Mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton: What we know now

Investigators focused on whether the El Paso attack was a hate crime after a racist, anti-immigrant screed was found posted online.

AP Photo/Andres Leighton
Flowers and a Virgin Mary painting adorn a makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, August 4, 2019.

The shooting that killed 20 people at a crowded El Paso shopping area will be handled as a domestic terrorism case, federal authorities said Sunday as they weighed hate-crime charges against the suspected gunman that could carry the death penalty.

A local prosecutor announced that he would file capital murder charges, declaring that the alleged assailant had "lost the right to be among us."

The attack on Saturday morning was followed less than a day later by another shooting that claimed nine lives in a nightlife district of Dayton, Ohio. That shooter was killed by police. Together the two assaults wounded more than 50 people, some of them critically, and shocked even a nation that has grown accustomed to regular spasms of gun violence.

Investigators focused on whether the El Paso attack was a hate crime after the emergence of a racist, anti-immigrant screed that was posted online shortly beforehand. Detectives sought to determine if it was written by the man who was arrested. The border city has figured prominently in the immigration debate and is home to 680,000 people, most of them Latino.

Using a rifle, the El Paso gunman opened fire in an area packed with as many as 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school shopping season.

Federal officials were treating the attack as a domestic terrorism case, according to the U.S. attorney. The Justice Department was considering federal hate-crime charges that would carry the death penalty.

Despite initial reports of possible multiple gunmen, the man in custody was believed to be the only shooter, police said.

Law enforcement officials identified him as 21-year-old Patrick Crusius from Allen, a Dallas suburb which is a nearly 10-hour drive from El Paso. He was arrested without police firing any shots, authorities said. There was no immediate indication that he had an attorney.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was cooperative and "forthcoming with information."

"He basically didn't hold anything back. Particular questions were asked, and he responded in the way that needed to be answered," Allen said.

El Paso police said they did not know where the weapon was purchased. Allen acknowledged that it is legal under Texas law to carry a long gun openly in a public place.

"Of course, normal individuals seeing that type of weapon might be alarmed," but before he began firing, the suspect was technically "within the realm of the law," Allen said.

The attack targeted a shopping area about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the main border checkpoint with Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Many of the victims were shot at a Walmart.

"The scene was a horrific one," Allen said.

Relatives said a 25-year-old woman who was shot while apparently trying to shield her 2-month-old son was among those killed. Mexican officials said six Mexican nationals were also among the dead.

Mexico planned to take legal action against whoever sold the gun to the suspect, the country's foreign minister said. Gun ownership is highly restricted in Mexico, requiring special permits, and gun shops are rare.

Hate has no place

President Donald Trump denounced both shootings, saying "hate has no place in our country." Addressing reporters in Morristown, New Jersey, the president said Sunday that "we're going to take care" of the problem. He said he's been speaking to the attorney general, the FBI director and members of Congress and will make an additional statement Monday.

Trump also pointed to a mental illness problem in the U.S., calling the shooters "really very seriously mentally ill."

Authorities were searching for any links between the suspect and the material in the document that was posted online shortly before the shooting, including the writer's expression of concern that an influx of Hispanics into the United States will replace aging white voters. That could potentially turn Texas blue in elections and swing the White House to Democrats.

"It's beginning to look more solidly that is the case," the police chief said.

The writer was also critical of Republicans for what he described as close ties to corporations and degradation of the environment. Though a Twitter account that appears to belong to Crusius included pro-Trump posts praising the plan to build more border wall, the writer of the online document says his views on race predated Trump's campaign and that any attempt to blame the president for his actions was "fake news."

The writer denied he was a white supremacist, but the document says "race mixing" is destroying the nation and recommends dividing the United States into territorial enclaves determined by race. The first sentence of the four-page document expresses support for the man accused of killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March after posting his own screed with a conspiracy theory about nonwhite migrants replacing whites.

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said he knew the shooter was not from the city. "It's not what we're about," the mayor said at the news conference.

El Paso County is more than 80% Latino, according to the latest census data. Tens of thousands of Mexicans legally cross the border each day to work and shop in the city.

Trump visited in February to argue that walling off the southern border would make the U.S. safer. City residents and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who is from El Paso, led thousands on a protest march past the barrier of barbed wire-topped fencing and towering metal slats.

O'Rourke, a former Texas congressman, stressed that border walls have not made his hometown safer. The city's murder rate was less than half the national average in 2005, the year before the start of its border fence. Before the wall project started, El Paso had been rated one of the three safest major U.S. cities going back to 1997.

Trump ordered flags flown at half-staff in memory of the victims of the two shootings. He has been out of public, but he tweeted about the attacks.

FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers last month that domestic terrorism is a "persistent serious threat." The Justice Department in recent years has tried to confront that threat by appointing a domestic terrorism coordinator and creating the specialized unit that will investigate the El Paso attack. It also investigated an April shooting at a California synagogue.

The FBI has also begun classifying domestic terrorism acts into four main categories: racially motivated extremism, anti-government extremism, animal rights extremism and abortion extremism.

The shooting was the 21st mass killing in the United States in 2019, and the fifth public mass shooting. Before Saturday, 96 people had died in mass killings in 2019 — 26 of them in public mass shootings.

The AP/USA Today/Northeastern University mass murder database tracks all U.S. homicides since 2006 involving four or more people killed, not including the offender, over a short period of time regardless of weapon, location, victim-offender relationship or motive. The database shows that the median age of a public mass shooter is 28, significantly lower than the median age of a person who commits a mass shooting of his family.

Since 2006, 11 mass shootings — not including Saturday's — have been committed by men who are 21 or younger.

High school hit list

In Dayton, police officers stationed nearby shot and killed 24-year-old Connor Betts, who was armed with a .223-caliber rifle with magazines capable of holding at least 100 rounds of ammunition, said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl.

What's not known is whether Betts targeted any of the victims, including his 22-year-old sister, Megan, the youngest of the dead.

While the gunman was white and six of the nine killed were black, police said the quickness of the rampage made any discrimination in the shooting seem unlikely.

High school classmates of the gunman who killed nine people early Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, say he was suspended for compiling a "hit list" in 2012 of those he wanted to kill and a "rape list" of girls he wanted to sexually assault.

Both former classmates told The Associated Press that Betts was suspended during their junior year at suburban Bellbrook High School after a hit list was found scrawled in a school bathroom. That followed an earlier suspension after Betts came to school with a list of female students he wanted to sexually assault, according to the two classmates, a man and a woman who are both now 24 and spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern they might face harassment.

Any attempt to suggest a motive so early in the investigation would be irresponsible, the Dayton police chief said.

___
Weber reported from Austin. Balsamo reported from Orlando, Florida. Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker and Jullie Carr Smyth reported from Dayton, Ohio.  Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., and Amy Guthrie in Mexico City also contributed to this report.

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