El Paso, United States | AFP | A gunman armed with an assault rifle opened fire on shoppers at a packed Walmart store Saturday, reportedly killing at least 15 people in the latest mass shooting in the United States.
Although the exact scale of the tragedy in El Paso, Texas, was not yet known, television networks put the numbers of dead at between 15 and 20 while medics reported treating dozens of victims.
After speaking to the governor of Texas, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that the “reports are very bad, many killed” while several Democrats hoping to defeat him at next year’s elections said it was past time to tackle an “epidemic” of gun violence.
It was the second fatal shooting in less than a week at a Walmart store in the US and comes after a mass shooting in California last weekend.
One suspect was taken into custody, according to police.
Footage shot on camera phones appeared to show multiple bodies lying on the ground in the store’s parking lot while El Paso authorities made a desperate appeal for blood donations.
Other footage showed terrified shoppers running out of the store as gunfire echoed.
– Two to 82 years –
Although police held off on announcing an exact figure, the NBC network reported 19 were killed and 40 wounded. CBS quoted the Texas attorney general as saying between 15 and 20 were dead while law enforcement sources told ABC News that at least 18 people were killed.
“I can confirm there have been fatalities. I cannot confirm how many,” Sergeant Robert Gomez of El Paso police told reporters. “There have been injuries, there were several injuries. I don’t have those numbers as of right now.”
Gomez said that Walmart was “at capacity” at the time of the shooting, with 1,000-3,000 customers inside.
Various news reports said the ages of victims being treated at hospitals ranged from two to 82 years.
After officials initially said three people had been detained, Gomez confirmed that one person was in custody.
“I can confirm that it is a white male in his 20s,” he told reporters.
“We believe he’s the sole shooter.”
US media named the suspect as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, who lives in the Dallas area.
A witness who gave her name as Vanessa said she had just pulled into the parking lot at Walmart when the shooting began.
“You could hear the pops, one right after another and at that point as I was turning, I saw a lady, seemed she was coming out of Walmart, headed to her car. She had her groceries in her cart and I saw her just fall,” she told Fox News.
The witness told Fox that she had seen a man wearing ear muffs open fire.
“He was wearing a black t-shirt, camo colored pants. He was wearing something to cover his ears, like headphones, really thick ones.
“He was carrying a dark rifle and he was just pointing at people and just shooting and, yeah, the last thing I saw, he shot somebody that was in a corner.”
After seeing the woman fall in the parking lot, “that’s when I thought, okay, this is not — these aren’t fireworks … He was just shooting randomly. It wasn’t to any particular person. It was any that would cross paths.”
– ‘How you doing, brother’ –
Video captured by a witness in the parking lot at Walmart in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, aired on CNN, showed three people lying motionless on the ground.
One had fallen next to a truck, while two were on the sidewalk outside the store entrance. ” Ambulance! Help!” people cried as they rushed to the victims.
“How you doing, brother, how you doing,” one man was heard saying on the recording.
A still captured from CCTV showed the gunman carrying what appeared to be an AK-47.
Trump, who is spending the weekend at his golf club in New Jersey, was briefed on the shooting by Attorney General Bill Barr and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, according to the White House.
It has been a particularly bad week for gun violence in the United States.
Two people died and a police officer was wounded Tuesday at a Walmart in Mississippi.
Last Sunday a 19-year-old gunman opened fire at a food festival in northern California, killing three, including two children.
Beto O’Rourke, a former US congressman for El Paso who is now running for president, cut off his campaigning in the wake of the shooting.
“I’m incredibly saddened and it’s very hard to think about this. But I tell you El Paso is the strongest place in the world, this community is going to come together,” he said in a speech to supporters.
Elizabeth Warren, a senator who is among the frontrunners for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination, said “far too many communities have suffered through tragedies like this already.
“We must act now to end our country’s gun violence epidemic,” she said.
Another presidential hopeful Cory Booker said the US had “to end this national nightmare.”
“Praying for everyone affected by this unspeakable tragedy, and for our country to find the moral courage to take action to end this carnage.”