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20 people dead, 24 injured in El Paso Walmart; shooting suspect held

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Aug. 3 (UPI) — A mass shooting left 20 people dead and at least 26 people injured at a Walmart Supercenter in El Paso, Texas, Saturday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott said.

A 21-year-old male from Allen, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, was arrested in connection with the shooting in the west Texas town that borders Mexico, Police Chief Greg Allen said at a news conference Saturday night with the governor and law enforcement officials.

The shooter, who wasn’t identified, was arrested without police firing a shot.

A racist manifesto was found online but Allen said they couldn’t confirm that the suspect was connected to it. Allen said they are investigating it as a hate crime but FBI officials said it’s too early in the investigation to determine a motive.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, said that while the investigation is ongoing for this case, there have been too many cases recently where people behind the attack have a racist agenda.

“The manifesto narrative is fueled by hate and it’s fueled by racism, bigotry and division,” said Escobar, who represents the El Paso area. “This is someone who came from outside our community to do us harm.”

Authorities are going through the alleged shooter’s social media accounts, CNN reported.

The suspect, whose name wasn’t released, could face capital murder charges, Allen said.

In a news conference, Abbott urged Texans to pray and use the power of prayer.

“Whatever your race may be, now is the time for Texans to come together, support each other, help your families in need and make sure El Paso can take a step forward that it needs to take,” Abbott said.

Police spokesman Sgt. Robert Gomez said initial reports were that the gunman used a rifle but that hasn’t been confirmed, Gomez said.

“At this time we have ruled out multiple shooters,” Gomez said.

Multiple victims were taken to different hospitals, a University Medical Center of El Paso, hospital spokesman Ryan Mielke said. UMC received at least 13 victims with “level one” injuries, which is the most serious level. They ranged in age from 2 to senior citizens. Another 11 victims were taken to Del Sol Medical Center ranging in age from 35 to 82, spokesman Victor Guerrero said.

El Paso police put out an urgent call for blood on Twitter.

“Multiple injured transported to various hospitals,” El Paso tweeted. “Blood donation centers Vitalent Blood Services at 424 S. Mesa Hills and 133 N. Zaragoza.”

There is no imminent threat at this time but people should avoid the area, police tweeted. Police have set up a reunification center to find loved ones at MacArthur Elementary-Intermediate School.

“It’s an absolute tragedy,” Mayor Dee Margo said before a news conference. “The scene is contained as it stands now. There is no danger at this moment.”

No information on victims injured or killed was provided.

The incident happened about 10:39 a.m. local time. By the afternoon, police turned the area into a crime scene and it was still secure.

“We searching multiple scenes, but primarily the Walmart,” said Sgt. Enrique Carrillo said. “There is no imminent threat. There is no active shooter currently.”

Police were seen searching a late-model car near the scene. The trunk and doors were open but no one was inside.

Abbott said the Texas Legislature passed several bills earlier this year that address mental health in the aftermath of the Santa Fe High School shooting in the Houston area. They also took steps to improve school safety, taking testimony from educators. But he said they didn’t plan for an incident in a shopping center like this.

The Walmart Supercenter shares a parking lot with Cielo Vista Mall.

Landry’s Seafood, Hooters and Red Lobster were on lockdown, CNN reported.

“We never thought it would be so close to us this time,” Landry’s restaurant manager Oscar told CNN. “You see on the news all the time, but you don’t think it could happen here until it does.”

He said three Walmart employees took refuge at a nearby Landry’s Seafood house.

Margo said El Paso routinely makes the news because it’s a border town dealing with an influx of Central American migrants but this shooting is different. El Paso, with a population of 840,758, is about 83 percent Hispanic, the according to a U.S. Census report in 208.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso native, reacted on Twitter.

“Truly heartbreaking. Stay safe, El Paso,” O’Rourke tweeted. “Please follow all directions of emergency personnel as we continue to get more updates.”

He also reacted to the incident in a speech in Las Vegas.

“We are thinking about you and we want to make this better going forward,” O’Rourke said before departing for El Paso. “Ask for everyone’s strength for El Paso now.”

President Donald Trump tweeted: “Terrible shootings in El Paso, Texas. Reports are very bad, many killed. Working with State and Local authorities, and Law Enforcement. Spoke to Governor to pledge total support of Federal Government. God be with you all!”

Walmart employee Leslie Diaz, 25, was helping customers at the front of the Walmart when she heard multiple pops getting closer and closer. Customers started running and screaming for the exits.

Joe Rutland said he lives on the west side of El Paso, which is on the other side of the Franklin Mountains that act as a separation between the east and west sides.

“One thing I noticed when going out and running errands, later on, was seeing people checking their cell phones a lot,” Rutland told UPI. “I asked one person if she had family members on the east side and she said ‘Yes, he’s a security officer at Cielo Vista Mall and just texted me that ‘I’m cool.’ That was it.”

Families and friends are spread across the city.

“People know people that live on the east side and vice-versa,” Rutland told UPI. “It’s a pretty safe town and has a record for it over the years. Today, though, is a day that both longtime and newer residents of the city will never forget.”

Rutland said there are plenty of people who cross the border from Juarez, Mexico to shop in El Paso. Many families are shopping for back-to-school.

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