A man set fire to a housing complex in Houston and then opened fire on the tenants as they fled, killing three of them and wounding one other early Sunday morning, police said.
Houston Police Chief Troy Finner described the suspect, whose name has not been released, as having "laid wait" for the individuals at the residential building in the 8000 block of Dunlap Street. Finner said that police believe the suspect lived in the building, where the owner rented out rooms, and had recently been served an eviction notice.
"He’s been a longtime resident here, and that may have been a trigger point for him, I don't know, but that’s part of the investigation," Finner said at a news conference.
The fire and police departments received multiple calls of a person down, a shooting, and a fire at the location at about 1:07 a.m., Finner said. When firefighters arrived, they were forced to take cover because the suspect was firing a weapon. Soon after, a Houston police officer arrived and spotted the suspect, described as a Black man who was approximately 40 years old, lying prone and armed with a shotgun in a parking lot across the street from the home.
The officer fired his weapon at the suspect, Finner said. The suspect was apparently shot dead. It was not immediately clear if he was killed by the officer.
"There was a spent casing, shell ... next to the suspect's body," Finner said. "I don't know if he actually fired right there, but the officer engaged in fire."
Officials located two white men in their 60s who were dead at the scene. A third person, a Black man who was approximately 40 years old, was transported to a local hospital, where he later died of his injuries. Another man who was shot in the arm was being treated at a local hospital. A fifth man suffered minor injuries while running away from the scene, officials said.
Finner said police believe all of the victims were residents of the building, adding that another five or six people who lived there were not injured in the attack.
One of the residents, Robin Ahrens, told the Houston Chronicle that he was getting ready to leave for work when he heard what he thought were fireworks.
"I'm just fortunate that I didn't go outside because he probably would have shot me, too," Ahrens told the Chronicle.
Ahrens, who has lived at the complex for 15 years, told the newspaper the suspect had been sick with colon cancer, was behind on his rent, and didn't have a job at the time of the shooting.
"Something must have just hit him in the last couple of days really hard to where he just didn't care," he said.
Speaking to reporters at the scene early Sunday, the police chief seemed to allude to a rise in crime across the country since the coronavirus pandemic, saying, "This is just sad what’s going on in our nation.
"I've seen things that I haven't seen before in 32 years, and this happens time and time again," Finner said. "People ask the police chief and police leaders and why — we don't even know why right now. But we just ask that the community come together."
Finner said he was proud of the firefighters who responded and the officer who engaged the suspect. Per department policy, the officer is being placed on administrative leave.
Michael Mire, assistant chief of emergency operations for the Houston Fire Department, said arson officers were continuing to investigate the fire, but their preliminary investigation supported the police theory that it was intentional. The department's homicide division and the Harris County district attorney's office are also investigating.
"I also ask for the community to pray for our first responders and for each other," Mire said, "and perhaps we can lift ourselves out of the chaos that we're living in in today’s trying times."