Police had yet to remove the bodies of those killed at a mass shooting inside an El Paso Walmart when another shooting erupted across the country early Sunday.
Less than 24 hours after the El Paso shooting rampage, nine people were killed and at least 27 injured at a downtown nightlife area of Dayton, Ohio, before the gunman was fatally shot by responding police, according to Mayor Nan Whaley.
In El Paso on Saturday, 20 people were killed and 26 injured before police took a suspect into custody, a 21-year-old man from the Dallas area identified in media reports as Patrick Crusius.
Authorities have tentatively linked Crusius to a manifesto posted online shortly before the shooting that railed against an “invasion” of Latino migrants, particularly in Texas.
Federal prosecutors are investigating the El Paso shooting as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism and plan to seek the death penalty, according to John Bash, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas.
“We’re going to do what we do to terrorists in this country — deliver swift and certain justice,” Bash said at a briefing in El Paso early Sunday.
El Paso Dist. Atty. Jaime Esparza also appeared at the briefing to say the suspect faces multiple charges of capital murder and Esparza plans to seek the death penalty.
At a briefing late Saturday outside the Walmart, El Paso Police Sgt. Robert Gomez said the bodies of those who died inside the store had yet to be removed as the investigation continued.
In his 22 years as a police officer, Gomez said, “This is the most traumatic scene that I have been close to.”
Dayton Mayor Whaley, in a phone interview Sunday with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” called the shooting deaths in her city “completely preventable.”
“We’re city No. 250 – how many more cities have to go through mass shootings before somebody does something to change the law?” she asked.
The Dayton gunman was identified by a law enforcement official, speaking to the Associated Press, as Connor Betts, a man in his 20s. A LinkedIn profile using that name lists the person as an employee at a Centerville, Ohio, Chipotle restaurant and a psychology student at Sinclair Community College, which that person has attended since 2017.
During a Sunday afternoon briefing, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said that one of the shooting victims was particularly close to the alleged gunman: “He shot his sister,” Portman said, adding that reports have described the assault as “a burst” of fire, enough shots so that “if that’s true, the magazine is illegal... There’s a consensus now that we need background checks. ... We have a crisis in this country.”
Acquaintances of the alleged gunman said Sunday that he had behaved in alarming fashion in the past, and at least one former high school classmate said that “nothing was ever really done” about Betts’ actions.
Cody Metcalfe, who was a year behind Betts at Bellbrook High School in Bellbrook, Ohio, said that his classmates always had a weird feeling about the alleged gunman.
Metcalfe, Maison Gallimore and Will Hancock, who were former students with Betts at Bellbrook High, said they recalled Betts was suspended for a period of time, allegedly for writing a list that contained names of girls he wanted to rape.
“Clearly he had mental health issues,” Metcalfe said. “After that a lot of people wouldn’t even look at him. Nothing was ever really done about what happened then and now look what happens.”
Gallimore attended middle school with Betts and graduated from Bellbrook with him in 2013. The last time Gallimore, 24, said she heard from Betts was a few months back when he asked her out over Instagram for drinks. Gallimore said she never replied.
“Something told me it wasn’t a good idea,” Gallimore said, adding that, while Betts was nice to her, he did things that, at times, frightened her.
“I was in drama club with him in eighth grade, and I had to go to the teacher because he would ‘jokingly’ tell girls he was going to kill them,” Gallimore recalled. “As soon as someone told me we knew who the shooter was, he was the first person that popped in my head because of the threats he made in the past.”
Among those tweeting about the mass shootings was President Trump, who wrote early Sunday: “The FBI, local and state law enforcement are working together in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio. Information is rapidly being accumulated in Dayton. Much has already be learned in El Paso. Law enforcement was very rapid in both instances. Updates will be given throughout the day!”
At El Paso’s Del Sol Medical Center, 11 shooting victims were being treated Sunday, three in critical condition, Dr. Stephen Flaherty said at a briefing.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, the El Paso community... our colleagues across the country in Ohio who are going through the same processes,” he said.
El Paso police were expected to provide updates at a noon briefing.
Victims’ families gathered at a local school to await official notice about whether their loved ones were among the dead. Some left to search local hospitals only to emerge, with tears in their eyes. Clergy and local officials visited those who waited at the school.
“We are trying to do our best for the victims,” Gomez said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said the suspect will face capital and hate crime charges, and vowed to work with Democrats to help make the state safe.
But many Democrats blamed Republican elected leaders for creating the conditions that led to the shooting.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who represents El Paso, denounced not only lax gun control measures, but a climate of bigotry.
“We have not just a gun epidemic in this country, but we have a hate epidemic in this country,” Escobar said in a phone interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” did not mention Trump by name, but said white nationalism “is condoned at the highest levels of our government.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said the shooting was the result of Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric.”
“He has put a target on the back of the Latino community,” Castro said.
Castro called for an independent investigation of the El Paso shootings, apart from those being conducted by Texas officials and the FBI.
Domingo Garcia, national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights groups, was in El Paso on Sunday to meet with shooting victims’ relatives and to ask the FBI to “set up a task force to target white supremacist terrorists in the United States.”
“We’ve had two mass shootings that appear to be driven by domestic, white terrorists espousing hate and resorting to mass murder,” Garcia said, referring to another shooting incident at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California last weekend. “I am concerned that this murderer was radicalized by the fear mongering and immigrant bashing coming from the White House and members of the Republican Party. It’s creating homegrown terrorists who are going after people just because they’re Latino.”
Several events were planned Sunday to honor the El Paso shooting victims, including an inter-faith evening vigil at a local park with city leaders and El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz.
“We stand in horror and shock at the devastating loss of life and heartless attack on our border community,” the Rev. Deborah Clugy-Soto, president of the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest, said in a statement. “We will mourn, dry tears, offer our sacrifice of prayer and brace ourselves for the work ahead. Because even now the borderlands will stick together.”
Times staff writers Melissa L. Etehad and Maria La Ganga in Los Angeles and the Associated Press contributed to this story.