Two mass shootings leave Americans reeling

Hours after 20 killed in El Paso, nine die in Dayton, Ohio massacre

August 4, 2019 23:32
Two mass shootings leave Americans reeling

Amanda Luke, of Fairborn, Ohio, holds a sign during a vigil after a mass shooting in Dayton. (photo credit: BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS)

Two mass shooting attacks in the United States within 13 hours of each other left Americans reeling Sunday after one of the deadliest days in America’s modern history. Twenty-nine people died and dozens were wounded in two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, shocking the country and prompting calls from some politicians for tighter gun control.

The first massacre occurred on Saturday morning in the heavily Hispanic border city of El Paso, where a gunman killed 20 people at a Walmart store before surrendering to police. Some 13 hours later across the country, a gunman opened fire in a downtown district of Dayton, Ohio, killing nine people and wounding at least 26 others early on Sunday, the city police and mayor said. The assailant dressed in body armor was shot dead by police.

US President Donald Trump ordered American flags in the US and around the world lowered to half-mast until August 8 at sunset “as a mark of solemn respect” for the El Paso and Dayton mass shooting attack victims.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that the El Paso rampage appeared to be a hate crime, and police cited a “manifesto” they attributed to the suspect, a 21-year-old white man named Patrick Crusius.

El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect surrendered to approaching officers.

“We have a manifesto from this individual that indicates a potential nexus to a hate crime,” he said. “We have to validate for certain that this was a manifesto from this individual we arrested.”

The precise contents of the manifesto – a document appearing on the website 8chan before the shooting rampage – spoke about the “invasion” of Latino immigrants and noted that the writer agreed with the shooter who killed scores of worshipers in March at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. The document was uploaded by an anonymous user who posted another document under the file name “P. _ Crusius.” That file was taken down, and it is not clear what it contained.

Police were investigating photographs of the suspect with an assault-style rifle that were posted on social media. A Twitter account that appeared to belong to Crusius was shut down Saturday evening. Tweets on the account had praised Trump and, in particular, his effort to build a wall along the US-Mexico border.

“The manifesto narrative is fueled by hate, and it’s fueled by racism, bigotry and division,” Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat who represents El Paso, said at a news conference. “This is someone that came from outside of our community to do us harm.”

According to the New York Times, the manifesto described an imminent attack and railed against immigrants, saying, “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.”

The unsigned manifesto, titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” draws direct inspiration from the mass murder of Muslims in March at two mosques in New Zealand that left 51 people dead. Prior to that attack, the alleged killer also published a manifesto online promoting a white supremacist theory called “the great replacement.” The theory has been promoted by a French writer named Renaud Camus, and argues that elites in Europe have been working to replace white Europeans with immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.

The gunman who opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, near San Diego, in April, posted an antisemitic diatribe also on 8chan, the same online message board where the El Paso document surfaced. The Poway manifesto echoed the words of the Christchurch suspect and also drew inspiration from a massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last October. In that mass shooting, the suspect railed against immigrants, Jews and other groups.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the attacks at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting held Sunday in Eilat.

“In the past 24 hours, we have witnessed two murderous attacks in Texas and Ohio,” he said. “On behalf of all government ministers and all citizens of Israel, I send condolences to the bereaved families, best wishes for recovery to the injured and solidarity with the mourning of the American people.”

Pope Francis condemned the spate of attacks on “defenseless people” in the US, including a rampage last Sunday in which a gunman killed three people and wounded about a dozen at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California.

The El Paso shooting reverberated on the campaign trail for next year’s US presidential election, with several Democratic candidates denouncing the rise of gun violence and repeating calls for tighter gun control measures.

“The FBI, local and state law enforcement are working together in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio,” Trump tweeted. “Information is rapidly being accumulated in Dayton. Much has already [been] learned in El Paso. Law enforcement was very rapid in both instances. God bless the people of El Paso Texas. God bless the people of Dayton, Ohio.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called on her Republican peers to join forces to pass gun control legislation.

“In less than 24 hours, another American community has been devastated by the tragedy of gun violence, this time in Dayton, Ohio,” she tweeted. “The hearts of all Americans break for the families & friends of those injured & murdered in this act of terror.”

“We have a responsibility to the people we serve to act,” she continued. “The Senate Republicans must stop their outrageous obstruction and join the House to put an end to the horror and bloodshed that gun violence inflicts every day in America.”

Democratic hopeful and El Paso resident, Beto O’Rourke, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he believes that Trump is a white nationalist. He called for enhanced gun control measures and pointed the finger at Trump’s direction.

“In addition to universal background checks, a ban on the sale of weapons of war, and red flag laws, we have got to acknowledge the hatred and open racism we’re seeing on Fox News, on the Internet, and from our commander-in-chief,” he said in the interview.

Earlier on Saturday, he told reporters in El-Paso: “President Trump’s racism does not just offend our sensibilities; it fundamentally changes the character of this country. And it leads to violence.”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took to Twitter to condemn the violence, calling it a “terrorist attack.”

“Another mass shooting, another horrific day for America,” he tweeted. “Multiple news organizations have reported the gunman shared a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto. If true, let us be clear: this would be yet another white nationalist domestic terror attack.”

Sanders went on to say that the US needs “a president and Congress that listens to Americans, not the ideology of a right-wing extremist organization. We must pass common sense gun safety legislation. We must come together to reject this dangerous and growing culture of bigotry espoused by [President Donald] Trump and his allies.”

Sanders also called on the US government to “treat this violent racism like the security threat that it is. That means investing in law enforcement resources to combat the growing population of white nationalists who are engaging in violence,” he concluded.

In a short statement, Americans Against Antisemitism called on all Americans “to come together as a country to stand up to this scourge of white supremacy that’s terrorizing innocent people.”

“Enough is enough,” it added, saying that “something is terribly wrong in our country when haters find readily available fuel for their murderous fire. That fuel is white supremacy, a hateful ideology that is claiming more and more innocent lives. We must stand firm and united against this particular hatred just as we call out antisemitism, or any other specific form of racism.”

CNN reported that the FBI had opened a domestic terrorism investigation. “We are going to aggressively prosecute it both as capital murder but also as a hate crime, which is exactly what it appears to be,” Abbott told reporters.

El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, together with the neighboring city of Las Cruces, New Mexico, form a metropolitan border area of some 2.5 million residents constituting the largest bilingual, bi-national population in North America.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that three Mexican nationals were among the 20 people killed in the shooting, and six others were among 26 victims who were wounded.

The carnage ranked as the eighth-deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, after a 1984 shooting in San Ysidro, California, in which 21 people died.

IN DAYTON, a riverfront city of about 140,000 people in southwestern Ohio, a gunman dressed in body armor opened fire in a downtown district early on Sunday, killing nine people and wounding 27 others.

Police officers – who were on routine patrol nearby – arrived on the scene in less than a minute and shot the attacker dead, likely preventing a much higher casualty toll, police and the city’s mayor said.

“In less than one minute, Dayton first responders neutralized the shooter. I’m just still completely amazed at the heroic nature of our police department,” Mayor Nan Whaley said at a news conference.

Assistant Police Chief Matt Carper told reporters that the shooting began at 1 a.m. local time in Dayton’s Oregon District, a historic downtown neighborhood popular for its nightclubs, restaurants, art galleries and shops.

The motive behind the shooting was not immediately clear, and investigators believe that the individual had acted alone, Carper said. Authorities said they identified the shooter, but were not disclosing his name yet.

Ten people were killed, including the assailant. Twenty-seven others were injured, four of whom are in serious condition and one in critical condition, medical authorities said.

Whaley said the suspect was wearing body armor and armed with a rifle firing .223-caliber rounds from high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Had police officers not confronted the suspect as quickly as they did, “hundreds of people in the Oregon District could be dead today,” the mayor said.

FBI agents are assisting in the investigation.

The Dayton Daily News said the latest shooting occurred at or near a tavern called Ned Peppers Bar. The newspaper cited a Facebook post from James Wilson, who said he was a customer sitting on a patio just outside the bar when the shooting occurred in front of the establishment.

“He [the gunman] tried to get into the bar but did not make it through the door,” Wilson wrote. “Someone took the gun from him and he got shot and is dead.”

One witness, Anthony Reynolds, said he heard gunfire that sounded like it was coming from a high-powered weapon. “Just boom boom boom boom boom boom rapid,” he said. “You could tell there’s a big gun. You’re not going to get those from no handgun. You’re not.”

Deb Decker, a spokeswoman for emergency services in Montgomery County, Ohio, told CNN that the assailant had been making his way to Ned Peppers from another bar when someone grabbed the barrel of his rifle, and he drew a handgun, but was then shot as police arrived.

The mayor said the carnage in Dayton marked the 250th mass shooting in the US so far this year, a figure that could not immediately be verified.

Rep. Mike Turner, who represents the district where the mass shooting took place, tweeted that his daughter was not far away from the incident.

“My daughter and a family friend had just entered the Tumbleweed Connection when the shooting began across the street,” he wrote. “Both reported of the visible police presence before the shooting and the bravery they witnessed as officers ran toward the gunshots. My daughter and friend fled into Oregon District and contacted me at 2 a.m. As they ran home, I followed their progress and prayed for them and our community.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said he is angry that “shooting after shooting, politicians in Washington and Columbus refuse to pass sensible gun-safety laws to protect our communities. We are still learning about the attack in Dayton, and we don’t know exactly what, if anything, could have prevented this specific tragedy. But we know thoughts and prayers are not enough. We have a responsibility to act.”

Herb Keinon and TNS contributed to this report.

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