EL PASO — A gunman wielding an assault-style rifle killed 20 people and wounded 26 more Saturday at a busy Walmart and shopping center not far from the Mexican border, authorities said.
While investigations are ongoing into a motive, the attack “has a nexus to a hate crime,” El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said. Authorities think the gunman posted a manifesto online listing “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” as one of several motivations for the massacre.
The attack, which started around 10:40 a.m. on a scorching Texas summer day, sent shoppers racing for cover in a chaotic but all-too-familiar scene of carnage that prompted a massive police and medical response.
One official said the specific number of people killed and injured was subject to change, noting that some victims were in critical condition.
Two law enforcement officials familiar with the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, identified the suspect as Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old man from Allen, Tex., a suburb near Dallas. He surrendered to police near the shooting scene, authorities said.
As the shooting quickly became a topic on the presidential campaign trail — Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke of El Paso canceled events in Las Vegas to return home — federal and local authorities were scrambling to identify a motive.
One avenue of inquiry is a manifesto that includes remarks attacking immigrants and is sympathetic to a man charged with killing 51 people this year at two mosques in New Zealand, according to the two officials. Authorities think the Texas suspect posted the anti-immigrant diatribe but are still gathering evidence to prove it, according to law enforcement officials.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted Saturday evening that six Mexicans had been wounded in the shooting in El Paso, including a 10-year-old girl. In Ciudad Juarez, just south of the U.S. border, government officials, business groups and others in the Mexican city released statements of solidarity and sympathy.
In a statement issued Saturday evening, Attorney General William P. Barr said “those who commit such atrocities should be held accountable swiftly and to the fullest extent the law allows.” If investigators determine that Crusius did write the posting, he could be charged with violations of federal hate crimes laws.
President Donald Trump made no public remarks after the shooting, instead offering his condolences via Twitter while he stayed at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf course. Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to “pledge total support of Federal Government.”
The president also tweeted that the attack “was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act.”
Abbott did not discuss the possibility that the shooting could be a hate crime at a news conference with political and law enforcement leaders in El Paso. He said the Legislature this year focused on preventing school shootings and found a common thread in mass shootings.
“I can tell you that perhaps the most profound and agreed upon issue that came out of all of those hearings was the need for the state and for society to do a better job of dealing with challenging mental health based issues,” he said.
But Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso in Congress, said the manifesto tied to the alleged shooter suggested that hate and anti-immigrant sentiment was the driving force behind the killings.
“The manifesto narrative is fueled by hate. And it’s fueled by racism and bigotry and division,” she said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered condolences, while noting no definitive links have been found yet between Saturday’s attack and the Christchurch massacre. “I know no one in New Zealand would want the terrorist act that occurred here to inspire anything other than a sense of unity against acts of hatred, violence and terrorism,” she said in statement to The Post.
The shooting in El Paso was the deadliest American mass shooting since November 2017, when a gunman killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Tex. It comes just days after a gunman opened fire at a garlic festival in California, killing three and wounding 12 others. One of those killed in Gilroy was a 6-year-old boy.
The scene of the most recent carnage — a Walmart and an adjacent shopping center in a state allowing open carry of firearms — is likely to become important symbolically in the debate over gun control. Walmart is one of the largest gun retailers in the world and has been under pressure to curtail firearms sales.
Last year, the store announced that it was changing the minimum age required to buy a firearm or ammunition at Walmart from 18 to 21 “in light of recent events,” according to a statement by the company. The decision came two weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.
The suspect in Saturday’s shooting sounds very much like past shooters — quiet, antisocial and a bit “strange,” according to people who grew up with him in Plano, Tex.
Crusius attended school with his twin sister, Emily Crusius. The school collectively thought of Patrick Crusius as “the strange one” of the sibling duo, according to two people who attended with them — both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It is not clear how Crusius got from the Dallas area to El Paso, a roughly nine-hour drive.
The shooting apparently began outside the Walmart midmorning Saturday.
Vanessa Saenz, a 37-year-old El Paso resident, was turning into the Walmart parking lot, with her mother and son, to buy the family’s weekly groceries when she heard a few pops that sounded like fireworks.
She looked over and saw a man who seemed to be “dancing” in the air — and then she noticed a woman sprinting.
Saenz realized that the man had been shot and that these were no fireworks.
“My mom yelled, ‘Just go! Speed and just go!’ but of course there were people trying to dodge the bullets and running through the parking lot,” Saenz said in an interview with The Post.
She also caught a glimpse of the shooter, who she said was wearing dark cargo pants, a black T-shirt, and some sort of earmuffs. He was around 5-foot-10-inches tall, thin and carrying a rifle, she said.
He was just “shooting randomly,” Saenz said, and then he walked into the store and she lost sight of him.
Inside the Walmart, shoppers and employees raced to exit the store or even hide in shelves. Witnesses said Good Samaritans used their own cars to transport victims to hospitals.
Roughly 650 miles east in Allen, Texas, police on Saturday night blocked off a road in the upscale Starcreek neighborhood. Melinda Urbina, a spokesperson for the Dallas FBI field office, said Crusius’s family lives on the street and that the FBI is assisting El Paso police in the investigation.
Neighbors milled about as television reporters camped out on the sidewalk. Valerie Corniello, a neighbor, said she had seen people come and go from the Crusius house but had never spoken with them.
“The neighborhood is quiet with lots of professionals and people from all backgrounds and races,” she said. “It’s so sad what has happened. I feel sick for the family.”
In El Paso, O’Rourke and his wife, Amy, visited victims and their families at University Medical Center. One family had been sitting at a table raising funds for a soccer team the father coached when he was shot and badly wounded. O’Rourke spoke to his wife.
“She told me and Amy, ‘This has got to change,’" O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said President Trump’s rhetoric has triggered violence, though he stopped short of blaming him for the El Paso shootings.
“He is a racist and he stokes racism in this country,” O’Rourke said. “And it does not just offend our sensibilities, it fundamentally changes the character of this country and it leads to violence.”
Alexandra Hinjosa in El Paso, Mary Beth Sheridan in Mexico, Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman, Jennifer Jenkins, Morgan Krakow, Hannah Natanson, Lisa Rein and Julie Tate in Washington, Emanuel Stokes in New Zealand, Annette Nevins in Allen, Tex., and Josh Dawsey in Bedminster, N.J. contributed to this report.