A young gunman opened fire in a shopping area in El Paso, Texas crowded with up to 3,000 people during the busy back-to-school season, killing 20 and wounding more than 20.
Authorities were investigating the possibility that the shooting was a hate crime, and are working to confirm whether the man arrested in the attack on the border city of 680,000 people had written a racist anti-immigrant book shortly before.
El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen said the suspect was arrested without police firing any shots outside Walmart near the Silo Vista Mall, about 5 miles (8 km) from the main border checkpoint with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Two law enforcement officials who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity identified the suspect as 21-year-old Patrick Croeseus. El Paso police did not reveal his name at a press conference but confirmed that the gunman was from Alan, near Dallas.
Several victims were shot at Walmart, according to police, who provided updates on the shootings in English and Spanish throughout the day in the predominantly Latin city.
“The scene was horrific,” said Allen, adding that many of the 26 people who were injured had been seriously injured.
The shooting came less than a week after a 19-year-old gunman killed three people and wounded 13 others at the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival in California before he died of his gunshot wounds.
Residents quickly volunteered to donate blood to the injured after the El Paso shooting, and police and military personnel helped people search for their missing loved ones.
“It’s chaos now,” said Austin Johnson, an Army medic in nearby Fort Bliss who volunteered to help at the shopping center and later at a school that functions as a reunification center.
Adriana Quizada, 39, said she was in the womenswear department of Walmart with her two children when she heard gunfire.
“But I thought it was hit, like building a roof,” she said of the shots.
Her 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son threw themselves on the ground, then ran out of store through the emergency exit. They were unharmed, Quezada said.
She said she saw four men, dressed in black, moving together and shooting randomly. Police later said they believed the suspect, who was armed with a rifle, was the only shooter.
A spokesman for the University Medical Center in El Paso, Ryan Milky, said 13 of the injured were taken to hospital with injuries, including one who died. He said that two of the injured were children, who were being transported to El Paso Hospital for Children. He did not provide further details about the victims.
Hospital spokesman Victor Guerrero said another 11 victims were receiving treatment at Del Sol Medical Center. He said that the ages of these victims ranged between 35 and 82.
Relatives said a 25-year-old woman who was shot while carrying her two-month-old son was among the dead, while Mexican officials said three Mexicans were among the dead and six others were injured.
The mayor of El Paso said police are investigating whether the document posted online shortly before the shooting was written by Croesus. In it, the writer expresses concern that the influx of Hispanics into the United States will replace aging white voters, which could turn blue in Texas in the upcoming elections and turn the White House into the Democrats.
Although the writer denied that he was a white fanatic, the document says that “racial promiscuity” is destroying the nation and recommends dividing the United States into regional enclaves defined by race.