HOUSTON – At least five people were killed and 21 others injured in shootings near the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa on Saturday (Aug 31), as one or two gunmen in a hijacked postal van and a pickup truck opened fire on residents, motorists and shoppers, the authorities said.
The two attacks in the two cities terrified a region with a combined population of 263,000 at the start of Labour Day weekend. Police officers and state troopers tried to keep drivers off the highways.
Chief Michael Gerke of the Odessa Police Department said at a news conference Saturday evening that the gunman, a white male in his mid-30s, was dead, and that three law enforcement officers were shot. He did not give a motive, but he said that the attack began as a traffic stop.
The mayor of Midland, Mr Jerry Morales, said the shootings began shortly after 4pm local time, with motorists targeted on Interstate 20 and Highway 191, which connects Midland to Odessa, Texas.
Mr Morales added that a rifle was used in the shootings, though he could not be more specific about the type or number of firearms involved.
The police said: “One suspect is believed to be at the Cinergy (entertainment complex) in Midland and the other is believed to be driving on Loop 250 in Midland.
“The two vehicles in question are: gold/white small Toyota truck and a USPS Postal Van. Please stay away from these areas and stay indoors.”
Police in Odessa, about 32km away, said on Facebook that a gunman – or possibly two – was driving around “shooting at random people”.
“At this time, there are multiple gunshot victims,” the police said. “Everyone is encouraged to get off the road and use extreme caution! All law enforcement is currently searching for the suspect and more information will be released as soon as it becomes available.”
Mr Ernest Villanueva, 24, said he was driving westbound on Interstate 20 from Midland to Odessa when he approached two vehicles riddled with bullet holes. One was a blue pickup truck and the other was a silver sedan.
“I was ready to help in case there were injured people,” said Mr Villanueva, a Marine Corps veteran.
The vehicles were empty, according to Mr Villanueva, who said he saw Midland police vehicles heading toward Odessa.
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin said on Twitter that law enforcement authorities were trying to “locate and contain a shooter.”
The university directed students to “stay in your dorm or office and do not open your doors”.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said on Twitter its agents were responding to the scene.