The 21-year-old man accused of slaying 20 people in an El Paso shopping center will be treated as a domestic terrorist, authorities said Sunday, adding that they are seriously considering charging him with federal hate crimes.
Those who knew Crusius described him as “strange” and “off-putting,” with few friends. A Twitter account under his name, created in 2016, uses the handle @outsider609.
On Sunday, it was still unclear why Crusius made the nearly 10-hour trip from his hometown to El Paso.
Wearing protective headgear and brandishing an assault-style rifle, the gunman strode into the store just after 10 a.m. Saturday, authorities say, and began shooting at random, sending shoppers fleeing in panic and turning a store crowded with parents and children buying school supplies into a bloody hellscape.
It was the first of two mass shootings to shake the country within a 24-hour period. Early Sunday morning, officials said a gunman opened fire outside of a bar in Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people, including his sister.
“We are treating [the El Paso shooting] as a domestic terrorism case and we’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country, which is deliver swift and certain justice,” said John F. Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, at a news briefing.
He said the possible charges — including hate crimes and firearms charges — could carry a death sentence.
In jail, Crusius has been cooperating with investigators and answering questions, officials said, though they declined to detail what he said. No attorney was listed in court records as of Sunday; the public defender’s office did not say whether it had been appointed to represent him.
“He was forthcoming with information,” said El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen. “He basically didn’t hold anything back.”
Crusius was raised in Allen, Tex., a predominantly white and affluent suburb north of Dallas. His childhood had challenges: His parents divorced in 2011, and his father chronicled a four-decade drug addiction in a self-published memoir.
On Sunday, Crusius’s parents and siblings did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment. When The Washington Post approached one relative near her home, she quickly ran inside and declined to comment.
Jaime Esparza, the El Paso County district attorney, said the state has filed capital murder charges against Crusius.
“We will seek the death penalty,” Esparza said Sunday. “The loss of life is so great. We certainly have never seen this in our community. . . . This community is rocked, shocked and saddened by what has happened here.”
Meanwhile, the FBI is looking at a number of possible charges in the Texas case, said Emmerson Buie Jr., the special agent in charge of the bureau’s El Paso division, during a news briefing Sunday.
Crusius grew up in a five-bedroom, $430,000 brick home with his twin sister, Emily, and older brother. At Beverly Elementary School, other children thought of Patrick as “the strange one,” said one classmate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy.
He seemed sensitive to sound and touch, classmates said. In seventh grade, one of his teachers would quiet the class by ringing a bell that made a sharp sound.
“He would cover his ears and really show that he did not like the sound of that bell,” one classmate said.
Dysfunction roiled the home, according to his father, Bryan, a licensed therapist who runs a therapy practice helping patients recover from trauma and addiction through tools that include meditation “infused with the tones of quartz crystal bowls,” according to his website.
In a 2014 self-published book, “Life Enthusiasm: A Path to Purpose Beyond Recovery,” the elder Crusius described how he and his wife, Lori, had been essentially estranged for years before they divorced in 2011. The elder Crusius wrote that he long abused drugs and alcohol, including pills most commonly associated with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. After the divorce “any semblance or pretense of stability crumbled,” he wrote.
The Allen Police Department said it had three minor contacts with Patrick Crusius over the years. He was a passenger on a bus that had a minor fender bender and once called the police when he set off his grandparents’ home alarm, police said. Then in 2014, Crusius’s parents reported him missing, said Sgt. Jon Felty, an Allen police spokesman. But within 30 minutes, they called back to tell police he had returned home.
Patrick Crusius had a reserved nature and exhibited a distaste for social interaction through high school, said Jacob Ames, 20, who sometimes visited the Crusiuses’ house during those years.
Ames was friends with Emily Crusius — they worked at the same Cinemark theater in high school — and occasionally visited the Crusius home, a brick two-story house on a tree-lined street in a nice neighborhood, where friends sometimes met before doing “typical teenager things,” like shopping at the mall or spending time at the park.
Ames said Patrick Crusius, who almost always wore baseball shorts and a plain T-shirt, did not like to interact with guests — he mostly stayed in his room and stayed quiet. When he did venture out and pass by Emily Crusius’s friends, he would say hi and quickly leave.
“He did always seem kind of off-putting. I can usually tell if someone is kind of not all there, and it just seemed like he would think a lot, a big thinker, in his head all the time,” Ames said. “He was reserved and seemed to keep to himself a lot.”
But Emily Crusius and her brother seemed to have a good relationship, Ames said. She never said anything negative about him, and Patrick Crusius talked to her more than to other people.
Ames said he asked Emily Crusius about her brother’s behavior at least once. She replied that “he was just quiet.”
Emily “was honestly one of the kindest, purest people I knew throughout high school,” according to classmate Arielle Raveney, 20, a student at Texas State University. “Which makes it extra scary to me because that just shows the hate within Patrick was self-taught or self-enhanced, that he definitely went out of his way to foster that ideology.”
As a student in Plano High School in 2017, he participated actively in calculus and law enforcement class, finding it “interesting to learn about how the world of law enforcement works,” he was quoted as saying in the cutline of a yearbook photo.
Aryana Barati, a University of Arkansas junior who sat next to Crusius in calculus class, remembered him saying “random things,” getting flustered and easily agitated, “prompting the teacher to always say his name in a concerning tone, like ‘Patrickkkkk. . .’ ”
“He was very talkative in math class,” said Barati. “He would always ask questions . . . but he was definitely an outcast. A lot of people would make fun of him. He would say things that would make people laugh — but they weren’t laughing with him; they were laughing at him.”
After graduation, Crusius enrolled in Collin College, which he attended from fall 2017 to spring of 2019, the college said in a statement Sunday.
“Collin College is prepared to cooperate fully with state and federal authorities in their investigation of this senseless tragedy,” President Neil Matkin said in a statement.
Crusius would often appear zoned-out during class, according to a classmate who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. During chemistry lab, the classmate said, the classmate noticed that Crusius frequently muttered to himself.
After his parents divorced and sold the house in 2018, Allen police said, Crusius would frequently stay at different locations throughout the Dallas region, including with his grandparents, his mother and his father.
In the manifesto, the writer appears to have been inspired by the alleged writings of the gunman who killed 51 Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year, which cited a white supremacist theory known as “The Great Replacement.” The theory holds that elites are working to destroy the white race by replacing them with Hispanic immigrants and refugees.
The writer warns about environmental degradation, corporate influence on government and interracial marriage. It is critical of Democrats and Republicans, suggesting the United States will soon become a one-party state run by Democrats because of the growing Hispanic population, the death of the baby-boom generation and the “anti-immigrant rhetoric of the right.”
Authorities are still investigating what prompted Crusius to travel from Allen to the border town of El Paso.
“I didn’t spend much time preparing for this attack,” the manifesto reads. “Maybe a month, probably less. I have to do this before I lose my nerve.”
Rachel Chason and Annette Nevins in Allen, Tex., and Devlin Barrett, Jennifer Jenkins, Julie Tate, Hailey Fuchs, Abby Ohlheiser and Yasmeen Abutaleb in Washington contributed to this report.