EL PASO, Texas — A gunman wielding an assault-style rifle killed 20 people and wounded 26 more Saturday at a busy Walmart and shopping center not far from the Mexican border, authorities said, in the latest mass shooting to shatter a community and shake the country.
The attack, which started around 10:40 a.m. on a scorching Texas summer day, sent shoppers racing for cover in a chaotic but all-too-familiar scene of carnage that prompted a massive police and medical response.
One official said the number of people killed and injured was subject to change, noting that some victims were in critical condition.
Two law enforcement officials familiar with the inquiry, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, identified the suspect as Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old man from Allen, Texas, a suburb near Dallas. He surrendered to police near the shooting scene, authorities said.
As the shooting quickly became a topic on the presidential campaign trail — Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke of El Paso canceled events in Las Vegas to return home — federal and local authorities were scrambling to identify a motive.
One avenue of inquiry is a manifesto that includes remarks attacking immigrants and is sympathetic to a man charged with killing 51 people this year at two mosques in New Zealand, according to the two officials.
Authorities think the Texas suspect posted the anti-immigrant diatribe but are still gathering evidence to prove it, according to law enforcement officials. The document lists “the Hispanic invasion of Texas” as one of several motivations for the attack.
The shooting “has a nexus to a hate crime,” El Paso police Chief Greg Allen said.
Jamaal Green, a spokesman for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, which runs Al Noor Mosque, the first target of the Christchurch gunman, condemned the El Paso attack Saturday.
“Any time that innocent civilians are killed — people going about their daily business — this is to be condemned as an act of gross injustice,” he said.
He said he did not want to comment on any connection between the manifesto possibly linked to the El Paso attack and the mosque assaults in his city.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted Saturday evening that six Mexicans had been wounded in the shooting in El Paso, including a 10-year-old girl.
In Ciudad Juarez, just south of the U.S. border, government officials, business groups and others in the Mexican city released statements of solidarity and sympathy.
In a statement issued Saturday evening, Attorney General William P. Barr said “those who commit such atrocities should be held accountable swiftly and to the fullest extent the law allows.” If investigators determine that Crusius did write the posting, he could be charged with violations of federal hate crimes laws.
President Donald Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, to “pledge total support of Federal Government.”
The president also tweeted that the attack “was not only tragic, it was an act of cowardice. I know that I stand with everyone in this Country to condemn today’s hateful act.”
The shooting in El Paso was the deadliest American mass shooting since November 2017, when a gunman killed 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It comes days after a gunman opened fire at a garlic festival in California, killing three and wounding 12 others; one of those killed in Gilroy was a 6-year-old boy.
The scene of the most recent carnage — a Walmart and an adjacent shopping center in a state allowing open carry of firearms — is likely to become important symbolically in the debate over gun control. Walmart is one of the largest gun retailers in the world and has been under pressure to curtail firearms sales.
Last year, the store announced it was changing the minimum age required to buy a firearm or ammunition at Walmart from 18 to 21 “in light of recent events,” according to a statement by the company. The decision came two weeks after a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead.
The suspect in Saturday’s shooting sounds very much like past shooters — quiet, antisocial and a bit “strange,” according to people who grew up with him in Plano, Texas.
Crusius attended school with his twin sister, Emily Crusius. The school collectively thought of Patrick Crusius as “the strange one” of the sibling duo, according to two people who attended with them — both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It is not clear how Crusius got from the Dallas area to El Paso, a roughly nine-hour drive.
In Allen, police blocked off a road in the upscale Starcreek neighborhood Saturday night. Melinda Urbina, a spokesperson for the Dallas FBI field office, said Crasius’ family lives in a house on the street and that the FBI is assisting El Paso police in the investigation.
Neighbors milled about as television reporters camped out on the sidewalks. Valerie Corniello, a neighbor, said she had seen people come and go from the Crusius house but had never spoken with them.
“The neighborhood is quiet, with lots of professionals and people from all backgrounds and races,” she said. “It’s so sad what has happened. I feel sick for the family.”
The shooting apparently began outside the Walmart midmorning Saturday.
Vanessa Saenz, a 37-year-old El Paso resident, was turning into the Walmart parking lot with her mother and son to buy the family’s weekly groceries when she heard a few pops that sounded like fireworks.
She looked over and saw a man who seemed to be “dancing” in the air — and then she noticed a woman sprinting.
Saenz realized that the man had been shot and that these were no fireworks.
“My mom yelled, ‘Just go! Speed and just go!’ but of course there were people trying to dodge the bullets and running through the parking lot,” Saenz said in an interview with The Post.
She also caught a glimpse of the shooter, who she said was wearing dark cargo pants, a black T-shirt and some sort of earmuffs. He was around 5-foot-10, thin and carrying a rifle, she said.
He was just “shooting randomly,” Saenz said, and then he walked into the store and she lost sight of him.
Inside the Walmart, shoppers and employees raced to exit the store or to hide in shelves. Witnesses said good Samaritans used their own cars to transport victims to hospitals.
O’Rourke and his wife, Amy, visited victims and their families at University Medical Center on Saturday night. One family had been sitting at a table raising funds for a soccer team the father coached when he was shot and badly wounded. O’Rourke spoke to the man’s wife.
“She told me and Amy, ‘This has got to change,’ ” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke said Trump’s rhetoric has triggered violence, though he stopped short of blaming the president for the El Paso shootings.
“He is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country,” O’Rourke said. “And it does not just offend our sensibilities. It fundamentally changes the character of this country, and it leads to violence.”
Washington Post writers Alexandra Hinjosa, Mary Beth Sheridan, Devlin Barrett, Mark Berman, Jennifer Jenkins, Morgan Krakow, Hannah Natanson, Lisa Rein, Julie Tate, Emanuel Stokes and Annette Nevins contributed to this report.