Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke canceled an upcoming visit to California’s San Quentin State Prison to head back to his native El Paso after learning of the mass shooting at a shopping mall there.
Police responded early Saturday afternoon to an active shooter scene amid back-to-school shopping at the Cielo Vista Mall, which is near Interstate 10 on El Paso’s east side. Multiple people were reported killed or wounded and a gunman was in custody, authorities said.
O’Rourke seemed slightly shaken as he appeared at a Las Vegas candidates forum after news of the shooting began to break. He said that he had called his wife before taking the stage and that the shooting shatters “any illusion that we have that progress is inevitable” on tackling gun violence.
The former congressman who represented El Paso until early January said he’d heard early reports that the shooter might have had a military-style weapon and that people need to “keep that [expletive] on the battlefield and do not bring it into our communities.”
“We have to find some reason for optimism and hope or else we consign ourselves to a future where nearly 40,000 people a year will lose their lives to gun violence, and I cannot accept that,” O’Rourke said.
His voice cracking with emotion, O’Rourke later told reporters that he was heading home to El Paso. “I’m going back there right now to be with my family and be with my hometown.”
His campaign subsequently canceled a town hall planned later Saturday in Minden, Nev., as well as Monday’s scheduled visit to San Quentin.