By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) – A white male in his 30s who was known to police killed four people and wounded 21 others on Saturday in a gun rampage between the west Texas cities of Midland and Odessa that started with a traffic stop and ended when he was killed by officers, authorities said.
The suspect hijacked a postal van and opened fire on police officers, motorists and shoppers before being shot dead outside a multiplex cinema complex in Odessa, police said.
Authorities originally thought there were two shooters driving two vehicles, but Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told a press conference on Saturday evening that he believed there was only one.
The suspect is believed to have shot the police officer who stopped his vehicle on Interstate 20 at around 2.30 p.m. local time and then went on a shooting spree that spread terror through shopping centres and movie theatres on a busy Labor Day holiday weekend in the two cities, which lie about 20 miles (32 km) apart in the Permian oil boom area of West Texas.
Video shown by a local CBS affiliate showed the white postal van crashing into a vehicle at high speed outside the Cinergy movie theatre complex in Odessa before the man believed to be the suspected shooter was swarmed by police. Theatre goers were seen running screaming out of the complex.
Police said the shooter was shot and killed in the parking lot of the multiplex.
“We do believe we have the threat contained but I can’t be 1,000 percent sure of that,” Odessa Police Chief Michale Gerke told a news conference.
Gerke said the suspect was known to him but he declined to comment on a motive for shootings.
At least three police officers were among the wounded, CBS affiliate CBS 7 reported.
A spokesman for the Medical Centre Hospital in Odessa said it took in 14 victims, but that it was too soon to give details.
“Grab onto your loved ones, pray for this town, stop and give your prayers for the victims,” the hospital’s director, Russell Tippin, told reporters.
At one point armed police ran through the Music City Mall in Odessa, forcing anchors for television station CBS 7, located inside, to duck off-screen as the building went into lockdown.
Saturday’s shooting came after 22 people were killed at a Walmart store about 255 miles west of Midland in the city of El Paso, Texas on Aug. 3.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler)