Texas gunman fired from job before massacre; victim IDs emerge: media

People gather for a vigil following Saturday's shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Keith Coffman and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – The man who killed seven people and wounded 22 others in a rolling rampage across West Texas on Saturday was fired from his trucking job hours before the massacre, media and officials reported.

Details about the Labor Day weekend shooting and the names of some of the victims were emerging online and from officials on Sunday and early Monday. Police continued to comb through 15 different crime scenes in neighboring Midland and Odessa, Texas.

The gunman, identified by police as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa, had been fired from his truck-driving job in Odessa on Saturday morning, the New York Times and other media reported.

Hours later, Ator was pulled over in Midland by Texas state troopers on Interstate 20 for failing to use a turn signal, police said.

Armed with an AR-type rifle, Ator fired out the back window of his vehicle, injuring one trooper. Then he drove away spraying gunfire indiscriminately, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement.

At one point, Ator abandoned his vehicle and hijacked a U.S. postal van and mortally wounded the postal carrier, identified postal officials as Mary Grandos, 29.

Ator was later cornered by officers in the parking lot of a cinema complex in Odessa. He was shot and killed.

“There are no definitive answers as to motive or reasons at this point, but we are fairly certain that the subject did act alone,” Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said at a news conference.

Online court records showed Ator had convictions in 2002 for criminal trespass and evading arrest. The Midland Reporter-Telegram newspaper quoted a state lawmaker, Rep. Tom Craddick, as saying he had previously failed a background check.

Gerke offered his condolences to their families of the dead and wounded.

A man holds flowers and a candle as people gather for a vigil following Saturday's shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

A man holds flowers and a candle as people gather for a vigil following Saturday’s shooting in Odessa, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

“My heart aches for them all,” he said.

Among the dead was Grandos, who various news media reported was at the end of her shift and on the telephone with her twin sister Rosie Grandos.

“She didn’t deserve this,” a tearful Rosie Grandos said in an interview with CNN late Sunday. “I was talking to her on the phone and she said she heard gunshots but didn’t know where they were coming from.

“I heard her screaming,” she said. “I was hearing her cry and scream for help. I didn’t know what was happening.”

Rosie Grandos said got in her car and drove to her sister. By the time she arrived, she saw her sister lying on the ground, she said.

The Washington Post reported that others among the dead were Edwin Peregrino, 25, who was killed outside of the home he moved into a few weeks ago.

Also killed was Leilah Hernandez, 15, who had just celebrated a coming of age party, the newspaper reported.

Joseph Griffith, 40, was killed as he waited at a traffic light with his wife and two children, the newspaper reported.

Among the wounded was a 17-month-old girl, Anderson Davis, who was shot in the face, according to officials and an online fundraising campaign started by her family.

In numerous media interviews, her family that the child underwent surgery and will recover.

Three police officers were shot and wounded – one from Midland, one from Odessa and one state trooper – and were in stable condition.

It was the second mass shooting in Texas in four weeks. On Aug. 3, a gunman from the Dallas area killed 22 people in another Saturday shooting at a Walmart store about 255 miles (410 km) west of Midland in the city of El Paso, Texas.

President Donald Trump called the Odessa-Midland shooter “a very sick person,” but said background checks on gun buyers would not have prevented recent U.S. gun violence.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Larry King)

Texas church shooter sent threatening messages to mother-in-law before rampage

Neighbours who live next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are pictured, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017.

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garcia

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – A man court-martialed by the U.S. Air Force on charges of assaulting his wife and child sent threatening messages to his mother-in-law who sometimes attended the rural Texas church where he fatally shot 26 people, officials said on Monday.

Gunman Devin Patrick Kelley injured another 20 people when he opened fire in the white-steepled First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday. The attack ranks among the five deadliest mass shootings carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history.

As he left the church, Kelley, 26 was confronted by an area resident who shot and wounded him, authorities said. Kelley fled and the resident waved down a passing motorist and they chased the suspect at high speeds.

“This good Samaritan, our Texas hero, flagged down a young man from Seguin, Texas, and they jumped in their vehicle and pursued the suspect,” said Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Kelley called his father during the chase to say he had been shot and might not survive, officials said. He later crashed his vehicle, shot himself and died, they added. It was not clear if he died of the self-inflicted wound or those sustained in the gunfight, officials said.

Kelley was involved in a domestic dispute with the family of Danielle Shields, a woman he married in 2014, and the situation had flared up, according to officials and official records.

“There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws,” Martin told reporters outside the church on Monday. “The mother-in-law attended the church … she had received threatening text messages from him.”

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said the family members were not in the church during Kelley’s attack.

“I heard that (the in-laws) attended church from time to time,” Tackitt said. “Not on a regular basis.”

Kelley at times had attended services at the church, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters at the scene.

“My understanding is that this depraved madman had worshipped at this church before,” Cruz said.

The attack came about a month after a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas in the deadliest shooting by a lone assailant in modern U.S. history.

The dead ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years.

Ten of the wounded in Texas remained in critical condition on Monday morning, officials said.

 

‘VIOLENT TENDENCIES’

Wearing a black bullet-proof vest and skull mask, Kelley used a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle in the attack, authorities said. They recovered two other weapons, both handguns, from his vehicle.

In rural Texas and in other states, gun ownership is a part of life and Republican leaders for years have balked at gun control, arguing that responsible gun owners can help deter crime.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CBS News there was evidence that Kelley had mental health problems and had been denied a state gun permit.

“It’s clear this is a person who had violent tendencies, who had some challenges,” Abbott said.

A sporting goods chain said Kelley passed background checks when he bought a firearm in 2016 and a second gun in 2017.

Abbott and other Republican politicians said the mass shooting did not influence their support of gun ownership by U.S. citizens – the right to bear arms protected under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“This isn’t a guns situation. I mean we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters while on a trip to Asia. “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise … it would have been much worse.”

Democrats renewed their call to restrict gun ownership.

“How many more people must die at churches or concerts or schools before we stop letting the @NRA control this country’s gun policies,” Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Twitter that he will travel to Sutherland Springs on Wednesday to meet with victims’ families and law enforcement.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child, and given a bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. He was discharged in 2014.

The attack stunned Sutherland Springs, a community of about 400 people with just one blinking yellow traffic light. One family, the Holcombes, lost eight people from three generations in the attack, including Bryan Holcombe, an assistant pastor who was leading the service, a relative said.

John Stiles, a 76-year-old retired U.S. Navy veteran, said he heard the shots from his home about 150 yards (137 m) away: “My wife and I were looking for a peaceful and quiet place when we moved here but now that hasn’t worked out.”

 

(Additional reporting by Jane Ross in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)

 

Police catch ‘nonchalant’ man accused of killing 3 at Colorado Walmart

Patrick Carnes is evacuated in a Walmart cart by SWAT medics from the scene of a shooting at a Walmart where Carnes was shopping in Thornton, Colorado.

By Keith Coffman

THORNTON, Colo. (Reuters) – Police in Colorado on Thursday captured a man who they had said calmly walked into a suburban Denver Walmart and fatally shot three people at random before driving away.

Scott Ostrem, 47, was taken into custody without incident a day after the shooting, following a tip from the public, the Thornton Police Department said.

Police spokesman Victor Avila told reporters Ostrem had “a minimal criminal history” and that authorities had not yet established a motive for the rampage.

Video broadcast from CBS affiliate KCNC-TV showed the suspect being handcuffed by police against the side of an SUV as FBI agents carrying rifles and wearing body armor looked on.

KCNC-TV said police SWAT team officers had ringed the suspect’s last known address in suburban Adams County on Thursday morning when Ostrem drove past and was spotted. He was followed by law enforcement and journalists, KCNC-TV reported, and was arrested in the nearby suburb of Westminster following a “quick pursuit.”

Police had earlier released a surveillance camera photograph of a middle-aged white man wearing a black jacket and blue jeans. They also published a photo of the red four-door Mitsubishi hatchback he was believed to have fled in.

Ostrem “nonchalantly” entered the store in Thornton, about 10 miles (16 km) northeast of downtown Denver, and opened fire on shoppers and employees shortly after 6 p.m. (8 p.m. EDT) on Wednesday, Avila had earlier told reporters, citing witness accounts.

A person described by police as a person of interest. Thornton Police Department/via REUTERS

A person described by police as a person of interest. Thornton Police Department/via REUTERS

Two men were killed in the shooting and a woman who was shot was taken to a hospital where she died, according to police. No one else was wounded, police said.

“What we have determined is that it is random as of right now,” Avila told reporters. “As witnesses stated, the person came in and just shot towards a group.”

The Walmart had been quickly surrounded by police and fire crews. Authorities initially said “multiple parties” had been injured. Avila said there was no indication the shooting was an act of terrorism and no one had claimed responsibility.

“We can’t rule anything out,” he said.

Walmart customer Aaron Stephens, 44, of Thornton told Reuters he was buying groceries at a self-checkout stand when he heard gunshots and ricocheting bullets.

“The employees started screaming and the customers started screaming” as people began to flee, he said. “I ran out, too, because I didn’t want to get shot.”

NBC television affiliate 9NEWS reported a woman whose son was in the Walmart said he heard about 30 gunshots.

Early accounts of multiple casualties had revived painful memories for the Denver area, where a gunman killed 12 people in 2012 at a midnight screening of the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises” at a theater in the suburb of Aurora. The shooter, James Holmes, is serving a dozen consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

In 1999 two 12th-graders fatally shot 12 fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School in suburban Jefferson County. The pair, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, then committed suicide in the campus library.

 

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)