ODESSA — Authorities said Sunday they still could not explain why a man with an AR-style weapon opened fire during a routine traffic stop in West Texas to begin a terrifying, 10-mile rampage that killed seven people, injured 22 others and ended with officers gunning him down outside a movie theater.
Authorities identified the shooter as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa. Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 for a misdemeanor offense that would not have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms in Texas, although authorities have not said where Ator got his weapon.
Ator acted alone and federal investigators believe the shooter had no ties to any domestic or international terrorism group, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said. Authorities said those killed were between the ages of 15 and 57 years old but did not immediately provide a list of names. The injured included three law enforcement officers, as well as a 17-month-old girl who sustained injuries to her face and chest.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke refused to say the name of the shooter during a televised news conference, saying he wouldn’t give him notoriety, but police later posted his name on Facebook. A similar approach has been taken in some other recent mass shootings.
Gerke said there were still no answers pointing to a motive for the chaotic rampage, which began Saturday afternoon when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn.
Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots” toward the patrol car stopping him, according to Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger. The gunshots struck a trooper, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting. He fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, two cities in the heart of Texas oil country more than 300 miles west of Dallas. At one point, he hijacked a mail carrier truck, killing the lone postal worker inside.
U.S. Postal Service officials identified her as Mary Granados, 29.
Police used a marked SUV to ram the mail truck outside the Cinergy Movie Theater in Odessa, disabling the vehicle. The gunman then fired at police, wounding two officers. Combs said the gunman might have entered the theater if police had not killed him.
“In the midst of a man driving down the highway shooting at people, local law enforcement and state troopers pursued him and stopped him from possibly going into a crowded movie theater and having another event of mass violence,” Combs said.
Police said Ator had no outstanding warrants. His arrest in 2001 was in the county where Waco is located, hundreds of miles east of Odessa. Online court records show he was charged then with misdemeanor criminal trespass and evading arrest. He entered guilty pleas in a deferred prosecution agreement where the charge was waived after he served 24 months of probation, according to records.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said a 17-month-old girl is recovering but faces surgery on Monday to remove shrapnel from her right chest. She also suffered injuries to her face. Abbott says the mother texted: “Her mouth is pretty bad, but will heal and can be fixed. Thankfully it doesn’t seem like her jaw was hit. Just lips, teeth and tongue...We are thanking God for healing her and appreciate continued prayers.”
The shooting came at the end of an already violent month in Texas, where on Aug. 3 a gunman in the border city of El Paso killed 22 people at a Walmart. Sitting beside authorities in Odessa, Abbott ticked off a list of mass shootings that have now killed nearly 70 since 2016 in his state alone.
“I have been to too many of these events,” Abbott said. “Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable, and action is needed.”
But Abbott, a Republican, remains noncommittal about imposing any new gun laws in Texas at a time when Democrats and gun-control groups are demanding restrictions. And even as Abbott spoke, a number of looser gun laws that he signed this year took effect on the first day of September, including one that would arm more teachers in Texas schools.
Saturday’s shooting brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of people killed this year has already reached 142, surpassing the 140 people who were killed of all last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.
Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections.
Dr. Nathaniel Ott was working at an Odessa emergency care center where he is the medical director when he heard gunshots. He rushed outside to find a woman in the driver’s seat of an SUV bleeding from a gunshot wound in the arm. Ott said that as he and a paramedic were working on the woman, the shooter drove back by.
“The shooter drove within 30 feet of us and drove up that road,” Ott said Sunday, pointing to one of the streets leading past the shopping center where his facility is located. “The shooter was driving. It was insane. He was just everywhere.”
Daniel Munoz, 28, of Odessa, was headed to a bar to meet a friend when he noticed the driver of an approaching car was holding what appeared to be a rifle.
“This is my street instincts: When a car is approaching you and you see a gun of any type, just get down,” said Munoz, who moved from San Diego about a year ago to work in oil country. “Luckily I got down. ... Sure enough, I hear the shots go off. He let off at least three shots on me.”
He said he was treated at a hospital and is physically OK, though bewildered by the experience.
“I’m just trying to turn the corner and I got shot — I’m getting shot at? What’s the world coming to? For real?”
The world was different when Patrick Smith, of Tyler, returned to society after spending 21 years and four months incarcerated. He was 18 when he went to prison and came home at age 39.
He recalled Sunday, “When I left, there was no cellphone. The day I was released, my mom gave me a cellphone to talk to someone. I didn’t know how to hold it; I didn’t know how to talk on it.”
That same day, his family took him to a fast food restaurant and his mom told him to order what he wanted. “I was scared to death; I was terrified. I didn’t know how to order,” Smith said.
Later they went to a Walmart.
From the moment he walked in, Smith was self-conscious and certain that everybody in the store was watching him and knew he was fresh out of prison. His mother left him at the register to pay for his items, but he did not know how to use her credit card, so a cashier guided him through the process.
Those are “small things” that people outside of prison do not realize confront ex-offenders, but they are “major” to persons who were incarcerated serving long sentences, Smith said. Ex-offenders need support from family, friends, businesses and the community to adjust to being out of prison, Smith asserted.
Smith has become active in an organization formed last January by his wife, Kimberly Smith, called Building Relationships in East Texas, aimed at providing resources and services to support people who have been affected by the justice system.
BRET, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has as its motto, “changing the recidivism rate, one ex-offender at a time.”
Patrick Smith said BRET wants to equip ex-offenders with the tools to be successful for life outside of prison by counseling them about adjusting to changes in society since they were incarcerated, how to dress for and conduct a job interview and to provide other advice.
When Patrick Smith was released from prison in 2011, he found it was tough getting a job even though something had clicked during his time in prison. He had decided to make a change and earned a high school equivalency diploma, two associate degrees and a bachelor’s degree in sociology while still incarcerated.
Patrick Smith said, “There is nothing about my incarceration that I regret other than the crime I committed. To say I’m remorseful for that crime is an understatement. I will carry that burden for the rest of my life. Because of that burden, if I can help keep one ex-offender from returning to prison, that’s what I would like to do.”
He was one of a few speakers during an event Sunday titled “100 Faces of Freedom” that was held to support and encourage men and women formerly incarcerated, whether in jail or prison.
BRET conducted the event for formerly incarcerated persons, their families and friends at Jones Valley Church of God in Christ on Texas College Road in support of a new beginning. BRET also sponsors workshops and seminars for ex-offenders.
Kimberly Smith, the founder, who has not been incarcerated, started the organization because of having seen the need for it as the couple adjusted to life after Patrick was released from prison.
Kimberly Smith said BRET helps formerly incarcerated people not only find a job but become rehabilitated, educated and productive citizens. BRET also aids their families and friends in the adjustment process.
“Starting over for some men and women can be challenging at times. We are not here to judge. We believe that the more we talk about it, educate those returning home and support our men and women, the better it will be for all of us,” she said. “We try to help individuals that want the help and want to do better for themselves and their family.”
Saying BRET helps change the mindset of ex-offenders, she said the organization conveys a message to formerly incarcerated men and women that they cannot change what they did, but they can live the rest of their life by doing things better than they did before.
Friends and family need to know what they can do in order to help formerly incarcerated persons adjust to life outside, she added.
A lot of people may say equipping ex-offenders with the tools to be successful after prison is impossible, Patrick Smith said. “I’m proof that it can be done. Somebody has to care. If we (BRET) can help one, we’ve done our job. Without a doubt, we are going to save a lot more.”
Assisting BRET with marketing and networking with other organizations, businesses and individuals is the East Texas Home and Small Business Network.
BRET may be reached by calling Smith at 903-805-3662, on the website https://breteasttexas.wixsite.com/bret/news-and-events or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/BRETeasttexas/?ref=bookmarks.
Nancy Rangel spends her days promoting Hispanic-owned businesses and helping new ones develop.
Rangel, 39, of Flint is the president, CEO, and sole employee of the Tyler Hispanic Business Alliance, a nonprofit organization that began as an offshoot of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce.
Born in Houston, Rangel finished middle school and high school in Henderson. She was one of the first 50 freshmen to study at the University of Texas at Tyler, where she earned her bachelor’s in marketing and masters in human resource development.
In her role, Rangel coaches Hispanic-owned businesses and Hispanic entrepreneurs. She also has become one of the Tyler’s best-known advocates for the Hispanic community.
What does the Hispanic Business Alliance do?
We foster the development of the Hispanic business community and we provide educational resources and foundation for those that are interested in being successful business owners. Basically, our mission is to provide economic vitality to the Hispanic community. So that can be seen through different ways, not just through the business startups or the business expansions, but we also want to educate the community in so many other areas that can help them with their economic vitality. For example, we’ll help them with any type of seminars that help them with financial literacy, or seminars on homebuying.
What’S the biggest misconception about the Hispanic community?
That not all of them speak English. I think that we’re seeing more and more Hispanics who do speak English. Maybe English is not their first language, but there are a lot of Hispanics that speak both English and Spanish. I think that maybe years back we didn’t see them being as fluent as it is nowadays, but a lot of the Hispanics who are here, most likely if they’re my age or younger, they were born here or they were raised here, so English is our first language. So sometimes people have the misconception that a lot of Hispanics don’t speak English, when we do.
Why is the work of the Hispanic Business Alliance important?
We are there to help them to lend a hand to provide any type of mentorship or guidance or education that maybe sometimes, for whatever reasons, they are not able to attain that information and don’t know where else to look for it, we’re there. We’re kind of the hub location for Hispanic endeavors, and we don’t do it all but we’re able to know if your need can be addressed at a single location.
What is the long-term plan for the Hispanic Business Alliance?
One of our priorities is to launch a membership campaign to start having official memberships to our organization. We also want people to be engaged and be educated about the Hispanic community, about the Hispanic culture. And we’ve become, we’re providing not only training and seminars and workshops to the Hispanic community like the ones we mentioned to you. We’re going to launch next year and in the future trainings and seminars to corporate businesses or small-business owners that are not Hispanic but want to learn how to do business with the Hispanic community. And that’s something we’re putting together right now is a training and seminar on how to market to the Hispanic community. We want to serve as the pioneer and the leader in providing that information out to our community here.
What makes Hispanic Business Alliance different from Chamber of Commerce?
Our sole focus is on Hispanic-owned businesses, so that’s what our sole focus is. And they focus on everybody, and we primarily focus on helping the Hispanic entrepreneur. That’s really our sole focus when it comes to the business section of it, and we focus on the Hispanic community as a whole. And we work very closely together. In fact, my office is housed at the Chamber of Commerce, because when the HBA was barely created, and there were founders that were in discussions about what was going to be created as the HBA today, the Chamber was the one who said, “We’ll take ‘em in.” And they recognized from the very beginning that there was a need.
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