The United States is reeling from a weekend of deadly gun violence after two mass shootings in two American cities left at least 29 people dead and more than 50 injured. The shootings occurred within 13 hours of each other.
In El Paso, Texas, a border city in the state’s south-west, at least 20 people were killed after a gunman opened fire with a military style rifle at a busy Walmart store on Saturday afternoon.
The incident was being investigated as a hate crime after the gunman was apprehended by law enforcement. The shooting was described by Texas governor Greg Abbott “one of the deadliest days in Texas history”.
The gunman was named by local law enforcement sources as 21 year-old Patrick Crusius.
In Dayton, Ohio, at least nine people were killed after a shooter dressed in body armour and using high calibre ammunition opened fire in a busy downtown neighbourhood early on Sunday morning.
The gunman has not been named and was killed by law enforcement who responded to the shooting within a minute of the gunman opening fire.
The city’s mayor Mayor Nan Whaley described the shooting as “a terribly sad day for our city”.
Donald Trump, spending the weekend at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, tweeted on Sunday morning: “God bless the people of El Paso Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio.”
The president had yet to address the public in person.
The shooting in Ohio marked the 31st deadly mass shooting in America this year, defined as those where at least three people are killed by gun violence in a single episode.
In the El Paso shooting, Mexico’s president Manuel Lopez Obrador, said three Mexican nationals were among the dead and six were wounded. El Paso has at least an 80% Hispanic population and constant comings and goings with its sister city Juarez immediately over the border in Mexico.
The suspect in the El Paso case, a 21-year-old white male from Allen, a suburb of Dallas more than 600 miles away, was taken into custody after surrendering to officers. El Paso police chief Greg Allen said a “manifesto” was being investigated in connection with the suspect, and the shooting was being investigated as a potential hate crime.
“Right now we have a manifesto from this individual, that indicates to some degree, it has a nexus to potential hate crime,” Allen said at an evening press conference on Saturday evening, adding that he would not name the suspect.
Allen said the suspect had driven the nine-hour journey to El Paso.
Police started receiving reports of a shooting at 10.39 am local time on Saturday, police said. Soon after, the police department tweeted that officers were responding to an active shooting scene and that people were advised to stay away from the area around Cielo Vista Mall, located south of El Paso international airport.
The Walmart store, which is part of the mall complex, was busy with families shopping for the new school year. El Paso police spokesperson Robert Gomez estimated there were up to 3000 customers and 100 staff in the store.
Initial reports suggested that the weapon used was a rifle, Gomez said. At a late-night briefing near the Walmart parking lot, he told a crowd of reporters gathered in the rain that the bodies of the victims were still inside the store, and that it was possible the number of fatalities could increase. Police confirmed that the shooting was confined to the Walmart and did not take place in other parts of the mall. Gomez said the suspect complied with officers’ demands when he was apprehended.
Gomez declined to name the suspect, and said he had not yet been charged. He said it was also unclear whether police had formally interviewed him yet.
Jazmin Salas and her mother, Miranda Salas, who had been doing back-to-school shopping together described having to hide together inside a nearby store, before being escorted outside by law enforcement.
“It was very triggering,” Jazmin Salas told KTSM news. The teenager said she felt like she could not trust anyone. “There are crazy people everywhere.”
Cell phone footage broadcast by KTSM showed a man lying flat on the ground, with the sound of at least 10 gunshots in the background.
A Walmart employee described hearing gunshots and trying to get as many people as she could out of the store, and seeing customers and employees tumbling over each other in their rush to escape. One of her co-workers was shot in the hand, the employee said.
Another woman interviewed described seeing at least two or three bodies lying on the ground.
A man who had been at a store in the mall nearby told KTSM that he had heard gunshots and taken out his own gun as he ran towards the parking lot. He said police had briefly questioned him, thinking he was the shooter.
The Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who previously represented El Paso in Congress, said some responsibility fell at the feet of president Donald Trump, who has been criticised for his racist rhethoric and has been accused of fanning the flames of hatred.
“Yes … he is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country … and it leads to violence,” O’Rourke said, after leaving the campaign trail to return to his hometown.
Trump tweeted to “condemn today’s hateful act” calling it an “act of cowardice.”
The shooting in El Paso comes less than a week after a shooting at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, left three people dead and fifteen injured.
Everyday, 100 people are killed with firearms in the US, and hundreds more injured, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.