Twenty people have been killed after a shooter opened fire at a busy Walmart store packed with families shopping for the new school year in the Texas border city of El Paso, sending panicked shoppers fleeing.
Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott, said 20 people had been killed, and more than two dozen more were injured. Mexico’s President Manuel López Obrador said three Mexicans were among the dead and six were among the wounded.
Abbott said it was “one of the deadliest days in Texas history”.
Hours later, on Sunday morning, police said nine people had been killed in a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio.
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. The 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.
The alleged gunman was named by the Associated Press and other media as Patrick Crusius, citing law enforcement sources.
Allen said the suspect had driven the nine-hour journey to El Paso.
El Paso is in western Texas, right on the border with Mexico. The diverse city has around 680,000 residents, and its population is 80% Latino. Its Mexican twin city Ciudad Juárez, sits directly across the large barrier that divides their downtown areas. More than 23,000 pedestrians cross from Ciudad Juárez to El Paso to work every day.
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. An 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.”
Cellphone 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.
A family reunification center had been set up at a nearby middle school center, police said.
A University Medical Center of El Paso official told the Associated Press that one of 12 people who were rushed to the hospital after the attack had died. Ryan Mielke, a hospital spokesman, said all of the victims suffered traumatic injuries. He declined to provide additional details about the victims.
Mielke said two children, ages two and nine, were stabilized at the medical center before being transferred to the neighboring El Paso children’s hospital. Del Sol Medical Center said it was treating 11 other patients.
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 home town.
Trump tweeted to “condemn today’s hateful act” calling it an “act of cowardice”.
Fellow 2020 Democratic candidate and former San Antonio mayor, Julián Castro, said: “My heart is with the people of El Paso today as they cope with a devastating mass shooting … This attack is a tragic reminder of our government’s failure to do its most basic duty: to protect American lives. We need gun reform now.”
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 15 injured.
Law enforcement authorities said a 19-year-old who had previously lived in town cut his way through a fence to get inside the festival, then opened fire with a military-style rifle. Two Walmart employees were killed in a shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi last week.
Every day, 100 people are killed with firearms in the US, and hundreds more injured, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Other Democratic presidential candidates expressed outrage on Saturday that mass shootings have becoming chillingly common nationwide and blamed the National Rifle Association and its congressional allies.
“It’s not just today, it has happened several times this week. It’s happened here in Las Vegas where some lunatic killed 50 some odd people,” the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders said as he and 18 other White House hopefuls were in Nevada to address the nation’s largest public employees union.
“All over the world, people are looking at the United States and wondering what is going on? What is the mental health situation in America, where time after time, after time, after time, we’re seeing indescribable horror.”
Agencies contributed to this report