Death toll reaches 23 from last year’s mass shooting in El Paso, Texas

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

(Reuters) – The death toll from a mass shooting last August at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store has climbed to 23 after the last victim left hospitalized from the rampage succumbed to his injuries over the weekend, the hospital said on Sunday.

“After a nearly nine-month fight, our hearts are heavy as we report Guillermo ‘Memo’ Garcia, our last remaining patient being treated from the El Paso shooting, has passed away,” David Shimp, chief executive of Del Sol Medical Center in El Paso, said in a statement.

Garcia was a youth soccer coach who was on a fundraising event with his team outside the store on the morning of Aug. 3, 2019, when a man opened fire on shoppers with an AK-47 rifle in a massacre prosecutors have branded an anti-Hispanic hate crime.

About four dozen people were struck by gunfire, and 20 were killed outright. Two more victims died of their wounds two days later.

Garcia had remained hospitalized since the shooting, undergoing several surgeries and spending almost nine months in intensive care before he died on Saturday night. He is survived by his wife, Jessica Coca Garcia, who was also injured in the shooting, and two children.

The accused gunman, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, who police said drove 11 hours from his hometown in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas, to commit the slayings, remains in custody charged with capital murder and federal hate crimes. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Prosecutors said Crusius deliberately targeted people of Mexican heritage in the massacre, citing an anti-immigrant manifesto he allegedly posted online calling the attack “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

The assault in the Texas border city was followed just 13 hours later by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, where a gunman killed nine people and wounded 27 others before he was shot dead by police.

The back-to-back massacres sparked a political outcry, with El Paso native and then-Democratic Party presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke demanding the mandatory confiscation of the assault-style rifles often used in mass shootings.

The El Paso shooting also prompted leading Texas Republicans including Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to retreat somewhat on their staunch defense of gun rights.

(This story has been refiled to restore dropped word in headline)

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in Washington; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)

‘Multiple people’ killed in shooting at Molson Coors facility in Milwaukee

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – “Multiple people” were killed in a mass shooting at a Molson Coors Beverage Co facility in Milwaukee on Wednesday, with the suspect apparently among the dead, the city’s mayor, Tom Barrett, said.

Milwaukee police said on Twitter they were responding to a “critical incident,” but released no immediate details.

“What has happened is there was a horrific shooting that has occurred,” Barrett said, speaking to reporters near the scene. “There are multiple people who have died, including, I believe, the shooter.”

Emergency vehicles are parked near the entrance to Molson Coors headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, February 26, 2020. Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/USA TODAY NETWORK via REUTERS

The Milwaukee Police Department provided no details on the incident or the number of fatalities. But in a post on Twitter it said: “There are various sources citing various numbers of casualties. At this time that information has not been confirmed.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unnamed sources, said seven people had been killed, including the shooter, at the Molson Coors brewery complex. ABC News reported eight fatalities.

The Police Department said on Twitter only that police were “investigating a critical incident” and urged the public to “stay clear of the area” near the city center.

“There is no active threat; however, this scene is still an active scene,” the department said in an updated post at about 4:40 p.m. CST.

Police and fire department officials did not immediately return phone calls or email queries from Reuters.

The Molson Coors Beverage Co said in a statement: “There is an active situation at our Milwaukee facility and we are working closely with the Milwaukee Police Department. Our top priority is our employees and we’ll provide updates in conjunction with the police as we are able.”

The entire Molson Coors campus headquarters was placed under a security lockdown, and the company told employees in an email that the shooter was located in or near a second-floor stairwell near a packaging facility, The Journal Sentinel reported.

Video footage from the scene showed streets cordoned off with numerous police and fire department vehicles ringing the area as brewery workers were escorted from buildings.

Local television station WISN, an ABC affiliate, said police appeared to be searching a vehicle on or near the scene.

According to the Journal Sentinel, Molson Coors Beverage Co, which operates MillerCoors, announced plans last fall to close a Denver office and relocate some corporate support jobs to the Milwaukee office. The newspaper said the restructuring was designed to cut costs and resulted in 400 to 500 jobs being eliminated throughout Molson Coors.

It said the company now has 610 jobs at its Milwaukee corporate office, in addition to 750 jobs at two breweries in the city.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Mass shooting puts Thai army officers’ side deals under scrutiny

By Panu Wongcha-um

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (Reuters) – A Thai soldier’s killing of 29 people in a rage over a housing deal involving his superior officer has brought attention to the business dealings of army personnel in a country that just emerged from direct military rule.

Thailand’s army chief has promised to investigate and also acknowledged a wider problem of inappropriate business deals involving army officers and their subordinates, vowing to root out the practise.

The military, which staged its latest coups 2006 and 2014, wields extraordinary power in Thailand and proclaims its discipline to justify repeatedly overthrowing elected governments, but the killings on the weekend put a spotlight on some of its own members’ questionable dealings.

Sergeant Major Jakrapanth Thomma was meeting on Saturday with his commanding officer and the officer’s mother-in-law to discuss their dispute when he opened fire, killing both of them. He then drove to his army camp, a Buddhist temple and a shopping mall, gunning people down until security forces killed him on Sunday morning.

Hours before, Jakrapanth had posted on Facebook denouncing people who cheated others to become wealthy.

“Do they think they can spend the money in hell?” Jakrapanth asked.

The military has a long tradition of involvement in business and it has been an open secret that some officers branch out into private business deals.

“It is actually quite common for senior military officers to be involved in real estate, especially in Thailand’s rural areas,” said Paul Chambers, a politics expert at Naresuan University in northern Thailand.

The military is one of the largest land-holders in some provinces, controlling vast bases that also can be mini-cities unto themselves.

“Many officers tend to want to supplement their meager salaries with money they can easily make through military power regarding real estate,” Chambers said.

Military discipline is regularly extolled by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who launched the last coup in 2014 and last year retained power by leading a pro-army party to victory in an election opposition parties said was engineered to cement army influence.

One prominent opposition group, the Future Forward Party, has openly opposed military influence over politics, arguing for changes in the military-written constitution, an end to conscription and cutting the army budget.

‘INJUSTICE’

Army chief General Apirat Kongsompong has said he will set up a direct line for soldiers who feel they are being exploited by superior officers.

“The cause and reason for the perpetrator in this incident were the injustice he received from his commanding officer and relatives,” Apirat said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

He also acknowledged wider reports of officers exploiting a system of military housing loans and welfare schemes for personal gain.

“There are cooperation between units and private contractor that lobby for deals,” Apirat said

“I know about this and I want to assure that in the next three months some generals and colonels will lose their jobs,” he said.

Details of the deal that enraged Jakrapanth are not clear, but it appears to have involved his purchase of a house, brokered by the mother-in-law of his commanding officer, Colonel Anantharot Krasae.

Police told Reuters that Jakrapanth argued he was owed 50,000 baht ($1,600) by the mother-in-law, whose husband said she had already given the money to an agent who failed to pass it on to the soldier. Members of the family did not respond to messages from Reuters.

However, lawyer Atchariya Ruangrattanapong, said the dispute may have been over a larger amount – 375,000 baht ($12,000) – and said he has been approached since the shooting by 20 other members of Jakrapanth’s unit complaining about the same scheme.

“Apart from this group, I have been informed that there are hundreds of other soldiers who are scammed in a similar situation,” said Atchariya.

‘CLOSED KINGDOM’

Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit acknowledged reports of officers profiting from sweetheart deals but said the issue was endemic in society.

“All this is an ongoing problem that not just the army but also the government faces,” Kongcheep said.

But the military has a lack of transparency beyond other institutions that makes it easier to exploit the system, said Anusorn Unno, a lecturer at Thammasat University.

“The army is like a closed kingdom,” Anusorn said.

“Those with higher ranks have the advantage in doing business within this closed system.”

The Bangkok Post said in an editorial that questionable personal deals were “the tip of the iceberg” and argued the military budget should be subject to independent audits, instead of the internal ones established by the last ruling junta.

“Without allowing greater external audits, the army risks harboring more and more shady operations.”

(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Soldier kills 29 people in Thailand before being shot

By Panu Wongcha-um and Patpicha Tanakasempipat

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (Reuters) – A soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations in and around the northeastern Thai city of Nakhon Ratchasima before he was shot dead early Sunday.

Most of the victims were at the city’s Terminal 21 shopping center, where the shooter held out against an overnight siege with an assault rifle and ammunition stolen from his army base.

An image of a suspect on a wanted poster, after a shooting rampage in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima, in a document released by the Thai Crime Suppression Bureau in Thailand February 08, 2020. THAI CRIME SUPPRESSION BUREAU/Handout via REUTERS.

Police named him as 32-year-old soldier Jakrapanth Thomma. He initially posted written messages on Facebook during the attack before his account was shut down by the company.

“It was a personal conflict…over a house deal,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters on Sunday from Nakhon Ratchasima after traveling there to meet wounded survivors.

Prayuth added that the conflict was with a relative of the soldier’s commanding officer.

Thailand’s worst mass shooting prompted soul searching in the southeast Asian country of 69 million, where the army has long styled itself as the protector of the nation and dominated politics for decades either overtly or from behind the scenes.

Prayuth, a former military ruler, came in for criticism over his handling of the incident after he waved and smiled during a visit to the scene and made a heart gesture with his fingers. The hashtag #RIPPrayuth was trending on Thai social media.

“If you have a heart like kind Thais, you should respect relatives of the deceased with a calm and mournful manner,” commented Jirayu Houngsub, an opposition member of parliament.

At a morgue in Nakhon Ratchasima, the family of 13-year-old Ratchanon Karnchanamethee sobbed as they identified his body.

“He’s my only son. He hasn’t even had dinner,” said his father, Natthawut Karnchanamethee. “I allowed him to do anything he wanted to. I never set expectations for him. I only wanted him to be a good person.”

Led by police and soldiers, hundreds of shoppers fled the mall during the 12-hour standoff. Crouching low, they escaped in small groups, dazed and exhausted. At one point, armed forces emerged at a run carrying small children.

“It was frightening because I could hear the occasional gunshot…we waited a long time for the police to come and help us, many hours,” said Suvanarat Jirattanasakul, 27, her voice trembling.

Another survivor told local Amarin TV that the shooter was “aiming for the heads” and said his colleague died on the scene.

“He was shooting everywhere and his shots were very precise,” said the man, identified as “Diaw”.

The province’s governor, Wichien Chantaranochai, on Sunday night said a total of 29 people had been killed and 57 were wounded.

Also known by the historical name Korat, Nakhon Ratchasima has a population of about 250,000. It is close to a national park popular for its wild elephants but the relatively poor northeastern region is one of the less visited areas for Thailand’s tens of millions of tourists.

STOLEN ARSENAL

CCTV footage from inside the mall posted on social media showed the gunman dressed in black and wearing a mask, his gun slung over his shoulder with no sign of other people around.

According to local media, Jakrapanth worked at an army base close to Nakhon Ratchasima, which is about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Bangkok.

He was a sharp shooter and took many special courses on carrying out attacks, including planning ambushes, army sources said. Thai media reported he often posted photos of weapons on social media.

The killings began at around 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Saturday when the soldier opened fire in a house before moving to an army camp and then driving to the mall in a stolen Humvee.

The soldier’s commanding officer was one of the people reported killed before the soldier moved on to the shopping mall and began shooting.

At some point during the day, the soldier raided the army camp’s weapons storage to arm himself, said Lt. General Thanya Kiatsarn, Commander of the Second Area Command.

“He attacked the guard to the weapon arsenal, who later died, and he stole an official jeep and an HK33 gun and an amount of ammunition to do what he did,” Thanya said.

‘SPEND THE MONEY IN HELL’

Hours before he began shooting on Saturday, Jakrapanth had posted on his Facebook account denouncing greedy people.

“Rich from cheating. Taking advantage of other people. Do they think they can spend the money in hell?” read one post in Thai.

He later posted written updates during the attack.

“Death is inevitable for everyone,” he wrote. Later, he complained about his fingers cramping and asked “Should I give up?” before the account was no longer available.

Hours after the mall siege began, Facebook <FB.O> said it had removed the suspect’s account.

“There is no place on Facebook for people who commit this kind of atrocity, nor do we allow people to praise or support this attack,” a Facebook representative said in a statement.

Major shootings are rare in Thailand other than in the far south, where a decades-old insurgency persists.

(Additional reporting by Athit Perawongmetha, Jiraporn Kuhakan, Prapan Chankaew and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Nakhon Ratchasima; Panarat Thepgumpanat, Orathai Sriring and Juarawee Kittisilpa in Bangkok; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by David Gregorio, Simon Cameron-Moore, Jacqueline Wong, Alex Richardson and Philippa Fletcher)

Walmart to stop selling ammunition for handguns, assault-style weapons

FILE PHOTO: Walmart's logo is seen outside one of the stores in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Tuesday it would discontinue sales of ammunition for handguns and some assault-style rifles in stores across the United States, in response to the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

The largest U.S. arms retailer, which has been under pressure to change its policies on gun sales, also said it would discontinue handgun sales in Alaska, the only state where it still sells these guns.

Walmart has already ended sales of assault rifle and raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21. The latest move will leave it focused on weapons for hunting, including deer rifles, shotguns and related ammunition.

The company will stop selling all handgun ammunition and some short-barrel rifle ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber after clearing current stock. While short-barrel ammunition is commonly used in some hunting rifles for small animals such as prairie dogs, they can also be used in military-style weapons with high-capacity magazines.

The retailer said it took the action following the death of 22 people in a mass shooting in a Walmart store in Texas as well as deadly shootings in Ohio and Saturday’s incident in Midland and Odessa, Texas.

Just last month, the company said it would not change its policy on selling firearms even as it took down signs and playable demos of violent video games.

“As a company, we experienced two horrific events in one week, and we will never be the same,” Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said in a letter to Walmart’s associates.

The company added that its latest actions would reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%, and would trend toward the lower end of that range over time.

McMillon said he would send letters to the White House and the Congressional leadership, urging the government to strengthen background checks and to remove weapons from those who could pose an imminent danger.

“These horrific events occur and then the spotlight fades … Given our decades of experience selling firearms, we are also offering to serve as a resource in the national debate on responsible gun sales,” he said.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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)

FBI opens domestic terror investigation into Gilroy, Calif., mass shooting

FILE PHOTO: A painting by Gilroy resident Ignacio "Nacho" Moya on the stage at a vigil for those who died and were injured at the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival a day earlier, in Gilroy, California, U.S. July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The FBI has opened a domestic terrorism investigation into a California mass shooting by a 19-year-old gunman who killed three people at a food festival last week, officials said on Tuesday.

Authorities have said they still do not know what motivated Santino William Legan, 19, to fire an assault-style rifle into a crowd in Gilroy, California, on July 28. His victims included a 6-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl.

Police officers exchanged gunfire with Legan, who was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, and struck him, Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said at a news conference on Tuesday. Legan killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

Investigators have discovered he kept a list that appeared to have targets of violence, John Bennett, the FBI agent in charge in the San Francisco office, told the news conference.

One of those potential targets was the one he attacked, the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, Bennett said. The decades-old event celebrates produce from California’s countryside and is held about 70 miles (110 km) south of San Francisco.

“The shooter appeared to have an interest in varying, competing violent ideologies,” Bennett told reporters.

“Due to the discovery of the target list, as well as other information we have encountered in this investigation, the FBI has opened a full domestic terrorism investigation into this mass shooting.”

RACIST TREATISE

Before the shooting, Legan had posted on his Instagram page a photograph showing a sign warning of a high danger of forest fires. Its caption urged people to read “Might is Right,” a racist and sexist treatise written in the 19th century.

FBI investigators are considering Legan’s Instagram posts as they seek to determine his motivation and are exploring whether he was motivated by white nationalism, Bennett said.

Legan’s target list, which he kept on at least one digital device, had organizations from across the country and included religious institutions and political organizations affiliated with both the Democratic and Republican parties, Bennett said.

Legan left no manifesto, Bennett said, declining to provide other details on his ideological leanings.

Legan fired 39 rounds and the three officers who confronted him fired 18, Smithee said, and Legan had more than 200 rounds of ammunition on or near his body.

Legan’s family in a statement on Tuesday apologized to the families of the three people he killed and to the wounded, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We have never and would never condone the hateful thoughts and ideologies that led to this event, and it is impossible to reconcile this with the son we thought we knew,” the statement said.

Members of Legan’s family could not immediately be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bill Tarrant and Jonathan Oatis)

Texas shooting suspect’s mother alerted police about his gun ownership: CNN

A group of people hold candles during a vigil at a memorial four days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 7, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

(Reuters) – The Dallas-area mother of the young man arrested in the mass shooting that killed 22 people in El Paso, Texas, had called police weeks earlier expressing concern about his fitness to own an assault-style rifle, CNN said on Wednesday.

The mother contacted the Allen Police Department because she worried whether her son, aged 21, was mature or experienced enough in handling such a weapon to have purchased an “AK”-type firearm, CNN said, citing lawyers for the suspect’s family.

CNN quoted the lawyers, Chris Ayres and R. Jack Ayres, as saying the mother’s call was “informational” in nature rather than motivated by concern that her son posed a threat to anyone.

“This was not a volatile, explosive, erratic-behaving kid,” Chris Ayres told the network. “It’s not like alarm bells were going off.”

CNN said it was not known whether the gun the mother inquired about was the same weapon police said was used in Saturday’s attack. Authorities have said they are investigating the attack as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism.

Police say the suspect, Patrick Crusius, a white male from the Dallas suburb of Allen, drove some 650 miles (1,046 km) to the west Texas border city of El Paso before opening fire at a Walmart store there.

Most of the 22 people killed were Hispanic, including eight Mexican citizens. At least two dozen people were injured. The suspect, who surrendered to police, has been charged with capital murder.

A racist, anti-immigrant manifesto believed by authorities to have been written by the suspect was posted online shortly before the attack, which the author called a “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

During his mother’s query to Allen police weeks earlier, according to her attorneys, she was transferred to a public safety officer who told her that based on her description of her son, he was legally allowed to buy the weapon in question, CNN said.

The mother, the lawyers told the network, did not give police her son’s name, and police did not seek any additional information from her before the call ended.

Attempts by Reuters to reach the attorneys cited in CNN’s story on Wednesday night were unsuccessful. Allen police were also not immediately available to discuss the report.

A statement posted by Allen police on Twitter this week, in response to media inquiries about the suspect’s prior encounters with law enforcement, listed just three relatively minor contacts in department records.

The most recent, in March, was a false burglar alarm reported by the suspect at his grandparents’ home, a call police said “was cleared without incident according to protocol.”

In 2016, the suspect was a passenger on a school bus involved in a minor accident investigated by police, and in 2014, he was reported as a juvenile runaway, but returned home without incident about 30 minutes later, police said.

Police told CNN those three incidents represent “the entirety of our dealings with Mr. Crusius, in any capacity, be it suspect, witness, reporting party, or in any other manner.”

CNN quoted an unnamed source familiar with the family as describing Crusius as undecided about his life, having considered transferring from a community college to a four-year university, enlisting in the military and seeking a full-time job.

“He was trying to figure out what to do next,” the source said. “When did the wheels come off? We don’t know.”

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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)

Urged to ‘do something,’ Ohio governor backs ‘red flag’ law

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine reacts as vigil attendees shout “Do Something” while he was speaking at a vigil at the scene after a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Matthew Lavietes

(Reuters) – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine proposed a “red flag” law that would allow authorities to take guns away from people who may harm themselves or others, responding to pressure for him to “do something” after a mass shooting in Dayton that killed nine people.

The Republican governor said he supported legislation that would allow judges to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals believed by police or their relatives to be a danger, and to provide them with mental health treatment.

“We have an obligation to each other,” DeWine said at a news briefing. “If someone is showing signs of trouble or problems, we must help and we must not turn away.”

DeWine spoke three days after a gunman wearing body armor and a mask opened fire in a crowded Dayton, Ohio, neighborhood known for its nightlife early on Sunday. It was the second deadly U.S. mass shooting in less than a day.

The governor was heckled on Sunday night as he spoke at a vigil for the victims of the rampage. Protesters repeatedly chanted “Do something!,” a reference to perceived state and federal inaction to curb U.S. gun violence.

“Some chanted ‘Do something!’ and they’re absolutely right,” DeWine said on Tuesday. “We must do something, and that is exactly what we’re going to do.”

Gun control is one of the most divisive issues in American politics. Supporters of tighter restrictions say they are necessary to staunch a U.S. epidemic of gun violence, while opponents believe more controls would violate gun ownership rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

In an address to the nation on Monday, President Donald Trump also backed “red flag” laws to allow guns to be taken away from dangerous individuals. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently have such laws in place, according to the Giffords gun-control group.

The president proposed tighter monitoring of the internet, mental health reform and wider use of the death penalty in response to the two mass shootings over the weekend that left 32 people dead in Texas and Ohio.

Police named the Ohio gunman as Connor Betts, a 24-year-old white male from Bellbrook, Ohio, and said he was armed with an assault-style rifle fitted with an extended drum magazine that could hold 100 rounds.

The killings in Dayton began at around 1 a.m. on Sunday in the city’s Oregon District and ended rapidly when nearby police moved in and shot Betts dead. At least 14 people were wounded by gunfire, while others were injured as they fled. Six of the nine people killed were black.

The gunman shot at least 41 bullets in the seconds before he was killed, Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl told reporters on Monday. Police officers ended the rampage in about 30 seconds, Biehl said on Sunday.

Investigators were still trying to determine a motive, Biehl said. FBI agents were helping police.

The shooting in Dayton, a riverfront city of about 140,000 people in southwestern Ohio, took place just 13 hours after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed. The 21-year-old suspect in that shooting was arrested.

Sunday’s massacre occurred a week after a teenager killed three people with an assault rifle at a food festival in Northern California before taking his own life.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)