A gunman set fire to several homes in Houston in the early hours of Sunday morning and then opened fire on victims as they fled from the flames, killing three before he was shot dead by police, according to authorities.
The chilling ambush-style attack unfolded at around 1am on Dunlap Street in southwest Houston as unsuspecting residents slept inside their homes.
Houston Police said that the suspect, a Black man in his 40s who is believed to have been recently evicted from the building, torched multiple residences in an attempt to lure victims outside.
The gunman then lay in wait in the darkness, disguised in all black and armed with a shotgun.
As terrified residents ran from the building to escape the blaze, the shooter opened fire on them.
Police said that some firefighters were already on the scene when the shooting began and were forced to take cover from the gunfire. It is not clear if the gunman was firing at the firefighters or not.
A Houston Police officer arrived next on the scene and spotted the gunman lying in a prone position with a shotgun in the parking lot opposite the dwelling.
The officer shot and killed the gunman, police said.
Five other people were injured in the attack, three of them fatally.
Two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene while a third victim succumbed to their injuries in hospital.
The other two victims were injured but survived, with only one – a man in his 40s – going to hospital for treatment for a gunshot wound to his arm.
No law enforcement personnel or emergency responders were wounded in the incident.
The identities of the gunman and the victims have not been released. The three deceased victims were described as two white men in their 60s and a Black man in his 40s.
The motive for the horror attack remains unclear and it is not clear if the victims knew their attacker.
However, Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said that the gunman may have recently been evicted from the property which was described as a residence that rents out multiple rooms.
The police chief said that the eviction “may have been a trigger point” for the shooter.
Speaking at an early morning press conference at the scene, Chief Finner said that he had never come across such an incident during his long career.
“I’ve seen things that I haven’t seen before in 32 years, and it’s happened time and time again,” he said.
“And people ask the police chief and the leaders why – and we don’t know why... We just ask that the community come together.”
He added: “This is sad what’s going on in this nation.”
Chief Finner praised the actions of the police officer who shot the suspect, saying he was “proud” of his quick action which brought an end to the shooting and may have saved more lives being lost.
In line with department policy, the officer – a veteran officer of seven years – will be placed on administrative leave, pending a review, and the bodycam footage will be released to the public within the next 30 days.