and charged him with murder after a witness picked him out of a lineup.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 1

Caden Lacunza, 11, had finished cleaning one fish and was just starting on the second one he had caught near Crow Creek Falls in rural Montana when he was shot in the head.

His father, Cadet, dropped the .357 revolver he had just fired, sprinted toward his fallen son and began yelling for his wife.

Hours later, he was under arrest for negligent homicide.

The details of the incident, laid out in a Broadwater County Sheriff’s Office report, indicate Cadet Lacunza didn’t intend any harm when he shot off a round in the direction of the river.

He had seen his family, including his wife, his son and his daughter, near the campfire, and decided to shoot his pistol, according to the report. While he was retrieving the gun from his pickup truck, however, Caden made his way to the river to clean the fish he had snared.

Lacunza’s lawyer, Greg Beebe, said his client was innocent of any criminal wrongdoing.

“This was just a tragic accident, and not a negligent homicide,” Beebe said. “At the center of this, we have a family who’s been devastated.”

Lacunza’s wife, Victoria, told Reuters in a Facebook message that the shooting was an accident but declined to comment further.

At the scene, officers retrieved Lacunza’s revolver, the cylinder still loaded except for a single spent round. In the river, about 10 feet from where Caden collapsed, they found a cleaned fish; the other fish was on the ground where the boy had dropped it, a small cut in its belly and a knife lying nearby.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 2

Deante Strickland came running out of his grandparents’ house in Portland, Oregon, in mid-afternoon, bleeding from the chest.

“I don’t want to die,” he said, according to a construction worker who was at a site nearby. “My sister shot me.”

Strickland, 22, died near his home despite efforts to save his life. His sister, Tamena Strickland, has been charged with his murder, as well as with wounding her grandmother and aunt.

Authorities have not offered a motive for the shooting. Tamena Strickland’s defense lawyer, Robert Crow, said it was still too early to know exactly what had happened.

“Everybody is of the belief that this isn’t who Tamena is,” he said, adding that many family members attended her initial court appearance on Monday in support of both her and her brother. Tamena Strickland has not entered a plea and remains in custody in the Multnomah County Detention Center.

Crow said neither sibling had a criminal record, and there was no outward sign of any dispute between them.

“That’s part of what makes it such a mystery to people,” he said.

Strickland was a standout basketball and football player in high school. He spent two years at a junior college in Wyoming before transferring to his hometown school Portland State University, where he played on the basketball team.

He was entering graduate school at PSU in the fall and planned to play for the football team.

Friends and teammates flooded social media with remembrances of “Strick,” praising his devotion to Portland, his near-permanent smile and his love for basketball.

In a video he filmed shortly before graduation this year, Strickland said, “My advice to you: Don’t take the time for granted. It goes by fast, so try to enjoy every moment.”

SATURDAY, AUGUST 3

It was a cheerful summer Saturday afternoon in Denise Wimberly’s house in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

As music filled her home, the 61-year-old mother of four relaxed on her couch with her niece as her son Calvin Seay got ready for an afternoon basketball game.

“He came back in the house to lay his clothes out because he was a neat freak,” she said. “Then he left to go down the street to show the neighbors the phone he just got.”

Moments after the 23-year-old left, police officers responded to an alert from the department’s gunshot-detection system.

They found Seay, a father of one, lying on the sidewalk steps from his home. He had been shot once in the head and once in the chest.

“My other son ran down the street, saying Calvin got shot,” Wimberly said. She jumped up and threw down her cigarette. “I almost set my couch on fire.”

“He was my baby,” she said. “They need to stop the shooting, because they are shooting people that they don’t need to be.” No suspects have been arrested.

Seay’s slaying was part of a bloody weekend in Chicago in which seven people were killed and at least 45 others were wounded, including a 5-year-old boy.

“What will it take for people to become sick and tired at the level of gun violence in this country?” Chicago Superintendent of Police Eddie Johnson asked at a news conference.

Seay, whose daughter turned 6 last week, loved to draw and play basketball and had just gotten a job with the Chicago Park District, where he was working with children at a summer camp.

“He was no person to go hang out on the street. He wasn’t like that at all,” Wimberly said. “He said that since he got the job, he was going to send me on vacation. That’s how he was.”

Less than 12 hours after Seay’s death, a gunman opened fire on the street in downtown Dayton, killing nine people.

Another week of gun violence in America was drawing to an end.

(Additional reporting and writing by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Kari Howard)

Stopping America’s next hate-crime killers on social media is no easy task

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – The pattern is clear: Hate-filled manifestos posted on websites populated by white supremacists, followed by gun attacks against blacks, Jews, Muslims, or Latin American immigrants.

In some cases, the killers use their internet posts to praise previous attacks by other white nationalists. And after new assaults, the manifestos get passed around, feeding the cycle of propaganda and violence.

Following the racially-motivated attack that killed 22 people at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, President Donald Trump said he wants police to do more to stop extremists who are active online before they can turn to murder.

But identifying and stopping the extremists who plan to launch an attack is much easier said than done.

Law enforcement experts say that the constitutional right of free speech means police cannot arrest someone simply on the basis of extremist rants online, unless they make a specific threat.

“You couldn’t just open a case on the words,” said Dave Gomez, a retired FBI agent who has worked on cases of both international and domestic terrorism.

“Posting something like that on the internet doesn’t harm anybody,” he said, adding that police can only successfully investigate a white supremacist when you can “connect his words to an overt act.”

The White House will discuss violent extremism online with representatives from a number of internet and technology companies on Friday, according to a White House spokesman.

Social media companies are reluctant to spy on or censor their users, though increasingly they are responding to demands that they take down obvious incitements to violence. And civil rights groups warn that tighter monitoring can lead to unconstitutional abuses of power

Another former FBI agent, who asked not to be identified, said closer monitoring of extremists’ websites would anyway be unlikely to prevent new mass shootings.

“There is not enough manpower. There is not enough technology to properly monitor the internet,” he said. “This is the number one thing we always say in law enforcement: ‘You can’t stop crazy. You can’t even predict crazy.’”

Trump said after the mass shootings last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that he would ask the Justice Department to work with local, state and federal agencies as well as social media companies “to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike.”

Even before those attacks, The FBI in early July requested bids for a contractor to help it detect national security threats by trawling through social media sites.

“The use of social media platforms by terrorist groups, domestic threats, foreign intelligence services, and criminal organizations to further their illegal activity creates a demonstrated need for tools to properly identify the activity and react appropriately,” the FBI said in its request.

PRESSURE

Top law enforcement and domestic security officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand met with leading social media and internet companies in London last week, and pushed them to help authorities track suspicious users.

The government officials noted in an agenda paper for the meeting that some companies “deliberately design their systems in a way that precludes any form of access to content, even in cases of the most serious crimes.”

“Tech companies should include mechanisms in the design of their encrypted products and services whereby governments, acting with appropriate legal authority, can obtain access to data in a readable and usable format,” the agenda paper said.

A final statement from the meeting said little about encryption, however, and neither company nor government officials talked about what was discussed.

Facebook and Microsoft confirmed they attended but Google, which was invited, did not respond to a request for comment. Other attendees included Roblox, Snap and Twitter, the statement said.

FBI agents say that broad surveillance powers enacted by Congress in the wake of the Sept., 11, 2001 attacks helped them track international terrorist groups and stop people with links to foreign groups like al Qaeda and Islamic State before they could carry out crimes.

But they key law criminalizing “material support” for terrorism does not apply to investigations or prosecutions of domestic terrorists, such as violent white supremacists, that commit hate crimes.

This week, the FBI Agents Association called on Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime in order to give agents more tools.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes internet civil liberties, said the sheer amount of users posting aggressive content online makes it almost impossible to identify and track the people who pose an actual threat.

“Even though it seems like there is another mass shooting every week, if you are looking at the number of mass shooters versus the total population, it’s still a tiny, tiny number which means this is still a very rare event,” said Jeremy Gillula, the group’s tech products director. “It’s like trying to predict where lightning is going to strike.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Most Americans expect next mass shooting to happen in next three months: Reuters/Ipsos poll

Mourners taking part in a vigil at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – Nearly half of all Americans expect another mass shooting will happen soon in the United States, according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Friday, as the nation reels from rampages in California, Texas and Ohio.

The Aug. 7-8 survey found that 78% of Americans said it was likely that such an attack would take place in the next three months, including 49% who said one was “highly likely.” Another 10% said a mass shooting was unlikely in three months and the rest said they did not know.

The poll was conducted after two mass shootings earlier in August in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, and a third in Gilroy, California, last month that left 36 people dead. The attacks have rattled the country and renewed calls for tougher gun laws.

“You are on guard because you never know when it’s going to happen and where,” said Suzanne Fink, 59, a Republican from Troutman, North Carolina. “It has been happening much too often and it’s like a copycat effect.”

There is no set definition of a mass shooting, but the nonprofit organization Gun Violence Archive has tallied more than 250 such incidents so far this year alone – for an average of more than one a day – a widely cited figure that counts events in which four or more people were either shot and killed or shot and wounded.

Following the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Democrats, including several 2020 presidential candidates criticized Republican President Donald Trump for rhetoric they labeled as racist and hard-line immigration polices, saying they stoked violence.

Former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke on Wednesday called the shooting in El Paso “an act of terror inspired by your racism” in response to a tweet by Trump.

The president, who condemned “sinister ideologies” and hate in a televised speech on Monday, has expressed support for tightening background checks for gun purchases.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday he would not call the Senate back early to consider new gun legislation, rejecting a plea from more than 200 U.S. mayors, including two whose cities endured mass shootings last weekend.

According to the poll, 69% of U.S. adults want “strong” or “moderate” restrictions placed on firearms.

The poll also found that half of all Americans, including two-thirds of Democrats and a third of Republicans, believe that “the way people talk about immigration encourages acts of violence.”

A majority of U.S. adults considers “random acts of violence,” including mass shootings, to be the biggest threat to their safety, while one in four pointed to politically or religiously motivated domestic terrorism as the biggest safety threat. About one in six cited foreign terrorism.

People cited mental health, racism and bigotry and easy access to firearms as the top three causes of mass shootings in the United States, while only about one in six – and one in four Republicans – said in the poll that video games were to blame.

In his speech on Monday, Trump mentioned video games and mental illness as factors in mass shootings. Research studies have shown little or no link between violent video games and shootings.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,116 adults and has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Chris Kahn and Jonathan Oatis)

Heading to El Paso, Trump nixes assault weapons ban, supports stronger background checks

A woman kneels at a memorial three days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed legislation to ban assault rifles as politically unfeasible on Wednesday as he prepared to visit the sites of two deadly mass shootings that shocked the country and drew criticism of his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

As he left the White House, Trump said he wanted to strengthen background checks for gun purchases and make sure mentally ill people did not carry guns. He predicted congressional support for those two measures but not for banning assault rifles.

“I can tell you that there is no political appetite for that at this moment,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “But I will certainly bring that up … There is a great appetite, and I mean a very strong appetite, for background checks.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters as he departs on travel to Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas following back-to-back mass shootings in the cities, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The president faced an uncertain welcome on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, where nine people and the suspect were killed in a rampage early on Sunday and in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed at a Walmart store on Saturday before the gunman was taken alive.

The back-to-back massacres, occurring 13 hours apart, have reopened the national debate over gun safety and led protesters in Dayton to heckle Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, at a vigil for the shooting victims with chants of “Do something!”

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat, said on Tuesday she would welcome the Republican president, who has said he wants to meet law enforcement, first responders and survivors.

But Whaley said she planned to tell Trump “how unhelpful he’s been” on the issue of gun violence, referring to the speech he gave on Monday focusing on mental health reform, tighter internet regulation and wider use of the death penalty.

Critics have said Trump stokes violence with racially incendiary rhetoric. The El Paso massacre is being investigated as a hate crime and the FBI said the Dayton shooter had explored violent ideologies.

Democrats accuse Trump of hiding behind talk of mental illness and the influence of social media rather than committing to laws they insist are needed to restrict gun ownership and the types of weapons that are legal.

In Iowa, Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden planned to say, “We have a president with a toxic tongue who has publicly and unapologetically embraced a political strategy of hate, racism, and division.”

In a sign of higher tensions after the shootings, a motorcycle backfiring on Tuesday night in New York’s Times Square sent crowds running for fear of another gun attack. “People are obviously very frightened,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN.

Authorities in Texas have said they are investigating Saturday’s shooting spree in the predominantly Hispanic west Texas border city of El Paso as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. They cited a racist manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect.

An open letter to Trump on Wednesday in the El Paso Times described the border city as having “a deep tradition of racial harmony” whose people came together after the tragedy. It admonished Trump for calling El Paso one of the country’s most dangerous cities in his February State of the Union address.

“The violence that pierced El Paso, drawing you here today, is not of our own community,” wrote editor Tim Archuleta. “An outsider came here to shatter our city, to murder our neighbors. A white man from another Texas city came to target the more than 80% of us who share Hispanic roots.”

‘SINISTER IDEOLOGIES’

Trump, in his televised White House speech on Monday, condemned “sinister ideologies” and hate. His supporters say Democrats unfairly blame him for the behavior of criminals.

Democrats say Trump’s own anti-immigrant, racially charged language at rallies and on Twitter has done much to fan racist, white nationalist sentiments, creating a political climate more conducive to hate-based violence.

U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat whose congressional district includes El Paso, declared that Trump “is not welcome here.”

Trump staged his first political rally of 2019 in El Paso in February.

She said on Twitter on Tuesday she declined a White House invitation to join Trump in El Paso after being told he was too busy to speak with her by phone in advance. “I refuse to be an accessory to his visit,” Escobar later told CNN.

Former Texas congressman and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, said Trump “helped create the hatred that made Saturday’s tragedy possible” and thus “has no place here.”

In an apparent answer to his criticism, Trump said on Twitter late on Tuesday O’Rourke “should respect the victims & law enforcement – & be quiet!”

Not everyone agreed that Trump should stay away.

“This is not a political visit,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told reporters. “He is president of the United States. So in that capacity, I will fulfill my obligations as mayor of El Paso to meet with the president and discuss whatever our needs are in this community.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Rich McKay, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu in Washingon, Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Paul Tait and Howard Goller)

Teen victim of Texas mass shooting straddled bi-national culture, other victims identified

Two Horizon High School students mourn at a vigil in honor of Javier Rodriguez, who was killed while shopping at Walmart, two days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

HORIZON, Texas (Reuters) – Several hundred students, teachers and relatives filled a high school athletic stadium in Texas on Monday to honor a teenager of U.S.-Mexican citizenship who was the youngest of 22 killed in a shooting rampage police suspect was driven by racism.

Javier Rodriguez, 15, was one week into his sophomore year at Horizon High School, where he played on the soccer team, when he was cut down by gunfire at a Walmart store on Saturday in the west Texas border city of El Paso.

“Javier was just a young man full of life, running in this same stadium we’re in now,” Juan Martinez, superintendent of the Clint Independent School District outside El Paso, told the crowd. “He didn’t deserve to die in a tragedy like this.”

The hour-long memorial service in the El Paso suburb of Horizon opened around twilight with the school principal welcoming Javier’s parents and sister onto a stage, where they released a white dove into the clear evening sky.

A group of teachers simultaneously released 21 more doves, one for each of the other victims, ranging in age from 23 to 90, most of them with Hispanic surnames.

A 21-year-old white man who police said drove more than 600 miles (956 km) from suburban Dallas to El Paso to carry out the shooting spree and surrendered to police at the scene has been charged with capital murder.

Authorities have said they are investigating the rampage as a hate crime, citing a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius.

In it, the author called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

Martinez said, “Apparently, Javier was a target because of the color of his skin. Javier did not choose the color of his skin, nor did I, nor did you.”

As the superintendent spoke, a member of the high school band, overcome by emotion, was escorted away sobbing.

Not only was Javier the youngest killed on Saturday, he perhaps as much as anyone represented the mixed heritage and culture of El Paso, which together with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande and the neighboring New Mexico city of Las Cruces, forms the largest bi-national, bilingual metropolitan area in North America.

Friends said Javier held dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship. Police identified seven others killed in the attack as Mexican nationals, and one as German. The rest were U.S. citizens, police said.

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, also spoke, mentioning that Javier’s uncle was among the wounded, describing the nephew’s life as “an expression of the hope we now have in one another.”

O’Rourke added, “Please understand that this violence, this hatred will not define this community, nor will it define the Rodriguez family.”

The 21 others killed on Saturday were identified by police as: Andre Pablo Anchondo, 23; Jordon Anchondo, 24; Arturo Benavidez, 60; Leonard Cipeda Campos, 41, Maria Flores, 77; Raul Flores, 77; Jorge Calvillo Garcia, 61; Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, 68; Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, 66; David Alvah Johnson, 63; Luis Alfonzo Juarez, 90; Maria Eugenia Legarrega Rothe, 58; Elsa Libera Marquez, 57; Marie Loyal, 56; Ivan Hilierto Manzano, 46; Gloria Irma Marquez, 61; Margie Reckard, 63; Sarah Esther Regaldo Moriel, 66; Teresa Sanchez, 82; Angelina Sliva-Elisbee, 86; and Juan Velazquez, 77.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Horizon; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

His cross to bear: carpenter creates memorial for yet another shooting

FILE PHOTO: People pray next to a row of crosses representing each of the victims at a growing memorial site two days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

By Daniel Trotta

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – Volunteers on Monday planted crosses, each representing a fatality in Saturday’s mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, at a shrine to the victims that included “El Paso strong” signs, flowers, candles, bible verses and U.S. and Mexican flags.

Police have not released the names of the victims of the attack, which authorities have called an act of domestic terrorism that appeared to target Hispanics. Hours later, a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people. The attacks injured dozens more.

Greg Zanis of Crosses for Losses, who has been making white, waist-high wooden crosses for victims of tragedies since 1986, provided them for the shrine to the victims near the Walmart store.

“Today is the worst day. I’m going to have to go to Dayton, Ohio, right now. I don’t know how I can handle this day,” Zanis told reporters at the shrine.

Zanis said he has made more than 26,000 crosses since the master carpenter began his one-man mission after finding the body of his father-in-law, who had been shot to death.

In 1999, he erected 13 crosses in Colorado in honor of the victims of the shooting rampage at Columbine High School. Last year he went to Pittsburgh to deliver 11 Stars of David in remembrance of the worshippers shot dead on Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life synagogue, and barely two weeks later to Thousand Oaks, Calif., for the 12 victims of a shooting there, and then to Paradise, Calif., the following month after a wildfire destroyed the town, killing at least 85.

He was even forced into action for a workplace shooting on Feb. 15 in his home town of Aurora, Illinois that killed six.

“These people all don’t think it will happen in their towns, and I was dumb enough to think it wouldn’t happen in mine,” Zanis said.

MEXICAN NATIONALS

At least eight of the victims in the border city of El Paso were Mexican nationals. One funeral home is offering free cremation services for the victims as the city mourned.

At the Walmart shrine, Tony Basco, 61, planted a cross for his partner of 22 years, Margie Reckard, 67, according to the name and age on the cross.

“I’ve been lost. I’m like a puppy run away from its momma. She took care of me,” Basco said. “But my wife, she’d say get up off your rear end and grow up. Because now I’ve got to take care of the bills, take care of the cat.”

Basco was unaware Zanis would be presenting her cross. He just happened to be visiting the site for the first time since the massacre.

“I just wanted to go where she died,” Basco said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Two Texas shooting victims die in hospital, raising death toll to 22

People pray during a vigil a day after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – The death toll rose to 22 people on Monday in a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, increasing with two deaths in a hospital days after a spate of shooting sprees, El Paso Police said on Twitter.

Two weekend gun massacres prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to condemn white supremacy.

Texas prosecutors charged a man with capital murder for the massacre in the heavily Hispanic border city that initially had claimed 20 lives.

Two victims died in the hospital on Monday morning, raising the grim total rose to 22, El Paso Police said on Twitter.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said Saturday’s rampage appeared to be a hate crime and federal prosecutors called it domestic terrorism. Police cited a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting, which they attributed to the suspect, Patrick Crusius, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

A Texas prosecutor said the state will seek the death penalty against Crusius if he is found guilty.

It was the second of three separate public shooting sprees carried out in the United States in the span of a week. The dense cluster of massacres prompted fresh cries of alarm in a country accustomed to reports of young men gunning down strangers.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said from the White House, calling the gunman “wicked” and criticizing blaming the internet and violent video games for fostering violence.

“It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence,” Trump said, a day after Democratic candidates for next year’s presidential election called for stricter gun laws and accused the president of stoking racial tensions.

U.S. gun control advocates have noted that the internet and video games are popular in many other countries where mass shootings are virtually unknown, in part because it is much harder to get a gun than in the United States.

Trump also proposed making it easier and quicker to stop those deemed as having certain forms of mental illness or being a risk to public safety from having guns.

State prosecutors have charged Crusius, a 21-year-old white man, with capital murder, according to the County of El Paso’s state court website. The single murder charge is likely a legal place holder to keep Crusius in custody until further charges can be filed for each of the dead and the wounded.

His grandparents, with whom Crusius had recently been living, said they were devastated by the attack.

“He lived with us in our house in Allen, Texas, while he attended Collin College,” the statement said, read aloud by a family friend to reporters outside the home on Sunday. “He moved out of our house six weeks ago, and has spent a few nights here while we were out of town.”

It was unclear if Crusius has a lawyer or when a bond hearing or other court appearances will occur.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Sunday the attack “underscores the continued threat posed by domestic violent extremists and perpetrators of hate crimes.”

The agency said it remains concerned that more U.S.-based extremists could become inspired by these and previous high-profile attacks to engage in similar acts of violence.

The U.S. attorney for the western district of Texas, John Bash, said federal authorities were treating the El Paso massacre as a case of domestic terrorism.

“And we’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is to deliver swift and certain justice,” he told a news conference on Sunday. He said the attack appeared “to be designed to intimidate a civilian population, to say the least.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel on July 23 that the bureau has recorded about 100 arrests of domestic terrorism suspects in the preceding nine months and that most investigations of that kind involve some form of white supremacy.

BACK-TO-BACK SHOOTINGS

The Texas rampage was followed just 13 hours later by another mass shooting, and came a week after a man shot dead three people at a California garlic festival before he was killed by police.

In Dayton, Ohio a gunman in body armor and a mask killed nine people in less than a minute and wounded 27 others in the downtown historic district before he was shot dead by police.

Trump has frequently derided many asylum seekers and other immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border as liars and criminals. At a political rally he held in May, after asking the crowd what could be done about immigrants coming in illegally, Trump smiled and joked after someone in the crowd yelled back: “Shoot them!”

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperating with investigators.

“He basically didn’t hold anything back,” Allen said at Sunday’s news conference, but declined to elaborate.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

Crusius comes from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies along the Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Jonathan Allen in New York, Keith Coffman in Denver, Tim Reid in Las Vegas, Mark Hosenball in London, Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Daniel Trotta, Barbara Goldberg and Matthew Lavietes in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Zieminski)

Thirty people die in two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio

Francisco Castaneda joins mourners taking part in a vigil at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Salgado NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

By Julio-Cesar Chavez Steve Gorman

EL PASO, Texas/ LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Thirty people died and dozens were wounded in two mass shootings within just 13 hours of each other in the United States, shocking the country and prompting calls from some politicians for tighter gun control.

The first massacre occurred on Saturday morning in the heavily Hispanic border city of El Paso, where a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store before surrendering to police.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said the rampage appeared to be a hate crime, and police cited a “manifesto” they attributed to the suspect, a 21-year-old white man, as evidence that the bloodshed was racially motivated.

Officials investigate the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Officials investigate the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Across the country, a gunman opened fire in a downtown district of Dayton, Ohio, early on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding at least 26 others, police and the city mayor said. The assailant was shot dead by police.

The El Paso shooting reverberated on the campaign trail for next year’s U.S. presidential election, with several Democratic candidates denouncing the rise of gun violence and repeating calls for tighter gun control measures.

At least two candidates, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and El Paso native Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman, drew connections to a resurgence in white nationalism and xenophobic politics in the United States.

“America is under attack from homegrown white nationalist terrorism,” Buttigieg said at an event in Las Vegas.

President Donald Trump branded the shooting “an act of cowardice,” saying in a Twitter post, “I know that I stand with everyone in this country to condemn today’s hateful act. There are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”

A hallmark of Trump’s presidency has been his determination to curb illegal immigration. Critics say the rhetoric he has used around the issue, as well as other remarks about minorities, is divisive and has fueled racism and xenophobia.

Pope Francis condemned the spate of attacks on “defenseless people” in the United States, including a rampage last Sunday in which a gunman killed three people and wounded about a dozen at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California.

A woman reacts after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

A woman reacts after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

‘HATE CRIME’

In Texas, police and FBI investigators searched for clues as to what motivated the suspect, who is from Allen, Texas, a Dallas suburb some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso, which lies on Rio Grande across the U.S.-Mexico border from Ciudad Juarez.

Multiple news media outlets, citing law enforcement officials, named him as Patrick Crusius.

Police said the suspect opened fire with a rifle on shoppers, many of them bargain-hunting for back-to-school supplies, then surrendered to officers who confronted him outside the store.

An El Paso police spokesman, Sergeant Robert Gomez, said on Saturday night police were interviewing the suspect, while investigators continued to collect evidence at the crime scene.

Several local politicians said the gunman was an outsider, suggesting he had traveled hundreds of miles from the Dallas area to commit mass murder. But Gomez declined to say how long the suspect might have been in El Paso before the shooting.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said investigators were examining a “manifesto” from the suspect indicating “there is a potential nexus to a hate crime.”

A four-page statement posted on 8chan, an online message board often used by extremists, and believed to have been written by the suspect, called the Walmart attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

It also expressed for support for the gunman who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March.

CNN reported the FBI had opened a domestic terrorism investigation.

“We are going to aggressively prosecute it both as capital murder but also as a hate crime, which is exactly what it appears to be,” Texas Governor Abbott told reporters.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said three Mexican nationals were among the 20 people killed in the shooting, and six others were among 26 victims who were wounded.

The carnage ranked as the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, after a 1984 shooting in San Ysidro, California, in which 21 people died.

RAPID POLICE ACTION

In Dayton, a riverfront city of about 140,000 people in southwestern Ohio, a gunman dressed in body armor opened fire in a downtown district, unleashing carnage that could have been much worse if not for the rapid intervention of police.

Officers who were on routine patrol nearby were on the scene in less than a minute and shot the attacker dead, likely preventing a much higher casualty toll, police and the city’s mayor said.

Assistant Police Chief Matt Carper said the shooting began at 1 a.m. local time in Dayton’s Oregon District, a downtown historic neighborhood popular for its nightclubs, restaurants art galleries and shops.

The motive was not immediately clear, and investigators believe the individual had acted alone, Carper said.

The authorities did not disclose the shooter’s identity.

A total of 10 people were killed, including the assailant. Twenty-six others were injured and taken to hospitals across the area, Mayor Nan Whaley told reporters, though the extent of their injuries was not known.

She said the suspect was wearing body armor and was armed with a rifle firing .223-caliber rounds with high-capacity ammunition magazines.

FBI agents were assisting in the investigation.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Tim Reid in Las Vegas and Daniel Wallis in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Gunman kills 20 in rampage at Walmart store in Texas

Shoppers exit with their hands up after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Salgado

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Tx. (Reuters) – A gunman armed with a rifle killed 20 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday and wounded more than two dozen before being arrested, authorities said, after the latest U.S. mass shooting sent panicked shoppers fleeing.

Many of those in the busy store were buying back-to-school supplies when they were caught up in the rampage, which came just six days after a teenage gunman killed three people at a food festival in Northern California.

“On a day that would have been a normal day for someone to leisurely go shopping, it turned into one of the most deadly days in the history of Texas,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference, announcing the death toll.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said three Mexicans were among the dead. Six Mexicans were wounded. It was the eighth-worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, after the 1984 shooting in San Ysidro that killed 21 people.

The suspect was identified as a 21-year-old white male from Allen, Texas, a Dallas-area city some 650 miles (1,046 km) east of El Paso.

Asked during a CNN interview about reports of disturbing online posts made by the suspect, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he would not be surprised in any way.

“I think those can help shed light on why he did it,” Paxton said. “They are still interviewing him.”

El Paso police chief Greg Allen said authorities had a manifesto from the suspect that indicates “there is a potential nexus to a hate crime.” Officials declined to elaborate and said the investigation was continuing.

The suspect was taken into custody without incident, according to authorities. Video posted on social media appeared to show him being handcuffed by police and placed in a squad car.

Citing a law enforcement source, El Paso television station KTSM published on its website what it said were two photos of the suspect taken by security cameras as he entered the Walmart.

The images showed a young white man wearing glasses, khaki trousers and a dark T-shirt, and pointing an assault-style rifle. He appears to be wearing headphones or ear defenders.

Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the images.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the reports from El Paso were “very bad, many killed.”

University Medical Center of El Paso received 13 patients, including one who died, hospital spokesman Ryan Mielke told CNN.

Some of the patients were in surgery while others were in stable condition, he added.

Two of the patients who arrived at the hospital were children with non-life threatening injuries who were transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital, he said.

Local media said there was such an overwhelming response to an appeal by the police department for blood donations to help the wounded that long lines formed at medical centers, some of which had to tell would-be donors to come back on Sunday.

Some people handed out bottled water and slices of pizza to those still waiting in line.

‘PEOPLE WERE PANICKING’

Multiple law enforcement agencies raced to the scene at the Walmart and nearby Cielo Vista Mall, including police, state troopers, Homeland Security agents and border patrol.

Shoppers fled for their lives, including Kianna Long who was at the Walmart with her husband when they heard gunfire.

“People were panicking and running,” Long said. “They were running close to the floor, people were dropping on the floor.”

She and her husband sprinted through a stock room at the back of the store before sheltering with other customers in a steel container in a shipping area.

Graphic video from the scene posted on social media showed what appeared to be dead bodies and wounded victims. Tales of heroism also emerged.

Walmart said in a statement: “We’re in shock over the tragic events at Cielo Vista Mall… We’re praying for the victims, the community & our associates, as well as the first responders.”

Stores at the mall were also locked down as police officers cleared the shopping center in the east of the city, which lies on the southern U.S. border with Mexico.

Video posted on Twitter showed customers at one department store being evacuated with their hands up.

Mass shootings are common in the United States. On Sunday, a teenage gunman opened fire with an assault-style rifle on the crowd at a food festival in Northern California, killing three people before fatally shooting himself.

At a Democratic presidential candidate forum in Las Vegas a clearly emotional Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman who is from El Paso, broke the news to the audience that he had just heard about the deadly mass shooting in his home city.

O’Rourke said he had spoken to his wife Amy, who was driving in the city with one of their children. Addressing reporters, he teared up and struggled to deliver a short statement.

“I am incredibly saddened and it’s very hard to think about this,” he said. “El Paso is the strongest place in the world. This community is going to come together. I’m going back there right now to be with my family, to be with my home town.”

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Tim Reid in Las Vegas; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Susan Thomas)