A sunny day at a shopping mall complex in the border city of El Paso, Texas, turned into chaos and bloodshed late Saturday morning, after a gunman opened fire inside a Walmart store, killing multiple people, wounding others and sending panicked shoppers into nearby stores.
The office of the El Paso mayor, Dee Margo, said in a statement that the police had confirmed several fatalities. The police declined to elaborate on the number and status of the victims.
Much about the shooting remained unclear as of Saturday afternoon. It was unknown how many had died and had been wounded. Police officials said one gunman, a white male in his 20s, was in custody.
The gunfire began a few minutes before 11 a.m., in a popular commercial district near Cielo Vista Mall with scores of restaurants and stores that are often crowded on the weekends. The Walmart store, located near Hawkins Boulevard and Gateway Boulevard West a short distance from the mall, was packed at the time.
Hospitals and emergency workers are treating victims.
Enrique Duenas-Aguilar, a spokesman for the El Paso Fire Department, said emergency workers had transported 18 people who were wounded to nearby hospitals. “We don’t have any numbers on fatalities as of right now,” Duenas-Aguilar said.
Local hospitals were treating patients from the scene. Victor Guerrero, a spokesman for Del Sol Medical Center, said the hospital was treating 11 victims. Nine were in critical but stable condition and two were stable, he said. Patient ages ranged from 35 to 82.
The University Medical Center of El Paso received 13 patients, according to Ryan Mielke, the hospital’s spokesman. He said two minors, including a 2-year-old, were stabilized and transferred to El Paso Children’s Hospital. Mielke said the victims’ conditions ranged from minor injury to fatal.
Witnesses described the scene.
“We heard shots and saw smoke,” said Victor Gamboa, 18, who works at the McDonald’s inside the Walmart store where the shooting took place. “I saw a man on the floor full of blood. He appeared to be dead. It happened very quickly.”
Gamboa said he and other McDonald’s workers inside the Walmart sheltered the customers to keep them safe and huddled on the floor for 15 minutes. Officers eventually arrived and escorted the group out to a Sam’s Club store across the street.
Another Walmart worker, Sergio Armando Samaniego, 40, who works as a clerk in the store’s garden center, said he heard the gunman enter through the automotive section. Samaniego had been on break and was headed back to the garden center when, minutes later, he heard gunshots.
Manuel Uruchurtu, 20, had just paid at the Walmart register at 10:36 a.m. and was walking out of the store’s doors when he heard the sound of shots. As Uruchurtu fled the store with a horde of people, he saw two bodies on the ground outside, one surrounded by a pool of blood.
“I saw people crying: children, old people, all in shock,” Uruchurtu said.
“I saw a baby, maybe 6 to 8 months old, with blood all over their belly,” he continued. “It was crying and crying. Fortunately it was still alive.”
El Paso has been at the center of the migrant crisis.
For months, El Paso has been in the national spotlight, as thousands of Central American families have flooded the city and surrounding areas.
The waves of migrants, and the difficulty the Trump administration has had providing shelter and medical care for them, has captured the attention of President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates. El Paso is a majority-Hispanic city of 682,000 that has long had a binational feel because of its proximity and ties to its sister city in Mexico, Ciudad Juárez.
Officials expressed their sympathies.
Trump has been briefed on the shooting, and Trump administration officials were monitoring the situation. The president spoke about the shooting with the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, who was headed to the scene of the attack Saturday afternoon.
“Today, the El Paso community was struck by a heinous and senseless act of violence,” Abbott said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the victims of this horrific shooting and to the entire community in this time of loss.”
Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic presidential candidate who represented El Paso in Congress for years, canceled his campaign events in Nevada and California to return to the city. On Saturday, speaking at a Las Vegas candidates forum before he departed for El Paso, O’Rourke teared up as he told the audience: “There is a lot of injury and suffering in El Paso right now. El Paso is the strongest place in the world. I’m going to be with my family and be with my hometown.”