EL PASO, Texas — A young gunman opened fire in an El Paso, Texas, shopping area packed with as many as 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school season Saturday, leaving 20 dead and more than two dozen injured.
Authorities were investigating the possibility the shooting was a hate crime, working to confirm whether a racist, anti-immigrant screed posted online shortly beforehand was written by the man arrested in the attack on the 680,000-resident border city.
El Paso police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was arrested without police firing any shots outside the Walmart near the Cielo Vista Mall, about 5 miles from the main border checkpoint with Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.
Two law enforcement officials identified the suspect as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius. El Paso police didn’t release his name at a news conference but confirmed the gunman is from Allen, Texas, near Dallas.
Many of the victims were shot at the Walmart, according to police, who provided updates about the shooting in English and Spanish throughout the day in the largely Latino city.
“The scene was a horrific one,” said Allen, adding that many of the 26 people who were hurt had life-threatening injuries.
The shooting came less than a week after a 19-year-old gunman killed three people and injured 13 others at the popular Gilroy Garlic Festival in California before dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Residents quickly volunteered to give blood to the injured after the El Paso shooting, and police and military members were helping people look for missing loved ones.
“It’s chaos right now,” said Austin Johnson, an Army medic at nearby Fort Bliss, who volunteered to help at the shopping center and later at a school serving as a reunification center.
Adriana Quezada, 39, said she was in the women’s clothing section of Walmart with her two children when she heard gunfire.
“But I thought they were hits, like roof construction,” she said of the shots.
Her 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son threw themselves to the ground, then ran out of the store through an emergency exit. They were not hurt, Quezada said.
She said she saw four men, dressed in black, moving together firing guns indiscriminately. Police later said they believed the suspect, who was armed with a rifle, was the only shooter.
Ryan Mielke, a spokesman for University Medical Center of El Paso, said 13 of the injured were brought to the hospital with injuries, including one who died.
Two of the injured were children who were being transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital, he said. He wouldn’t provide additional details on the victims.
Eleven other victims were being treated at Del Sol Medical Center, hospital spokesman Victor Guerrero said. Those victims’ ages ranged from 35 to 82, he said.
Relatives said a 25-year-old woman who was shot while holding her 2-month-old son was among those killed, while Mexican officials said three Mexican nationals were among the dead and six more were wounded.
President Donald Trump tweeted: “God be with you all!”
At a candidate forum Saturday in Las Vegas, presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is from El Paso, appeared shaken after news of the shooting in his hometown was reported.
The Democrat said he heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon, saying we need to “keep that (expletive) on the battlefield. Do not bring it into our communities.”
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said he knew the shooter was not from his town.
“It’s not what we’re about,” he said at the news conference with Gov. Greg Abbott and the police chief. El Paso is nearly a 10-hour drive from Allen.
In the hours after the shooting, authorities blocked streets near a home in Allen associated with the suspect.
Officers appeared to speak briefly with a woman who answered the door of the gray stone house and later entered the residence.