ODESSA — The gunman in a West Texas rampage “was on a long spiral of going down” and had been fired from his oil services job the morning he killed seven people, calling 911 both before and after the shooting began, authorities said Monday.
Officers killed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator on Saturday outside a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that spanned 10 miles, injuring around two dozen people in addition to the dead.
FBI special agent Christopher Combs said Ator called the agency’s tip line as well as local police dispatch on Saturday after being fired from Journey Oilfield Services, making “rambling statements about some of the atrocities that he felt that he had gone through.”
“He was on a long spiral of going down,” Combs said. “He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and walk into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble.”
Fifteen minutes after the call to the FBI, Combs said, a Texas state trooper unaware of the calls to authorities tried pulling over Ator for failing to signal a lane change. That was when Ator pointed an AR-style rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired on the trooper, starting a terrifying police chase as Ator sprayed bullets into passing cars, shopping plazas and killed a U.S. Postal Service employee while hijacking her mail truck.
Combs said Ator “showed up to work enraged” but did not point to any specific source of his anger. Ator’s home on the outskirts of Odessa was a corrugated metal shack along a dirt road surrounded by trailers, mobile homes and oil pump jacks.
On Monday, a green car without a rear windshield was parked out front, the entire residence cordoned off by police tape.
Combs described it as a “strange residence” that reflected “what his mental state was going into this.” Combs said he did not know whether Ator had been diagnosed with any prior mental health problems.
A neighbor, Rocio Gutierrez, told the Associated Press that Ator was “a violent, aggressive person” that would shoot at animals, mostly rabbits, at all hours of the night
“We were afraid of him because you could tell what kind of person he was just by looking at him,” Gutierrez said. “He was not nice, he was not friendly, he was not polite.”
The daylight attack over the Labor Day holiday weekend came just weeks after another mass shooting killed 22 people in the Texas border city of El Paso. Authorities have not said how Ator obtained the gun used in the shooting, but Ator had previously failed a federal background check for a firearm, said John Wester, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Wester did not say when Ator failed the background check or why.
Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 for a misdemeanor offense that would not have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms in Texas.
Federal law defines nine categories that would legally prevent a person from owning a gun, which include being convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, being adjudicated as a “mental defect” or committed to a mental institution, the subject of a restraining order or having an active warrant. Authorities have said Ator had no active warrants at the time of the shooting.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted Monday that “we must keep guns out of criminals’ hands” — words similar to his remarks that followed the El Paso shooting on Aug. 3, when he said firearms must be kept from “deranged killers.” But Abbott, a Republican and avid gun rights supporter, has been noncommittal about tightening Texas gun laws.
The McLennan County Sheriff’s Office expanded its digital reach last week with the debut of the county’s first website for collecting anonymous tips that could help identify victims or suspects involved in human trafficking.
Sheriff Parnell McNamara, who has focused efforts on commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking during the last several years, said tips from the public are key and the new site represents another option.
“This is an anonymous tip line where citizens who are concerned about something can write in an keep their anonymity, and we will investigate every single tip we get,” McNamara said. “We are asking the community to address this problem.”
Lead human trafficking Detective Joseph Scaramucci said he receives dozens of tips each month and he expects the new site to reach more people with concerns.
“We tell the public if you see something that you suspect is human trafficking, call,” Scaramucci said. “We never know what someone is going to see that is going to lead us to a trafficking investigation, so it may seem insignificant, but if someone calls or writes in a tip, we don’t want to miss a victim by not seeing that through.”
Scaramucci, who has taught human trafficking courses across the country and internationally, said he always asks law enforcement officials how they gauge success. In trafficking investigations, true success is helping victims, he said.
“I think true success is to locate and identify human trafficking victims and find some kind of recovery for them,” he said. “The icing on the cake is always arresting suspected traffickers.”
The online form allows individuals to state the type trafficking case suspected, any possible suspects, the location of the incident and any additional description. Files, including photos, can also be upload to provide detectives additional information.
“If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t,” McNamara said. “It is so important for the public to come forward and help us, especially when it comes to human trafficking.”
The new site can be found at tx-mclennancounty.civicplus.com/FormCenter/Sheriff-Office-Forms-20/Anonymous-Tip-Form-73.
NASSAU, Bahamas — Hurricane Dorian unleashed massive flooding across the Bahamas on Monday, pummeling the islands with so much wind and water that authorities urged people to find floatation devices and grab hammers to break out of their attics if necessary. At least five deaths were blamed on the storm.
“We are in the midst of a historic tragedy,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said in announcing the fatalities. He called the devastation “unprecedented and extensive.”
The fearsome Category 4 storm slowed almost to a standstill as it shredded roofs, hurled cars and forced even rescue crews to take shelter until the onslaught passed.
Officials said they received a “tremendous” number of calls from people in flooded homes. A radio station received more than 2,000 distress messages, including reports of a 5-month-old baby stranded on a roof and a grandmother with six grandchildren who cut a hole in a roof to escape rising floodwaters. Other reports involved a group of eight children and five adults stranded on a highway and two storm shelters that flooded.
The deaths in the Bahamas came after a previous storm-related fatality in Puerto Rico. At least 21 people were hurt in the Bahamas and evacuated by helicopters, the prime minster said.
Police Chief Samuel Butler urged people to remain calm and share their GPS coordinates, but he said rescue crews had to wait until weather conditions improved.
“We simply cannot get to you,” he told Bahamas radio station ZNS.
Forecasters warned that Dorian could generate a storm surge as high as 23 feet.
Meanwhile in the United States, the National Hurricane Center extended watches and warnings across the Florida and Georgia coasts. Forecasters expected Dorian to stay off shore, but meteorologist Daniel Brown cautioned that “only a small deviation” could draw the storm’s dangerous core toward land.
By 10 p.m. EDT Monday, the storm’s top sustained winds had fallen to 140 mph, still within Category 4 range. It was still virtually stationary, centered just 25 miles northeast of Freeport — about the same distance from the city it had been at noon. Hurricane-force winds extended outward as far as 45 miles from the center.
The water reached roofs and the tops of palm trees. One woman filmed water lapping at the stairs of her home’s second floor.
In Freeport, Dave Mackey recorded video showing water and floating debris surging around his house as the wind shrieked outside.
“Our house is 15 feet up, and right now where that water is is about 8 feet. So we’re pretty concerned right now because we’re not at high tide,” said Mackey, who shared the video with the Associated Press. “Our garage door has already come off. ... Once we come out of it with our lives, we’re happy.”
On Sunday, Dorian churned over Abaco Island with battering winds and surf and heavy flooding.
Parliament member Darren Henfield described the damage as “catastrophic” and said officials did not have information on what happened on nearby cays. “We are in search-and-recovery mode. ... Continue to pray for us.”
A spokesman for Bahamas Power and Light told ZNS that there was a blackout in New Providence, the archipelago’s most populous island. He said the company’s office in Abaco island was flattened.
“The reports out of Abaco as everyone knows,” spokesman Quincy Parker said, pausing for a deep sigh, “were not good.”
Most people went to shelters as the storm neared. Tourist hotels shut down, and residents boarded up their homes. Many people were expected to be left homeless.
On Sunday, Dorian’s maximum sustained winds reached 185 mph, with gusts up to 220 mph, tying the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to make landfall. That equaled the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before storms were named. The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with 190 mph winds, though it did not make landfall at that strength.
The Bahamas archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighborhoods that have wooden homes in low-lying areas.
Dorian was likely to begin pulling away from the Bahamas early Tuesday and curving to the northeast parallel to the southeastern coast of the U.S. The system is expected to spin 40 to 50 miles off Florida, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles to the west.
An advisory from the hurricane center warned that Florida’s east-central coast could see a brief tornado sometime Monday afternoon or evening.
A mandatory evacuation of entire South Carolina coast took effect Monday covering about 830,000 people.
Transportation officials reversed all lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to head inland earlier than planned after noticing traffic jams from evacuees and vacationers heading home on Labor Day, Gov. Henry McMaster said.
A few hours later, Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, ordered mandatory evacuations for that state’s Atlantic coast, also starting at midday Monday.
Authorities in Florida ordered mandatory evacuations in some vulnerable coastal areas. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper warned his state that it could see heavy rain, winds and floods later in the week.