The death toll from a mass shooting in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa has risen from five to seven, according to Odessa Mayor David Turner.
The mayor said that at least 18 remain injured — including a 17-month-old girl — following the shooting rampage that began after Texas state troopers attempted to pull over a vehicle Saturday afternoon on a Texas interstate for failing to signal a left turn.
The toddler, Turner said, is still in the hospital recovering from injuries that are "not as bad as they thought," saying, "we are very grateful the injuries weren't worse."
As the community searches for answers about what motivated the gunman, the focus needs to be on the families of victims, the mayor said in an interview with NPR.
"We covet everyone's prayers for those who were injured and for those loved ones who were lost and for the community as a whole," Turner said.
Authorities in Texas are scheduled to hold a briefing on the shooting at noon local time to provide additional details about the incident.
Police say the gunman, described as a man in his mid-30s, fled police and then stole a postal truck and began firing indiscriminately at people along the highway and streets around Midland and Odessa.
Three law enforcement officers were wounded in the attack, and Turner said all three are in "stable"condition and still hospitalized.
"Our law enforcement are in as good condition as can be expected. Physical injuries are there, but there are also emotional injuries. And so, we'll have to watch them close," Turner said.
Police shot and killed the shooter outside of a movie theater in the Odessa area. The gunman's motive has not been revealed.
The communities jolted by the massacre are in need of support right now, according to the Odessa mayor.
"In West Texas, we're known for being strong and independent," Turner said. "It's time for us to come together and love on those who need are love that have lost friends and family."
Texas flags have been lowered to half-staff in honor of those who lost their lives in the shooting in Midland and Odessa. pic.twitter.com/9TCJDQOroV
— Gov. Greg Abbott (@GovAbbott) September 1, 2019
The shooting began Saturday afternoon with an interstate traffic stop where gunfire was exchanged with police, setting off a chaotic rampage during which the suspect hijacked a mail carrier truck and fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, two cities in the heart of Texas oil country more than 300 miles west of Dallas.
Police initially reported possible multiple shooters, but Odessa police Chief Michael Gerke later said there was only one male suspect.
The suspect shot "at innocent civilians all over Odessa," according to a statement from Odessa police.
The terrifying chain of events began when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car mid-Saturday afternoon on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn, Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said. Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver "pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots" toward the patrol car stopping him. The gunshots struck one of two troopers inside the patrol car, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting.
Two other police officers were shot before the suspect was killed. Authorities say the trooper was in serious but stable condition on Saturday, and the other officers were stable.
Gerke said there were at least 21 civilian shooting victims.
Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections
Shauna Saxton was driving with her husband and grandson in Odessa and had paused at a stoplight when they heard loud pops.
"I looked over my shoulder to the left and the gold car pulled up and the man was there and he had a very large gun and it was pointing at me," she told TV station KOSA.
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) September 1, 2019
Saxton said she was trapped because there were two cars in front of her. "I started honking my horn. I started swerving and we got a little ahead of him and then for whatever reason the cars in front of me kind of parted," she said, sobbing. She said she heard three more shots as she sped away.
Gerke did not go into detail about the chase, but the movie theater where the suspect was killed is more than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from where state troopers originally pulled over the gunman.
The shooting comes just four weeks after a gunman in the Texas border city of El Paso killed 22 people after opening fire at a Walmart. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this week held two meetings with lawmakers about how to prevent more mass shootings in Texas. He said he would visit the area Sunday.
Saturday's shooting brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of people killed this year has already reached 142, surpassing the 140 people who were killed of all last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.
Dustin Fawcett said he was sitting in his truck at a Starbucks in Odessa when he heard at least six gunshots ring out less than 50 yards behind him.
He spotted a white sedan with a passenger window that had been shattered. That's when he thought, "Oh man, this is a shooting."
Fawcett, 28, an Odessa transportation consultant, "got out to make sure everyone was safe" but found that no one nearby had been struck by the gunfire. He said a little girl was bleeding, but she hadn't been shot, and that he later found out she was grazed in the face.
Vice President Mike Pence said following the shooting that President Donald Trump and his administration "remain absolutely determined" to work with leaders in both parties in Congress to take such steps "so we can address and confront this scourge of mass atrocities in our country."
Pence said Trump had spoken to the attorney general and that the FBI was assisting local law enforcement.
Trump has offered contradictory messages in reacting to recent mass shootings. Days after the El Paso shooting, he said he was eager to implement "very meaningful background checks" on guns and told reporters there was "tremendous support" for action. He later backed away, saying the current system of background checks was "very, very strong."
Most recently, Trump has called for greater attention to mental health, saying that new facilities are needed for the mentally ill as a way to reduce mass shootings. However, some mental health professionals say such thinking is outdated, that linking mental illness to violence is wrong, and that the impact of more treatment would be helpful overall but would have a minor impact on gun violence.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.