ODESSA, Texas — The death toll in a West Texas shooting rampage increased to seven Sunday as authorities investigated why a man stopped by state troopers for failing to signal a left turn opened fire on them and fled, shooting more than 20 people as he drove before being killed by officers outside a movie theater.
Those killed ranged in age from 15 to 57, Odessa police Chief Michael Gerke said at a news conference. The gunman used an AR-style weapon, he said.
Authorities have no definitive answers yet about a motive in Saturday’s shooting, which left 22 others wounded, including three law enforcement officials, Gerke said.
Christopher Combs, FBI special agent in charge, said authorities do not believe there is any connection to terrorism.
Gerke refused to say the name of the gunman publicly but said he would provide his identity later. Authorities have said only that the shooter was a white male in his 30s.
The shooting began Saturday afternoon with an interstate traffic stop where gunfire was exchanged with police, setting off a chaotic rampage during which the suspect hijacked a mail carrier truck and 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.
Authorities said they were processing more than 15 scenes as part of their investigation.
Police initially reported possible multiple shooters, but Gerke later said there was only one male suspect.
The chain of events began when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car mid-Saturday afternoon on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said.
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.
The gunshots struck one of two troopers inside the patrol car, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting.
Two other police officers were shot before the suspect was killed. Authorities say the trooper was in serious but stable condition on Saturday, and the other officers were stable.
Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections
Shauna Saxton was driving with her husband and grandson in Odessa and had paused at a stoplight when they heard loud pops.
“I looked over my shoulder to the left and the gold car pulled up and the man was there and he had a very large gun and it was pointing at me,” she told TV station KOSA.
Saxton said she was trapped because there were two cars in front of her.
“I started honking my horn. I started swerving and we got a little ahead of him and then for whatever reason the cars in front of me kind of parted,” she said, sobbing. She said she heard three more shots as she sped away.
Gerke did not go into detail about the chase, but the movie theater where the suspect was killed is more than 10 miles from where state troopers originally pulled over the gunman.
The shooting comes just four weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week held two meetings with lawmakers about how to prevent more mass shootings in Texas. He visited the area Sunday.
The investigation into another mass shooting in Texas is unfolding as a number of looser gun laws in the state took effect Sunday.
They were signed by Abbott during this year’s legislative session that was praised by the National Rifle Association and followed a 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church that killed more than two dozen people, and a 2018 attack at a high school near Houston that left 10 dead.
Abbott, a Republican, has been noncommittal about pushing for new gun restrictions after the El Paso attack.
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.