Authorities are looking into political, and potentially “antigovernment,” motives behind the shootings early Friday at several government buildings in Austin, Texas.
Minutes before the shooter was killed, witnesses had seen him fire a “fusillade” at police headquarters, after shooting at the Mexican Consulate and the federal courthouse in the downtown area.
Sgt. Adam Johnson, a veteran of Austin’s mounted police patrol, encountered the gunman while he was putting horses back into the stable and quickly fired at the man. But police say they’re not sure whether the attacker was killed by Sergeant Johnson or by a self-inflicted wound.
The attack on government buildings, including the consulate, comes at a tense time in immigration politics in the United States, after President Obama took executive action to help an estimated 4 million to 5 million unauthorized immigrants work and otherwise function in the US without fear of deportation.
"Our political discourse has become very heated and sometimes very angry, and sometimes the rhetoric is not healthy," Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said at a press conference. “I would venture, based on my training and experience, that the political rhetoric might have fed into some of this."
"If you look at the targets, it doesn't take a genius (to suggest) that that is the potential," Chief Acevedo added.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been warning for several years that mass attacks in the US are likely to be borne out by “lone wolf” actors.
Police were searching the man’s home Friday morning after clearing the downtown scene, which snarled traffic on Interstate 35 through downtown Austin after police closed it briefly. The investigation in the downtown area took awhile since police spotted cylinders they thought might be bombs.
The man did use several small propane cylinders to set a small fire at the Mexican Consulate, but the effort failed, police say.
The man, whose name has not been released by authorities, was white and around age 50 and had a criminal background, police say.
Johnson, who has been with the Austin force and its mounted patrol for 15 years, was put on administrative leave after the shooting, per department protocol. If Johnson’s bullet turns out to have been the decisive one, he would have done it while holding onto two horses with his other hand. That “would have been one heck of a shot,” Acevedo said.