ODESSA, Texas — Authorities have identified the gunman in the West Texas shootings as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa.
Officials said Sunday they still could not explain why Ator opened fire with an AR-style weapon during a routine traffic stop in the Odessa-Midland area and began a terrifying rampage that killed seven people, injured 22 others and ended with officers gunning him down outside a movie theater.
Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 in McLennan County, Texas, and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and evading arrest. He entered guilty pleas in a deferred prosecution agreement where the charge was waived after he served 24 months of probation, according to records.
That past brush with the law would not have prevented Ator from legally purchasing firearms in Texas, although authorities have not said where Ator got his weapon.
Ator acted alone and federal investigators believe the shooter had no ties to any domestic or international terrorism group, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said. Authorities said those killed were between the ages of 15 and 57 years old but did not immediately provide a list of names. The injured included three law enforcement officers.
Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke refused to say the name of the shooter during a televised news conference, saying he wouldn’t give him notoriety. He also said there were still no answers pointing to a motive.
The shooting began Saturday afternoon with an interstate traffic stop where gunfire was exchanged with police, setting off a chaotic rampage during which the suspect hijacked a mail carrier truck and fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, two cities in the heart of Texas oil country more than 300 miles west of Dallas.
Combs said the gunman might have entered the Odessa movie theater where the chase ended if police had not taken him down.
“In the midst of a man driving down the highway shooting at people, local law enforcement and state troopers pursued him and stopped him from possibly going into a crowded movie theater and having another event of mass violence,” Combs said.
The terrifying chain of events began when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car mid-Saturday afternoon on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots” toward the patrol car stopping him. The gunshots struck one of two troopers inside the patrol car, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting.
Two other police officers were shot before the suspect was killed. Authorities say the trooper was in serious but stable condition on Saturday, and the other officers were stable.
Saturday’s shooting brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of people killed this year has already reached 142, surpassing the 140 people who were killed of all last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.