EL PASO, Tx. (Reuters) – A gunman killed multiple people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas on Saturday before being arrested after the latest U.S. mass shooting sent panicked shoppers fleeing.
Many of those caught up in the rampage were buying back-to-school supplies. El Paso police Sergeant Robert Gomez told reporters authorities had ruled out multiple shooters, and he said initial reports were that the gunman used a rifle.
“This is just a tragedy that I’m having a hard time getting my arms around,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo told CNN.
Citing a law enforcement source, El Paso television station KTSM published on its website what it said were two photos of the suspect taken by security cameras as he entered the Walmart.
The images showed a young white man wearing glasses, khaki trousers and a dark T-shirt, and pointing an assault-style rifle. He appears to be wearing headphones or ear defenders.
Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the images.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the reports from El Paso were “very bad, many killed.”
“Spoke to Governor to pledge total support of Federal Government,” he wrote. “God be with you all!”
U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, told CNN the number of victims was “shocking.”
University Medical Center of El Paso received 13 patients, including one who died, hospital spokesman Ryan Mielke told CNN.
Some of the patients were in surgery while others were in stable condition, he added.
Two of the patients who arrived at the hospital were children with non-life threatening injuries who were transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital, he said.
El Paso police made an urgent appeal for blood donations, saying there were multiple injured at various hospitals.
The El Paso Police Department said the scene remained active around the Cielo Vista Mall, near the Walmart, but there was no imminent threat to the public.
Another El Paso police spokesman, Enrique Carrillo, said there were more than 20 casualties, a number that could include fatalities and people wounded.
Shoppers fled for their lives, including Kianna Long who was at the Walmart with her husband when they heard gunfire.
“People were panicking and running, saying that there was a shooter,” Long said. “They were running close to the floor, people were dropping on the floor.”
Long and her husband sprinted through a stock room at the back of the store before sheltering with other customers in a steel container in a shipping area.
Graphic video from the scene posted on social media showed what appeared to be dead bodies and wounded victims.
Police asked people who cannot reach loved ones to go to a family reunification center at a local middle school, instead of heading to the shopping center.
Walmart said in a statement: “We’re in shock over the tragic events at Cielo Vista Mall… We’re praying for the victims, the community & our associates, as well as the first responders.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies raced to the scene, including police, state troopers, Homeland Security agents and border patrol.
One witness said he saw at least one person inside the store with a fatal head wound, and he saw shoppers in bloodied clothes.
Other stores at the nearby mall were also locked down as police officers cleared the shopping center in the east of the city, which lies on the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
Video posted on Twitter showed customers at one department store being evacuated with their hands up.
“Hands in the air!” an officer can be heard shouting in the footage.
Mass shootings are common in the United States. On Sunday, a teenage gunman opened fire with an assault-style rifle on the crowd at a food festival in Northern California, killing three people before fatally shooting himself.
At a Democratic presidential candidate forum in Las Vegas a clearly emotional Beto O’Rourke, a former Texas congressman who is from El Paso, broke the news to the audience that he had just heard about the deadly mass shooting in his home city.
O’Rourke said he had spoken to his wife Amy, who was driving in the city with one of their children. Addressing reporters, he teared up and struggled to deliver a short statement.
“I am incredibly saddened and it’s very hard to think about this,” he said. “El Paso is the strongest place in the world. This community is going to come together. I’m going back there right now to be with my family, to be with my home town.”
Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles and Tim Reid in Las Vegas; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Susan Thomas